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Guantánamo / Human Rights: “Indefinite detention – will it ever end?”

Indefinite detention in Guantánamo

01 May 2013

WASHINGTON / GENEVA (1 May 2013) – “The United States must respect and guarantee the life, health and personal integrity of detainees at the Guantánamo Naval Base, particularly in the context of the current hunger strike,” today said* a group of international experts on human rights, arbitrary detention, torture, counter- terrorism and health.

Since February, an increasing number of detainees have engaged in a hunger strike in protest of their state of indefinite detention and the treatment they have received from authorities at the prison. Twenty-one of theses detainees are being forcibly fed and another five have been hospitalized, the human rights specialists from the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights highlighted.

“At Guantánamo, the indefinite detention of individuals, most of whom have not been charged, goes far beyond a minimally reasonable period of time and causes a state of suffering, stress, fear and anxiety, which in itself constitutes a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” stressed the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez.

“We have received specific information regarding the severe and prolonged physiological and psychological damage caused by the detainees’ high degree of uncertainty over basic aspects of their lives, such as not knowing whether they will be tried orwhether they will be released and when; or whether they will see their family members again,” said the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has been following closely the situation in Guantanamo.

The UN Special Rapporteur on countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, drew attention to the fact that the US Government has admitted that there are at least 86 prisoners who have been cleared for transfer. “In other words,” he noted, “all relevant security-related government agencies or authorities have expressly certified that those detainees do not represent a threat to U.S. security.”

“Of those, 56 are Yemeni nationals who have been denied release based solely on their nationality and on the political situation in Yemen, which constitutes a clear violation of the principle of non-discrimination and renders their detention arbitrary and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law,” explained El Hadji Malick Sow, who currently heads the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

In the context of the ongoing hunger strike, the UN Special Rapporteur on health, Anand Grover, stressed that “health care personnel may not apply undue pressure of any sort on individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike, nor is it acceptable to use threats of forced feeding or other types of physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have voluntarily decided to go on a hunger strike.”

The experts urged the US Government to adopt concrete measures to end the indefinite detention of persons; to ensure the detainees are either released or prosecuted in accordance with due process and the principles and standards of international human rights law; to allow for independent monitoring by international human rights bodies; and to close the detention center at the Guantánamo Naval Base.

Over the past decade, there have been numerous requests by these and other experts to access the Guantánamo detention center and to hold private, confidential interviews with detainees - with no success.

The experts: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; El Hadji Malick Sow, Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; and Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
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