GENEVA - A team of United Nations human rights experts set forth sharply worded
arguments Thursday against the U.S. detention center at the naval base at Guantánamo
Bay in Cuba and announced that investigations into secret detention centers
would continue in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries.
The five investigators urged the UN Human Rights Council to press the United
States to put an end to the violations of the human rights of the 450 detainees
being held in Guantánamo without due process.
Since 2002, when the first special rapporteurs' investigations into abuses
in Guantánamo began, the United States has evaded sanctions from the
Commission on Human Rights that stopped functioning in April and the Human Rights
Council that replaced it in June.
But that invulnerability could end in the Council's current period of sessions,
which opened Monday and runs through Oct. 6.
Special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak, one of the five experts who drafted
the report on Guantánamo, noted that all of the members of the Council
who spoke after the presentation of the report expressed their support for its
The only dissonant voice was that of the United States, which does not form
part of the 47-member Council, and is present as an observer.
It is now up to the Council to act, said Leandro Despouy, special rapporteur
on the independence of judges and lawyers, who said that if the Council keeps
silent on the question, it will hurt the credibility of the United Nations.
The delegation from Finland said in the name of the European Union that while
it supports the war on terrorism, respect for human rights is essential.
But the regimen followed in Guantánamo has not only involved serious
violations of the human rights of the detainees, but also a defeat in the judicial
fight against terrorism, Despouy told IPS.
The methods used in Guantánamo have neither led to convictions of the
accused nor to the release of the innocent, said the rapporteur.
The report presented by Leila Zerrougui, the chair of the UN working group
on arbitrary detention, mentioned that since the first observations were set
forth by the group of experts, no significant progress has been made to prevent
serious violations of the rights of the detainees in Guantánamo.
On the contrary, the George W. Bush administration's recent admission that
secret detention centers do indeed exist points to extremely serious abuse in
the "alleged hunt for terrorists" and requires urgent attention from
the Council, said Zerrougui.
The UN rapporteurs said they felt encouraged by the U.S. Supreme Court June
30 ruling, which held that the military tribunals that the U.S. government was
using to try terrorism suspects violated both U.S. military law and international
law, and by signals from high up in the Bush administration of an intention
to close down the prison in Guantánamo.
But, the report adds, not only has the U.S. government failed to take any steps
toward closing down the detention center, but it is actually building a new
bloc there, to be opened this month.
Warren W. Tichenor, the U.S. ambassador to the UN in Geneva, responded that
"the United States has no interest in being the world's jailer, but we
can only close Guantánamo if we can still protect ourselves and our allies
from the threat posed by the dangerous men held there."
He also said Bush and other high-level officials have stated on a number of
occasions that they would like to close down Guantánamo.
The U.S. delegate said the rapporteurs' report asserted, "without real
evidentiary support, conclusions they had clearly already reached."
He also told the Council that "There is little indication that they considered
seriously the voluminous information provided in writing by the U.S. government.
By contrast, the report treats second- and third-hand allegations from press
reports and contacts with attorneys for the detainees as true."
Nowak denied that secondhand sources were used, and said the report was based
on information from the U.S. government and declassified documents.
Paul Hunt, special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of
the highest attainable standard of health, expressed concern over the effects
of the human rights violations on the mental condition of the detainees, pointing
out that three had committed suicide on June 3.
Special rapporteur on freedom of religion Asma Jahangir said that in her country,
Pakistan, she had interviewed two former Guantánamo detainees. The two
men had been accused without evidence by Pakistani intelligence agents, who
in return for handing them over received a reward from the U.S. military.
Despouy commented that the report by the five experts showed the world what
a resounding failure the secret detention centers have been. Whatever the political
regime, a leading democracy like the United States or a dictatorship like those
seen in the past in Latin America or other regions of the world, it is clear
that secret detentions always lead to dire, blatant human rights abuses, he
(Inter Press Service)