Five independent human rights experts with mandates from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights today called on the United States to close the Guantánamo Bay detention centre and either bring all detainees to trial or release them without further delay, according to a joint report released today in Geneva.
“Terrorism suspects should be detained in accordance with criminal procedure that respects the safeguards enshrined in relevant international law,” the five experts – specializing in issues related to arbitrary detention, freedom of religion, the right to health, torture and the independence of judges and lawyers – said in a press statement issued in conjunction with the release of the report.
In New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed, in response to questions from the press, that the authors of the report gathered their own information, did their own analysis and made their own conclusions, and that he could not agree with everything in such a lengthy report.
“But the basic point that one cannot detain individuals in perpetuity and that charges have to be brought against them and be given a chance to explain themselves and prosecute a charge or release them I think is common under any legal system,” Mr. Annan said.
“I think sooner or later there will be a need to close Guantanamo and it will be up to the Government to decide and I hope they will do it as soon as possible,” he added.
Reiterating his general position on the issue, he said: “The basic premise that we need to be careful to have a balance between effective action against terrorism and individual liberties and civil rights I think is valid.”
Earlier, Mr. Annan’s spokesman underscored the independence of the experts, officially known as Rapporteurs, and that it would be would be now up to the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights to decide on the next steps. The report will be taken up by the 53-member body at its next session, which is scheduled to start on 13 March.
In releasing the report, the experts expressed “utmost concern” over attempts by the US to redefine torture in the framework of the struggle against terrorism. “The interrogation techniques authorized by the Department of Defence, particularly if used simultaneously, amount to degrading treatment,” their statement said.
Their conclusions followed a six-month study based on information from the US Government, interviews conducted with former Guantánamo detainees currently residing or detained in France, Spain and the United Kingdom and responses from lawyers acting on behalf of some current detainees. They also relied on information available in the public domain, including in declassified official US documents.
The experts voiced regret that the Government did not allow them the opportunity to have free access to detainees in Guantánamo Bay and carry out private interviews, as provided by the terms of reference accepted by all countries they visit. For that reason, in November 2005, they declined a US invitation to visit the centre, they said.
The five experts, who serve the Commission in an unpaid, personal capacity, are: Chairman Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Leila Zerrougui; Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy; the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak; the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, and the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt.