US isolated on Guantánamo

A team of United Nations human rights experts set forth sharply worded arguments last Thursday against the US detention centre at the naval base at Guantánamo bay in Cuba and announced that investigations into secret detention centres would continue in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.

The five investigators urged the UN Human Rights Council to press the US 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 US 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 October 6.

Special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak, one of the five experts who drafted the report on Guantánamo, noted that all the members of the council who spoke after the presentation of the report expressed their support for its content.

The only dissonant voice was that of the US, 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 UN.

The regimen followed in Guantánamo has not only involved serious violations of 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 centres do indeed exist points to extremely serious abuse in the “alleged hunt for terrorists,” said Zerrougui.

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 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.

Pakistani intelligence agents, who in return for handing them over received a reward from the US military, had accused the two men without evidence.

Despouy commented that the report by the five experts showed the world what a resounding failure the secret detention centres have been.

Whatever the political regime, a leading democracy like the US 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 added. — IPS