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UAE: UN experts say forced return of ex-Guantanamo detainees to Yemen is illegal, risks lives

15 October 2020

GENEVA (15 October 2020) – UN human rights experts* today called on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to halt plans to forcibly repatriate 18 Yemeni nationals who had previously been held at Guantanamo Bay, saying their forced return put their lives at risk and violated international human rights and humanitarian law.

The former Guantanamo inmates were resettled to the UAE from November 2015 to January 2017 and, for humanitarian reasons, were reportedly provided with assurances that they would spend 6-12 months in a residential rehabilitation programme, before being released into Emirati society and reunited with their families.

“We are seriously concerned about the secrecy surrounding the terms and mode of implementation of this resettlement programme agreed between the UAE and the United States,” the experts said.

“It is worrying that instead of undergoing a rehabilitation programme, or otherwise be released, that these men have been subjected to continuous arbitrary detention at an undisclosed location,” the experts said. “Now they are at risk of being forcibly repatriated to their native Yemen amid an ongoing armed conflict and a profound humanitarian crisis.”

The 18 detainees were allegedly forced to sign documents consenting to their repatriation, or otherwise remain indefinitely in Emirati detention.

“This repatriation process is happening without any form of judicial guarantees, or individual examination and assessment of risks, which blatantly violates the absolute prohibition of non-refoulement under international human rights and humanitarian law,” the experts said.

No State has the right to expel, return or otherwise remove any individual from its territory whenever there are “substantial grounds” for believing that the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture in the State of destination.

“The ongoing armed conflict in Yemen, where non-State armed actors control parts of the territory and a humanitarian crisis is reported, does not allow the provision nor compliance with diplomatic assurances,” the experts said. “Diplomatic assurances, where provided, do not release States from their obligations under international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, in particular the principle of non-refoulement.

“We express further alarm that after years of detention without charge or trial at Guantanamo Bay, the transferred detainees are facing further lengthy periods of detention without charge or trial in the UAE, with very limited contact with their families and no legal representation, while being subjected to ill-treatment,” the experts said.

“Resettled detainees seem to be systematically forced to return to their countries of origin where, in most cases, they may face serious risks of torture and ill-treatment.

The UN experts had previously expressed similar concerns to the Emirati Government in July 2020. “We further demand that the UAE authorities disclose the terms of the resettlement programme, immediately release all former detainees at Guantanamo Bay resettled in the UAE, and allow them to reunite with their families,” they said. 


*The experts: Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), José Guevara Bermúdez, Sètondji Roland Adjovi, and Seong-Phil Hong, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Yasmine Ashraf ([email protected]/+41 22 917 2059)
For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / [email protected]), Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 22 917 7578 / [email protected]) and Kitty McKinsey ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter@UN_SPExperts.

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