UN rights experts call for immediate closure of US Guantánamo centre after suicides

UN rights experts call for immediate closure of US Guantánamo centre after suicides

Five independent United Nations human rights experts today called on the United States to immediately close the Guantánamo Bay detention centre following three suicides there, citing a report they issued three months ago alleging inhuman conditions amounting to torture and the “profound effect” on detainees’ mental health.

“The simultaneous suicide of three detainees in the Guantánamo military base on 10 June 2006 was to a certain extent foreseeable in light of the harsh and prolonged conditions of their detention and reinforces the need for the urgent closure of the detention centre", they said in a joint statement issued in Geneva, reiterating their repeated calls for its closure.

The experts, known as Special Rapporteurs, are unpaid and serve in an independent personal capacity. They received their mandate from the now defunct UN Commission on Human Rights and will report to the newly established and enhanced Human Rights Council, which is to be inaugurated in Geneva next Monday.

Today they cited copiously from the report they issued on 27 February, saying the suicides confirmed the relevance of its recommendations and the urgency for their implementation, including the detention centre’s immediate closure.

“Many of the detainees continue to carry out a prolonged hunger strike to protest against their conditions of detention, while others have attempted to commit suicide,” the statement said.

February’s report cited the arbitrary nature of detentions; violation of judicial guarantees and other elements of the right to a fair trial; lack of access to competent and independent tribunals established by law; the inhuman and degrading nature of conditions of detention, in various cases amounting to torture; the harmful impact of those conditions on the health and life of those persons; and attacks against the religious beliefs and dignity of detainees.

It urged that ill-treatment cease, detainees be brought before and tried by ordinary tribunals and experts be allowed unfettered access to the detention facilities as well as interviews with detainees in private. The report was produced after the experts were denied access to Guantánamo.

In today’s statement the experts recalled “the need for norms of fair trial and access to detainees to be ensured in counter-terrorism measures in all instances.”

The five experts are: Chairman Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Leila Zerrougui; Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Leandro Despouy; Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment Manfred Nowak; Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Asma Jahangir; and Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health Paul Hunt.

Today’s statement followed comments yesterday by a spokesman of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) calling the suicides “a very, very tragic event which was not completely unexpected.”

Spokesman José Luis Díaz noted at a news briefing in Geneva that the UN Committee against Torture had recently made a very strong call for the closing of Guantánamo and issued other very specific recommendations on the treatment of prisoners there.