Press Release


18 November 2005

The statement that follows was issued today by five independent experts of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, who are undertaking a joint study on the situation of detainees in Guantanamo Bay. The experts 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; Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and Leila Zerrougui, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

"We deeply regret that the United States Government did not accept the standard Terms of Reference for a credible, objective and fair assessment of the situation of the detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. These Terms include the ability to conduct private interviews with detainees.

Under the circumstances, we will not be traveling to Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, as doing so would undermine the principles on which the work of the Special Procedures, the fact-finding mechanisms established by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, is based. These principles apply to all fact-finding missions undertaken by the different Special Rapporteurs, Working Groups and Experts of the Commission to all countries.

It is particularly disappointing that the United States Government, which has consistently declared its commitment to the principles of independence and objectivity of the fact-finding mechanisms, was not in a position to accept these terms."

Chronology of Requests for Visits regarding detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other locations

Since early 2002, a number of special procedures mandate holders have been engaged in a dialogue with the United States Government regarding the situation of detainees held in Guantanamo Bay. In June 2004, we joined our efforts and decided to continue the dialogue with the US Government as a group because the situation under consideration falls under the scope of more than one mandate. Accordingly, on 25 June 2004, we sent a letter requesting to visit “those persons arrested, detained or tried on grounds of alleged terrorism or other violations, in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Guantanamo Bay military base and elsewhere”. Subsequent reminders focusing on a visit to Guantanamo Bay were sent on 22 November 2004, 21 April 2005 and 31 May 2005 respectively.

By letters dated 9 November 2004 and 20 May 2005 and in a briefing with the US delegation to the Commission on Human Rights, held on 4 April 2005 in Geneva, the United States of America responded by saying that the request “continued to be the subject of intense review and consideration” and that it “has received serious attention and is being discussed at the highest levels of the U.S. Government”.

On 23 June 2005, we announced publicly at a joint press conference that, in the absence of a reply, we will join our efforts to undertake, within our capacities of our respective mandates, a study to determine the situation of detainees in Guantanamo Bay. We have subsequently embarked on a study on the applicability of international human rights law to detention in Guatanamo and on the legal aspects related to this situation. We have also begun gathering factual information by various means and we will be carrying out interviews with former detainees currently residing in a number of countries. By letter dated 21 October 2005, we received a detailed response from the US Government to the questionnaire that was submitted by us on 8 August 2005.

On 26 and 28 October 2005, we had further meetings in New York City with US officials from the Defense and State Departments. At the second meeting, we were provided with the three letters of invitation and assurances that the US Government will continue its cooperation with the five independent experts involved in the joint study.

By letter dated 31 October 2005 we responded to the United States Government stating that we were pleased to accept the invitation extended to three of us and confirmed our readiness to visit on 6 December in accordance with the standard “Terms of Reference for Fact-finding missions by Special Procedures”. The same day, we announced publicly in a joint statement our decision to accept the invitation provided that we will have free access to all detainees and the opportunity to carry out private interviews with them as stipulated in the “Terms of Reference for Fact-finding missions by Special Procedures”.

By letter dated 15 November, we informed the US Government that in the absence of a response by 17 November, we will not be in a position to confirm the proposed visit of 6 December 2005.