By Robin Emmott and Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is rallying dozens of countries to stop the trade of torture equipment and lethal-injection drugs, which could make it harder for the United States to perform executions, a top EU official said on Thursday.
The bloc will call for an alliance against trade in goods such as spiked batons and drug cocktails at the United Nations in September following an EU move last year to strengthen its own export ban, the EU's trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom told Reuters in an interview.
"We want to ally with countries to try to stop the trade in products used for executing and torturing," Malmstrom said.
Abolition of the death penalty is a central tenet of the EU's foreign policy and is also a requirement for countries seeking to join the 28-nation bloc.
"We are talking about poison, chemicals used in executions, thumb screws, (electric-shock) belts," said Malmstrom, a Swedish liberal who as a former EU home affairs commissioner and EU lawmaker met torture victims and campaigned on rights issues.
"We've already seen that the end to some European countries exporting chemicals has made it more difficult to execute people in the U.S.," she said. "This is of course our aim."
Tougher EU laws, including a 2011 export ban on lethal-injection drugs, are making U.S. executions harder to perform by cutting off supplies by large-scale manufacturers of sodium thiopental, an anaesthetic in such injections.
Mongolia, which outlawed the death penalty in 2015, and Argentina, which has similar legislation to the EU, will jointly launch the initiative with the EU on Sept. 18 in New York.
Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Norway are among the first countries expected to back the plan, Malmstrom said.
The alliance would first see governments sign up to a political commitment during the United Nations General Assembly, and then start helping local customs authorities track the transit of torture equipment and lethal-injection drugs.
If successful, the United Nations itself could eventually draw up a convention against the trade in goods used for torture and execution, which would be a legally-binding treaty.
The project marks an effort by the European Union to promote human rights after an economic crisis saw its "soft power" wane, business interests trumping rights issues and allies such as Turkey turn increasingly authoritarian.
Malmstrom said she did not expect the world's worst human rights offenders to support the cause. Iran, Saudi Arabia and China carried out the most executions last year, according to Amnesty International.
But an alliance at the United Nations could make it harder for countries to obtain, for example, Chinese-made riot shields with electrified spikes, and bring more publicity to the issue.
"China is one of the countries that tortures its own citizens and who executes people, so they are not on the list of invitees (to the alliance) but they are open to attend (the U.N. launch)," Malmstrom said.
(Editing by Crispian Balmer)