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UN experts issue extensive global study on secret detention linked to counter-terrorism

GENEVA (26 January 1010) – The two independent UN experts on counter-terrorism and torture, and two UN expert bodies on arbitrary detention and enforced or involuntary disappearances* issued a wide-ranging study Tuesday on states’ use of secret detention in connection with counter-terrorism activities.

The 222-page joint study, while stressing that it is “not exhaustive,” lists a total of 66 states. Some are mentioned in the context of a historical analysis of secret detention practices prior to 11 September 2001, but most in connection with secret detention and related activities – including so-called ‘proxy detention’ and ‘rendition’ or ‘extraordinary rendition’ – over the past nine years of the “Global War on Terror.”

A total of 44 states replied to a detailed questionnaire sent out by the report’s authors, who took almost a year to complete the study. The study also included details of interviews with 30 individuals -- or their family members or their legal counsel -- who were victims of secret detention, and in many cases may also have been subjected to torture.

The UN experts, who will present their study to the Human Rights Council in March, conclude that “secret detention is irreconcilably in violation of international human rights law including during states of emergency and armed conflict. Likewise, it is in violation of international humanitarian law during any form of armed conflict.”

Secret detention, the report says, effectively takes people outside the legal framework and renders the safeguards contained in international instruments, including habeas corpus, “meaningless.”

It also notes that “in spite of these unequivocal norms, secret detention continues to be used in the name of countering terrorism around the world.”

The report makes a series of recommendations that cover both law and practice, and are designed to improve transparency and accountability, as well as to provide judicial remedies, reparations and rehabilitation to victims, and in some cases to their families.

(*) The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin; Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (represented by its Vice-Chairperson, Shaheen Sardar Ali); and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (represented by its Chairperson, Jeremy Sarkin). All four so-called ‘Special Procedures’ are appointed by, and report to, the UN Human Rights Council.

(**) Read the full report: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/13session/A-HRC-13-42.doc

(***) Read the Joint Study Executive Summary