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UN rights expert voices frustration at United States over access to detained soldier

Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez
Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez

UN rights expert voices frustration at United States over access to detained soldier

An independent United Nations human rights expert today voiced his deep disappointment and frustration that the United States has not allowed him unmonitored access to a soldier accused of being the source of large amounts of classified material given to the website Wikileaks.

Juan E. Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, said in a statement to the press that the US has refused to grant him an official visit to Private First Class Bradley E. Manning, despite repeated requests since last December.

Mr. Manning has been in US custody since May last year and is confined to his cell at a marine corps brig for 23 hours each day.

Mr. Méndez said it was standard practice for the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to have private, confidential and unsupervised interviews with detainees or anyone alleging torture or ill-treatment to ensure the credibility of those interviews.

He noted that such forms of interview had been carried out by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in at least 18 countries during the past six years.

“I am deeply disappointed and frustrated by the prevarication of the US Government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr. Manning,” he said. “I understand that Pfc Manning does not wish to waive his right to an unmonitored conversation with me.

“My request for a private, confidential and unsupervised interview with [Mr.] Manning is not onerous: for my part, a monitored conversation would not comply with the practices that my mandate applies in every country and detention centre visited.”

Mr. Méndez said that last Friday he was informed by senior officials in the US Departments of Defense and State that the US Government had no objection to a “private visit,” which would mean it would be monitored by prison officials, as opposed to an “official visit,” which is unmonitored.

The Special Rapporteur said he had urged those officials to reconsider their decision.

“The United States of America has a key role in setting examples on issues concerning my mandate as Special Rapporteur on Torture, which makes it a vital partner for engagement.”

Mr. Méndez said he would inform Mr. Manning through his lawyer of the US Government’s actions.

“I am willing to visit him if he wants to talk to me, even under these conditions, albeit in the understanding that I will continue to insist on an interview without witnesses.”

Mr. Méndez, who formerly served as the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, has been the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment since last year. He serves in an independent, unpaid capacity and reports to the 47-member UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.