UN rights experts urge US President Obama to release report on CIA torture allegations

US President Barack Obama. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

26 November 2014 – The United States must rise to meet the high human rights standards it has set for itself and others around the world, a group of United Nations human rights experts urged today, as they called on President Obama to support “the fullest possible release” of a report detailing Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) interrogation practices.

In an open letter addressed to Mr. Obama, the six UN rights experts said that much depended on how the President would handle the stalemated issue of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's CIA report, stressing that the stakes were “very high” as his decision would have “far-reaching consequences for victims of human rights violations everywhere and for the credibility of the United States.”

“As a nation that has publicly affirmed its belief that respect for truth advances respect for the rule of law, and as a nation that frequently calls for transparency and accountability in other countries, the United States must rise to meet the standards it has set both for itself and for others,” the experts declared.

“Victims of torture and human rights defenders around the world will be emboldened if you take a strong stand in support of transparency. On the contrary, if you yield to the CIA's demands for continued secrecy on this issue, those resisting accountability will surely misuse this decision to bolster their own agenda in their countries.”

Launched in early 2009, the Senate Committee's investigation lasted four years during which millions of pages of CIA documents and emails centring on the agency's interrogation techniques were examined. The report was eventually approved in late 2012 with an official release date set for April 2014. However, it has yet to be released, purportedly due to demands by the CIA that material be redacted from the document, the Geneva-based UN rights experts said in a press release.

“The CIA is reportedly demanding that pseudonyms created by the Committee for specific CIA officials be deleted in favour of even more generic and vague language, which beyond obscuring names, obscure patterns that are a crucial element of the system of violations that needs to be fully understood and redressed,” they added.

As a result, the UN experts have urged Mr. Obama to release the report in what they say would be “meaningful form,” allowing the public to understand the facts and promoting the right to truth for victims and their families.

While they commended Mr. Obama on his wish to “look forward” on the torture issue and for his decision to shutter a CIA interrogation programme accused of torturing detainees, they recommended the US leader also push for the recognition of and redress for other violations that took place under the same CIA programmes, including secret and arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances, among others.

In addition, they reminded Mr. Obama that every party to the UN Convention against Torture has an obligation to thoroughly and promptly investigate credible reports of torture, ensure accountability and provide adequate remedies to victims.

“Lasting security can only be achieved on the basis of truth and not secrecy,” the experts continued. “We hope that as President of a nation that helped draft the Convention Against Torture – and as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate – you will recognize the historic nature of your decision and side with those in the United States and around the world who are struggling to reveal the truth and to bring an end to the use of torture.”

The group of independent experts – part of what is known as Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system – is composed of Mads Andenas, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Pablo de Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Ariel Dulitzky, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; and Juan E. Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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