Two UN experts offer to help resolve outstanding issues related to the closure of Guantanamo

By | 26 January 2009

Geneva – The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mr. Leandro Despouy, and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Manfred Nowak, welcome the signing of executive orders by President Barack Obama yesterday, which set a timeline for closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center and require the Central Intelligence Agency to shut its secret detention facilities. They also provide that all agencies should follow the same interrogation rules as the military and revoke orders and regulations adopted after 11 September 2001, which might contradict international and national minimum standards.

“This is a very important step that symbolizes a break with previous policies that were in violation of international human rights norms,” stressed Leandro Despouy.

Referring to a joint report issued by several UN independent experts in 2006, the two experts recalled that, in implementing these decisions, the United States government should fully respect all human rights obligations, including the absolute prohibition of torture and the principle of non-refoulement that prohibits removing persons to countries where they would be at risk of torture. The experts further welcomed that proceedings before the Military Commissions have been halted, and expressed their hope that the persons accused would be prosecuted in accordance with fair trial norms.  They also recalled that all persons found to have been detained arbitrarily or ill-treated have the right to reparation under international human rights law.

“Already in the 2006 report, we recommended that all persons found to have perpetrated, ordered, tolerated or condoned torture and ill-treatment, up to the highest level of military and political command, should be brought to justice – now the time has come to do so,” said Manfred Nowak.

Both experts emphasized that they stand ready to lend their full support in resolving the outstanding legal and practical issues, in particular in relation with the closure of the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.

Background information

Following the tragic events of 11 September 2001, many countries adopted measures to combat terrorism. Several UN bodies, including the former Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly, reiterated in multiple resolutions that this must be done in accordance with human rights.

In 2006, five UN Independent Experts issued a report on the Situation of detainees of Guantánamo Bay. In this report, the experts concluded that the detentions were arbitrary due to the absence of independent tribunals and the denial of the right to adequate defense and other guarantees of due process, that interrogation practices were contrary to internationally accepted standards, above all the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and the prohibition of religious discrimination, that the indeterminate character of the length of detention amounted to inhuman treatment and that conditions of detention violated the right to health. The experts called upon the United States Government to cease these practices immediately, to provide fair trials to the detainees or release them, and to proceed to the urgent closure of the detention centre

In 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism conducted a country mission to the United States, followed by a visit to Guantanamo Bay in order to observe military commission proceedings there. His report addresses a number of issues where the 2006 Military Commissions Act and the treatment of Guantanamo detainees are incompatible with international law. It also reiterates that the detention facility be closed in compliance with international law and outlines proposals in this regard.

The United States Supreme Court, in a series of cases, pronounced itself on the rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, thereby affirming the independence of the judiciary. In its most recent decision, the Court found the Military Commissions Act unconstitutional and granted the detainees access to the federal courts’ jurisdiction, including the right to habeas corpus.

Following his election in November, President-elect Obama publicly expressed his commitment to lead the Administration’s efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp as one of his priorities.

See also a previous press release on related issues by four independent UN experts dated 22 December 2008.

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