United States military commissions unlikely to produce fair trials – UN expert

22 October 2008
Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin

The United States’ system of military commissions planned for suspects currently detained at Guantánamo Bay is not likely to reach international standards about the right to a fair trial, an independent United Nations human rights expert warned today.

Martin Scheinin, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, told the General Assembly’s third committee (social, humanitarian and cultural) that a visit to Guantánamo Bay in December last year confirmed his misgivings concerning the operation of the military commissions.

“I find it highly unlikely that they would be able to provide a trial that meets the standards of international human rights law concerning the right to a fair trial,” Mr. Scheinin said.

He said one of his concerns was confirmed when the US Supreme Court, the country’s highest court, found earlier this year that laws establishing the military commissions were unconstitutional for their denial of habeas corpus – or the legal opportunity to challenge someone’s detention – to suspects held at Guantánamo Bay.

Speaking to journalists after presenting the report, Mr. Scheinin said he expected that, regardless of whether Barack Obama or John McCain wins next month’s election to be the next President of the US, the new administration will take steps to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay.

He said, in response to a reporter’s question, that he based that observation on the public statements of Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain strongly criticizing Guantánamo Bay.

Mr. Scheinin also visited Spain in May this year, and he told the General Assembly’s third committee today that the Iberian country deserved credit for its efforts to encourage a human rights dimension to its response to terrorism.

“Nevertheless, I also identified matters of concern,” he said in his statement, adding that one of them was the continued use of incommunicado detention for terrorism suspects, despite recommendations to the contrary by a number of human rights bodies.”

The institution of incommunicado detention should be completely eradicated, in part because it would strengthen the credibility of counter-terrorism measures by law enforcement bodies, Mr. Scheinin said.

It would also enhance assurances that those falsely accused of ill-treatment of terrorism suspects could be cleared, the Special Rapporteur noted.

He told journalists that he expects to visit Tunisia very soon, and several requests for visits to other countries remain pending, including those sent to Algeria, Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan and the Philippines.


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