UN human rights experts again call for closing of US detention centre in Guantánamo
Five independent United Nations human rights experts have renewed their call for the speedy closure of the United States detention centre at Guantánamo Bay, noting that it still holds more than 450 prisoners in breach of international human rights law five months after they first urged that it be shut.
“We take this opportunity to reaffirm the grave concerns and recommendations set out in our report,” they said in a joint statement, referring to their February findings that terrorism suspects should be detained in accordance with criminal procedure that respects the safeguards enshrined in relevant international law.
The five, who specialize in issues related to arbitrary detention, freedom of religion, health rights, torture and the independence of judges and lawyers, welcomed last week’s US Supreme Court’s decision that the tribunals created for prisoners at Guantánamo violated the Geneva Conventions and US military law.
They said they were also encouraged that an increasing number of highly influential figures and institutions, such as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, as well as regional organizations including the European Parliament and the European Union Presidency, have called for the detention centre to be closed.
“We especially welcome recent indications from the highest levels of the United States Government of their wish to close Guantanamo Bay as soon as possible,” they added.
“In particular, we encourage the United States, in consultation with the international community, to develop a detailed plan of action, with timeframes, for the closure of Guantánamo Bay,” as soon as possible, they added, calling on UN Member States, the UN Secretariat and specialized agencies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to “collaborate actively, constructively and urgently” with the US.
Where the US Government decides to press charges against detainees, it should provide for their transfer to the US and fair and expeditious trials in accordance with international law, they said. If not subjected to trial, detainees should be allowed to return to their country of citizenship or residence.
But it is “of utmost importance” that they not be returned to countries where they are at risk of torture or other serious human rights violations, such as disappearance, summary executions or arbitrary detention, they stressed.
“Where such a risk does exist, it cannot be overcome by seeking so-called 'diplomatic assurances'. In these cases, we call upon other States to assist by accepting Guantánamo Bay detainees for resettlement,” they said.
Receiving states should make available counselling and rehabilitation services, as well as other legal and social support, they added, citing “the recent tragic reports” of the suicide of three detainees, confirming “both the urgency of closing the detention centre and the importance of providing long-term assistance to the detainees.”
The five, who serve 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.