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Open letter by Special Procedures mandate-holders of the United Nations Human Rights Council to the President of the United States of America

26 November 2014

Dear President Obama:

We, as United Nations independent experts working on behalf of human rights victims around the world, are writing to urge you to agree to the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on CIA interrogation practices in the most complete and comprehensible form possible, allowing the victims and the public to fully understand the facts. Your decision on this issue will have far-reaching consequences for victims of human rights violations everywhere and for the credibility of the United States.

We deeply appreciate your decision to end the CIA interrogation programme and we have great respect for the contributions of the United States in the architecture of the international human rights system, including the Convention on the Elimination of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Convention requires all parties to investigate credible allegations of torture, ensure accountability for those responsible, and provide adequate remedies for victims.  Beyond torture, it is likely that some victims were also subjected to enforced disappearance and that other serious violations took place as part of the same CIA programmes. These practices too must be investigated and recognized as gross violations of the victims’ rights. Accountability and appropriate remedies for the victims are essential for such gross human rights violations.

As a nation that has publicly affirmed its belief that respect for truth advances respect for the rule of law, and as a nation that frequently calls for transparency and accountability in other countries, the United States must rise to meet the standards it has set both for itself and for others.

Based on our work in many countries around the world, we believe that other States are watching your actions on this issue closely. Victims of torture and human rights defenders around the world will be emboldened if you take a strong stand in support of transparency. On the contrary, if you yield to the CIA’s demands for continued secrecy on this issue, those resisting accountability will surely misuse this decision to bolster their own agenda in their countries.

We have also seen, through our work, that every country where abuses have taken place struggles to confront the legacy they leave in their wake. Every leader hears arguments – which seem compelling in their context – about why it is never a good time, why it would be counterproductive, and why it would compromise national security to fulfill the legal and moral obligations to investigate, report on and address violations committed by their security services, including torture, secret and arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearance, among others. But as Vice President Joe Biden stated in supporting the public release of the Senate report, the only way to move forward is to acknowledge what has happened. Lasting security can only be achieved on the basis of truth and not secrecy.

We hope that as President of a nation that helped draft the Convention Against Torture – and as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate – you will recognize the historic nature of your decision and side with those in the United States and around the world who are struggling to reveal the truth and to bring an end to the use of torture.

Mads ANDENAS, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Pablo DE GREIFF, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence

Ariel DULITZKY, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

Christof HEYNS, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

David KAYE, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Gabriela KNAUL, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers

Juan E. MENDEZ, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment