Above photo: Protesters demand the closure of Guantanamo Bay in Washington in 2019. MEE/Ali Harb.
Geneva – On the 20th anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, UN experts* condemned the facility as a site of “unparalleled notoriety” and said its continued operation was a stain on the US Government’s commitment to the rule of law.
“Twenty years of practising arbitrary detention without trial accompanied by torture or ill treatment is simply unacceptable for any government, particularly a government which has a stated claim to protecting human rights,” said the independent experts, appointed by the Human Rights Council.
“As a newly elected Member of the Human Rights Council, the experts again call on the United States to close this facility and close this ugly chapter of unrelenting human rights violations.”
In 2003, the facility was holding 700 prisoners. Twenty years later, 39 detainees remain but only nine of them have been charged with or convicted of crimes, 13 have been cleared for transfer. Between 2002 and 2021 nine detainees died in custody, two from natural causes and seven reportedly committed suicide. None had been charged or convicted of a crime.
“Despite forceful, repeated and unequivocal condemnation of the operation of this horrific detention and prison complex with its associated trial processes, the United States continues to detain persons many of whom have never been charged with any crime,” the experts said.
“Guantanamo Bay is a site of unparalleled notoriety, defined by the systematic use of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against hundreds of men brought to the site and deprived of their most fundamental rights.”
The experts said Guantanamo Bay was also a profound symbol of the systematic lack of accountability for and censorship of the practice of state-sponsored torture and ill treatment and the unacceptable impunity granted to those responsible. “When a State fails to hold accountable those who have authorized and practised torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment it sends a signal of complacency and acquiescence to the world,” they said.
The experts said they were particularly concerned for the plight of an ageing and ill prison population, many of whom have suffered from the ravages of torture experienced in prior decades. They condemn the lack of adequate medical assistance and torture rehabilitation to habilitate torture victims both at Guantanamo and after transfer—both of which are plainly required under international law. “The stress that the vulnerability of these individuals and the anguish experienced by their families continue without end in sight,” they said.
The experts called on the US Government to close the site, return detainees home or to safe third countries while respecting the principle of non-refoulement, provide remedy and reparation for those egregiously tortured and arbitrarily detained by their agents, and hold those that authorized and engaged in torture accountable as required under international law.
The experts remain deeply concerned that Military Commissions are still undergoing pre-trial proceedings on motions to suppress evidence of torture. Removing all obstacles to ensure transparency and fairness of the trials would address the need for openness and public justice and is also of benefit to victims’ families and other stakeholders. “The continued unfairness of the proceedings, and the lack of transparency and equality of arms for the defendants, is a stain on the stated commitment of the United States to the rule of law and constitutional protection,” said the experts. “We particularly highlight the failures of the United States judicial system to play a meaningful role in protecting human rights, upholding the rule of law and enabling a legal black hole to thrive in Guantanamo with their apparent approval and support.”
The experts praised the unrelenting and brave work of defence lawyers who have battled to protect the rule of law and identified the persistent human rights failures in the day-to-day operation of Commissions. The Military Commissions continues to violate the requirements of impartiality, independence and non-discrimination and should never have been used in the way they were deployed at Guantanamo, they added.
*The experts: Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Elina Steinerte (Chair-Rapporteur), Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Vice-Chair), Leigh Toomey, Mumba Malila, Priya Gopalan, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and and Luciano Hazan (Chair-Rapporteur), Aua Baldé (Vice-Chair), Tae-Ung Baik, Gabriella Citroni, Henrikas Mickevičius, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.