UN human rights chief welcomes decision to close Guantanamo

23 January 2009 | OHCHR

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay welcomed Thursday’s decision by the new US administration to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, as well as the decision to ban methods of interrogation that contravene international law. Pillay also called for a review of the US approach to detaining individuals abroad, in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the practice of ‘rendition,’ in order to ensure conformity with international law.

“I warmly welcome this decision,” Pillay said. “The fact that President Obama has placed such a high priority on closing Guantanamo and set in motion a system to safeguard the fundamental rights of the detainees there is extremely encouraging. The United States has in the past been a staunch supporter of international human rights law, and this is one of the reasons that the regime that was established in Guantanamo has been viewed as so damaging.”

“Water-boarding and other forms of interrogation that may amount to torture, detention for prolonged periods without trial or proper judicial review, and what became known as ‘extraordinary rendition’ – these are all aberrations that should never have happened,” Pillay added.

The High Commissioner also welcomed the fact that President Obama’s Executive Order issued on Thursday sets a framework for regularizing the situation of the remaining detainees in Guantanamo.

“Those suspected of crimes are entitled to an expeditious and fair trial before the regular courts,” Pillay said. “Those who are considered innocent are entitled to their freedom without delay.”

The High Commissioner also raised the issue of compensation for those judged to be innocent. “It is hard to imagine what a devastating psychological effect their years in Guantanamo will have had on them and their families. For those who were innocent, or arbitrarily detained, there should be adequate recompense for the six or seven years of their lives that have been lost.”

Pillay called for a thorough investigation into allegations of torture at the Guantanamo centre. “Under international law, there is an absolute prohibition against torture, and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” she said. “There is no let-out clause. There must be accountability for those who have ordered such practices or carried them out, and victims should receive recompense.”

She also raised concerns about detention in locations outside the US such as Afghanistan and Iraq. “There have been many disturbing questions about the legality of overseas centres such as the Bagram base in Afghanistan,” Pillay said. “These too need to be resolved quickly and satisfactorily, in order to re-establish full respect for human rights across the board. That said, I would like to salute President Obama for the extremely important step he has taken, and for doing it so swiftly upon taking up office. This is a good day for the rule of law.”