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Pillay deeply disturbed by US failure to close Guantanamo prison

23 January 2012

GENEVA – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Monday expressed deep disappointment that the Government of the United States of America has failed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and has instead entrenched a system of arbitrary detention. The UN rights chief said she was also disturbed at the failure to ensure accountability for serious human rights violations, including torture, that took place there.

“It is ten years since the US Government opened the prison at Guantanamo, and now three years since 22 January 2009, when the President ordered its closure within twelve months. Yet the facility continues to exist and individuals remain arbitrarily detained – indefinitely – in clear breach of international law,” the High Commissioner said.

“To make matters worse, the new National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law in December 2011, now effectively codifies such indefinite military detention without charge or trial. This piece of legislation contravenes some of the most fundamental tenets of justice and human rights, namely the right to a fair trial and the right not to be arbitrarily detained. Nobody should ever be held for years on end without being tried and convicted, or released.”

The High Commissioner said she had noted the commitment made by President Obama in his statement on 31 December 2011 to interpret relevant sections of the National Defense Authorization Act “in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.”

“While fully recognizing the right and duty of states to protect their people and territory from terrorist acts, I remind all branches of the US Government of their obligation under international human rights law to ensure that individuals deprived of their liberty can have the lawfulness of their detention reviewed before a court,” Pillay said. “Where credible evidence exists against Guantanamo detainees, they should be charged and prosecuted. Otherwise, they must be released.”

Pillay added that international law* requires “thorough and systematic investigation of all allegations of serious human rights violations, including torture, that allegedly took place at Guantanamo Bay.”

“Every effort must be made to hold to account those responsible for the development, approval or implementation of coercive interrogation methods analogous to torture under international law,” she said. “Individuals found to have perpetrated, ordered, tolerated or condoned torture and ill-treatment should be brought to justice.”

She also urged the US Government, so long as Guantanamo remains open, to ensure that conditions of detention comply fully with human rights standards under international law. Pillay said she was disturbed by the Government’s failure to allow independent human rights monitoring of the detention conditions at Guantanamo.

“I urge the US Congress to take steps to enable the US Administration to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre – as it stated it wished to do – in compliance with the Government’s obligations under international human rights law, and in so doing, to fully respect the principle of non-refoulement, under which no one should be sent back to a country where they may face torture,” Pillay said.

END

* Article 2 of the Convention against Torture, which the United States ratified in 1994, states that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Article 12 outlines the obligation for a state to investigate: "Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction."

UN Human Rights Country Page – United States of America: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/USIndex.aspx

For more information or media enquiries, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org).

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