UN rights experts raise ‘serious concerns’ over detainees at US naval base

UN rights experts raise ‘serious concerns’ over detainees at US naval base

United Nations human rights experts today expressed “serious concerns” over detainees held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by the United States on grounds of terrorism, including “the need to objectively assess” allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in relation to methods of interrogation.

“The United Nations human rights experts once more confirm that the right and duty of all States to use all lawful means to protect their citizens against death and destruction brought about by terrorists must be exercised in conformity with international law, lest the whole cause of the international fight against terrorism be compromised,” they said in a statement.

The six experts, chairpersons of several working groups of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission including those on torture and arbitrary detention, noted that many inmates are completing their third year of virtually incommunicado detention, without legal assistance or information as to its expected duration, and in conditions that, according to numerous observers, amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.

They cited several areas of “serious concerns” that had not been dispelled by recent US actions such as the release of some detainees and a Supreme Court ruling on the right to habeas corpus.

These included “the need to objectively assess the allegations of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, particularly in relation to methods of interrogation of detainees that have been brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur on torture.”

Also cited was the lack of clarity over the legal basis for continued detention since the armed conflict in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq are now long over. The Third Geneva Convention mandates that prisoners of war must be released “without delay after the end of hostilities,” and many were arrested in countries not party to armed conflict with the US.

The experts also noted that the exact number and the names of those detained continue to be unknown, an “extremely disconcerting” situation conducive to the unacknowledged transfer of inmates to other, often secret, detention facilities, whether run by the United States or by other countries.

They mentioned concerns over the independence of the US review process for detainees and the fairness of any proceedings, including eventual military trials, with most detainees lacking access to legal counsel and to much of the evidence against them.

“The conditions of detention, especially of those in solitary confinement, place the detainees at significant risk of psychiatric deterioration, possibly including the development of irreversible psychiatric symptoms,” they added.

The experts are: Leïla Zerrougui, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Stephen J. Toope, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture; Paul Hunt, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Leandro Despouy, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; and Cherif Bassiouni, Independent Expert appointed by the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.