Press Release

UN human rights chief welcomes US
appointment of prosecutor to
investigate alleged abuse
of terror suspects

25 August 2009

GENEVA – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Tuesday welcomed the United States Attorney-General’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to undertake a preliminary review into whether US laws were violated by CIA officers and contractors during the interrogation of detainees at places outside the United States, including Guantanamo Bay. She also welcomed the recent release from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp of an Afghan who was reportedly 12 years old when first taken into custody.

“I warmly welcome this responsible decision by the US government to open a preliminary investigation,” Pillay said. “I hope there is a swift examination of the various allegations of abuse made by former and current detainees in Guantanamo and other US-run prisons, and if they are verified, that the next steps will involve accountability for anyone who has violated the law.”

Pillay said her concern all along “has been that there should not be impunity for torture or any other unlawful treatment of detainees, whether it is in the United States or anywhere else in the world. While we now have some idea of what occurred in Guantanamo, and to a lesser extent places like Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, we still need more transparency about secret places of detention, and what went on in them.”

Pillay said that the use of secret places of detention must be curbed, and called for the release of the names of detainees currently held in these detention centres. “Secrecy has been a major part of the problem with this type of detention regime,” she said. “When guards and interrogators think they are safe from outside scrutiny, and legal safeguards are circumvented, laws become all too easy to ignore.”

The High Commissioner also praised the decision to release Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan boy who was taken prisoner in 2002 when he may only have been 12 years old. Most of the charges against him were ruled inadmissible in 2008, and last month a US District Court ordered his release from Guantanamo. “I am delighted to hear that on Monday Mohammed Jawad was allowed to return to his family in Afghanistan,” Pillay said. “It has taken an extraordinarily long time, but the US justice system – once it was able to operate properly in his case – has, I believe, finally delivered justice.”

However, she added that “in Jawad’s case and those of other people held in detention for unacceptably long periods, without any charges being proven, or who were tortured or otherwise treated unlawfully, compensation and other remedies are essential. Some people have lost seven years of their lives, and may have been severely psychologically, physically or financially scarred by their experience, simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Pillay reiterated her support for the US President’s commitment to close the Guantanamo camp by 2010 and asked him to urgently review the status of detainees at the Bagram facility in Afghanistan. The High Commissioner urged all states to rigorously review their interrogation techniques to ensure they do not contravene the international laws relating to the treatment of detainees, including the absolute prohibition on the use of torture in all places at all times.

“All measures to combat terrorism must comply with States’ obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, in particular protection from torture,” Pillay said. “These laws are fundamental, and should once again be seen as sacrosanct.”