Germany refuses US Government plea for execution drugs as EC dithers over export ban

June 10, 2011

Reports that the Obama administration is pressing Germany to allow exports of execution drugs to the US have highlighted the urgency of achieving an EU-wide ban on such sales, according to legal action charity Reprieve.

German Trade Minister Philipp Rösler says he was recently asked by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to allow the export of sodium thiopental – a drug used in lethal injections – from Germany to the US. American death rows have lately been hit by shortages of the drug due to a lack of domestic production, compounded by the refusal of other countries to allow its export to the US.

Although Mr Rösler refused, and has said that he intends to block any such attempts, the EU as a whole has yet put in place proper export bans on drugs intended for use in executions. So far the only individual country to do so has been the UK.

In April, ministers for foreign affairs, trade and the economy from 14 EU member states wrote to the EU Trade Commissioner calling for the imposition of an export license requirement on execution drugs. And earlier this week, Members of the European Parliament tabled a written declaration urging the Commission to do the same.

However, the European Commission has yet to take action. In the light of the revelation that the US Government is seeking to source lethal injection drugs from EU countries, Reprieve is now calling on the Commission to work with greater urgency towards achieving the ban.

Reprieve Investigator Maya Foa said:

“The individual action taken by countries like Britian, Germany and Italy has been crucial in halting the flow of execution drugs.

“However, we need real action on a Europe-wide ban to ensure that we are never again complicit in the execution of prisoners.

“We now know that the US Government is trying to pressure individual countries into selling them death drugs by the back door. The EU must act decisively and urgently to ensure they are not allowed to succeed.”


Notes to editors

1. Mr Rösler’s refusal to allow the sale of sodium thiopental from Germany to the US was reported in German press this week:

– Der Spiegel [in English]:,1518,767613,00.html

– Handelsblatt:

2. Ministers from 14 EU member states wrote to Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht on 8 April 2011 asking for export controls to be imposed on drugs used in executions. The ministers are:

Henk Bleker, Minister for Agriculture and Foreign Trade, NETHERLANDS

Reinhold Mitterlehner, Federal Minister for Economy, Family and Youth, AUSTRIA

Steven Vanackere, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, BELGIUM

Lene Espersen, Minister for Foreign Affairs, DENMARK

Paavo Väyrynen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, FINLAND

Laurent Wauquiez, Minister for European Affairs, FRANCE

Rainer Brüderle, Federal Minister of Economics and Technology, GERMANY

Marilisa Xenogiannakopoulou, Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, GREECE

Eamon Gilmore, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, IRELAND

Paolo Romani, Minister of Economic Development, ITALY

Doru Costea, State Secretary for Global Affairs, ROMANIA

Darja Radié, Minister of the Economy, SLOVENIA

Trinidad Jiménez García-Herrera, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, SPAIN

Ewa Björling, Minister for Trade, SWEDEN

3. UK Business Secretary Vince Cable has placed export controls on several drugs used in lethal injection, and has also urged the European Commission to do the same:

4. The text of the declaration tabled by MEPs this week is as follows:

Written declaration on the Export of Drugs used for the Death Penalty in Third Countries The European Parliament,

– having regard to Articles 6 of the Treaty on European Union, Council Regulation (EC) 1236/2005, and Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

– having regard to Rule 123 of its Rules of Procedure,

A. whereas the EU has been a global leader in advocating the abolition of the death penalty,

B. whereas the United States is currently experiencing a shortage of drugs that certain states use to execute people by lethal injection,

C. whereas drugs used in lethal injections are currently not included in Annex III of Council Regulation (EC) 1236/2005 (items subject to prior export authorisation) leaving European pharmaceutical companies free to supply these drugs to third countries that use them in executions,

1. Calls on the Commission to immediately place on Annex III of Council Regulation (EC) 1236/2005 drugs, including but not limited to Sodium Thiopental and Pentobarbital, that are sourced in the EU and that can be used in executions in third countries;

2. Urges the Commission to regularly review and if necessary revise the aforementioned Regulation’s Annexes;

3. Instructs its President to forward this declaration, together with the names of the signatories, to the Commission, the Council and the Parliaments of the Member States