UN human rights experts welcome US invitation to Guantanamo Bay but seek more access

31 October 2005 –

The five independent experts of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights undertaking a joint study on the situation of detainees in Guantanamo Bay Naval Station today welcomed an invitation by the United States to visit the base while cautioning that they cannot accept the condition that denies them private interviews with the detainees.

"We cannot accept the exclusion of private interviews with detainees as this would not only contravene the Terms of Reference for Fact-finding missions by Special Procedures but also undermine the purpose of an objective and fair assessment of the situation of detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay," the group said in a joint statement. Special Procedures are set up by the Commission on Human Rights, from which the experts, who are unpaid and serve in an independent personal capacity, derive their mandates.

"We are sure that the US government will fully understand and finally agree that UN investigators are not in a position to accept the sort of guided tour to Guantanamo have been arranged in the past for the members of Congress and media representatives," Manfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, told a press conference at the United Nations Headquarters.

Mr. Nowak also pointed out that Washington has granted private interviews with detainees to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and to the detainees' defence lawyers.

"We are confident that the US Government, which attaches great importance to the principles of independent and objective fact finding, will understand our position," the group said in its joint statement.

The group has agreed to other conditions set by the US Government "in a spirit of compromise," including limiting the visit to one day, Mr. Nowak said. The date envisaged for the visit is 6 December.

The initiative dates back to June 2004, when the group of special rapporteurs joined their efforts to examine the situation of detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, which includes aspects involving different mandates.

In addition to Mr. Nowak, the members of the group are: Leandro Despouy, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Paul Hunt, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and Leila Zerrougui, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

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