Five independent United Nations human rights experts today rejected United States denials that people were tortured at the Guantánamo detention centre, saying that until the Government revised its policies recently, acts of torture were being carried out there.
The five, who serve in an unpaid, personal capacity, were speaking at a news conference in Geneva after presenting the new, enhanced UN Human Rights Council with a previously published joint report in which they called for the closure of the centre at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The interrogation methods of prisoners authorized by US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld constituted torture and the US administration was wrong to say there were no cases of torture committed at Guantánamo, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, told reporters.
Asked about US allegations over the report’s credibility since it was based on second-hand information, Mr. Nowak said this was not the case and the information gathered was based on first-hand information. Though they did not visit the centre, the rapporteurs interviewed former detainees, lawyers acting on behalf of detainees and US Government officials as well as consulting public records.
The Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt, said the prisoners’ mental health was worsening given the duration of their detention and lack of due process. Evidence collected indicated that there were over 350 acts of self-harm committed in 2003 alone.
The US authorities disputed this by suggesting mental duress was common in all correctional facilities but Mr. Hunt said that according to testimony from health experts Guantanamo had witnessed far more cases of mental duress of prisoners.
The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, said there was evidence of “religious humiliation” and that the international community had a long-term responsibility to remedy the harm caused by this.
Concerning follow up action, Mr. Nowak said most governments had agreed with the report and it was now hoped that those States would persuade Washington to abide by its recommendations and close down Guantánamo, and for the rapporteurs to be able to visit other such facilities.
US President George W. Bush’s admission that there had been secret prisons came as no surprise, Mr. Nowak said. There had been 100 per cent proof that they existed. The transfer of 14 people from these secret prisons to Guantánamo was a positive sign in that they could now be visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Asked whether they had information on other secret prisons, Mr. Nowak said there was no conclusive evidence although there were lists of persons who had definitely been ‘disappeared,’ but whose whereabouts were unknown. They were either dead or in one of these secret prisons, he added.
The rapporteurs stressed that their primary concern was to have Guantánamo detention facility closed down, to meet with the 14 individuals recently transferred there from secret prisons, and to be able to investigate those secret prisons.
The other two members of the team were: Chairman Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Leila Zerrougui, and Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy.