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Independent UN expert on torture calls for unrestricted access to US detainees

Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez
Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez

Independent UN expert on torture calls for unrestricted access to US detainees

The United Nations independent expert on torture today voiced concern over restrictions imposed by the United States on access to detainees, stating that it is vital for him to have unmonitored access to Bradley Manning, the US soldier detained for allegedly leaking classified information to the WikiLeaks website.

“I am assured by the US Government that Mr. Manning’s prison regime and confinement is markedly better than it was when he was in Quantico,” said Juan Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on Torture.

“However, in addition to obtaining first hand information on my own about his new conditions of confinement, I need to ascertain whether the conditions he was subjected to for several months in Quantico amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

“For that, it is imperative that I talk to Mr. Manning under conditions where I can be assured that he is being absolutely candid,” Mr. Méndez said in a press statement.

At the request of Mr. Méndez and after several meetings, the US Department of Defense allowed him to visit Mr. Manning, but warned him that the conversation would be monitored.

He said such a condition violated long-standing rules that the UN applies for prison visits and for interviews with inmates everywhere in the world. On humanitarian grounds and under protest, Mr. Méndez, through Mr. Manning’s counsel, offered to visit him under these restrictive conditions, an offer the detainee declined.

Mr. Méndez has, since the beginning of this year, been in negotiations with the US Government over unrestricted access to Mr. Manning, but he was last month informed that the Government was not in a position to accede to the request for a private and unmonitored meeting.

“The question of my unfettered access to a detainee goes beyond my request to meet with Mr. Manning – it touches on whether I will be able to conduct private and unmonitored interviews with detainees if I were to conduct a country visit to the United States,” said Mr. Méndez.

Maintaining the principle of unfettered access to detainees is an important part of his responsibility as the UN expert on torture, he said. It also determines whether UN experts can conduct credible enquiries into allegations of torture and ill-treatment when they visit places of detention and detainees.

In 2004, the US Government allowed Mr. Méndez’s predecessor, Manfred Nowak, and three other mandate-holders, access to the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, but the then US administration imposed conditions that the UN mandate-holders could not accept.

Early in his tenure, which began in November 2010, Mr. Méndez formally asked the US Government for permission to visit Guantanamo Bay, a petition that has been renewed on several occasions since then. No response has been forthcoming.

“The United States, as a world leader, is a strong supporter of the international human rights system. Therefore, its actions must seek to set the pace in good practices that enhance the role of human rights mechanisms, ensuring and maintaining unfettered access to detainees during enquiries,” he added.

The US Government moved Mr. Manning in April from Quantico confinement facility to a facility in Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. He continues to be held in pre-trial detention pending a court martial.