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USA: Unmonitored access to detainees is essential to any credible enquiry into torture or cruel inhuman and degrading treatment, says UN torture expert

12 July 2011

GENEVA - The Special Rapporteur on Torture today expressed concerns about restrictions placed by the United States Government on his interaction with detainees.

Commenting on his attempts to gain unrestricted access to Private first class Bradley Manning, a United States soldier detained for allegedly leaking classified US communications to the Wikileaks website, Mendez said: “I am assured by the US Government that Mr. Manning’s prison regime and confinement is markedly better than it was when he was in Quantico. However, in addition to obtaining first hand information on my own about his new conditions of confinement, I need to ascertain whether the conditions he was subjected to for several months in Quantico amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. For that, it is imperative that I talk to Mr. Manning under conditions where I can be assured that he is being absolutely candid.”

At the Special Rapporteur’s request and after several meetings, the US Department of Defense has allowed Mendez to visit Pfc. Manning but warned him that the conversation would be monitored. Such a condition violates long-standing rules that the UN applies for prison visits and for interviews with inmates everywhere in the world. On humanitarian grounds and under protest, Mendez offered to Manning, through his counsel, to visit him under these restrictive conditions, an offer that Manning has declined.

The Special Rapporteur has, since the beginning of the year, been in negotiations with the US Government over unrestricted access to Manning. Last month, the Government informed him that it was not in a position to accede to the request for a private and unmonitored meeting with Manning.

“The question of my unfettered access to a detainee goes beyond my request to meet with Mr. Manning – it touches on whether I will be able to conduct private and unmonitored interviews with detainees if I were to conduct a country visit to the United States,” Mendez said.

He added that maintaining the principle of unfettered access to detainees is an important part of his responsibility as the UN expert on torture. It also determines whether UN experts can conduct credible enquiries into allegations of torture and ill-treatment when they visit places of detention and detainees. In 2004, the US Government allowed Mendez’s predecessor, Manfred Nowak, and three other mandate-holders, access to the Guantanamo Bay facilities, but the George W Bush administration imposed conditions that the UN mandate-holders could not accept. Early in his tenure, which began on November 1, 2010, Mendez formally asked the US Government for permission to visit Guantanamo Bay, a petition that has been renewed on several occasions since then. No answer has yet been given to this request.

“The United States, as a world leader, is a strong supporter of the international human rights system. Therefore, its actions must seek to set the pace in good practices that enhance the role of human rights mechanisms, ensuring and maintaining unfettered access to detainees during enquiries,” he added.

On April 2011, the US Government moved Manning from Quantico confinement facility to a facility in Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Manning continues to be held in pre-trial detention pending a court martial.

ENDS

Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on 1 November 2010. He is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights, and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. He is currently a Professor of Law at the American University – Washington College of Law, and Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. Learn more, log on to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/torture/rapporteur/index.htm

Check the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cat.htm

OHCHR Country Page – UNITED STATES A: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/UNITED STATES Index.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact: Mr. Tsatsu Dawson (Tel: +41 22 917 711 / email: tdawson@ohchr.org) or write to sr-torture@ohchr.org.

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