Press Release

IACHR Condemns Decision of the United States to Maintain Guantanamo Prison Open

February 20, 2018

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the recent Executive Order, announced on January 30, 2018, calling for the military prison facilities at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to remain open and opening the possibility that additional detainees may be transferred there in the future. In light of this new order, the Commission reiterates its urgent call to the United States for the immediate closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison facilities.

The Inter-American Commission has continuously monitored the human rights situation of persons detained at the US Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since the opening of the detention center in 2002, granting a number of precautionary measures in favor of detainees held there and publishing its 2015 report Towards the Closure of Guantanamo. The Commission was the first international body to call upon the US to take urgent steps to respect the basic rights of the detainees, two months after the arrival of the first prisoners in January of 2002, and has used multiple mechanisms to address the situation at Guantanamo.

The Commission has repeatedly requested permission from the State to visit the detention facilities, in 2007, 2011, 2013, and 2015. The United States granted the authorization but subject to conditions that the IACHR deemed unacceptable. Since 2013, the Commission has recommended the United States to immediately close the detention facilities at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Station. To date, the State has not complied with these measures; the announcement of the recent Executive Order represents the State’s clear intention not to comply with these measures.

“The Inter-American Commission considers that the issuance of this Executive Order, which reverses the previous State policy to transfer detainees out of the facility, marks a clear regression. The Commission reiterates, once again, that the continued indefinite detention of individuals in Guantánamo without due process is arbitrary and constitutes a clear violation of international law,” said Francisco Eguiguren, President of the Commission. “It is long past time for the United States to close the Guantánamo facilities, which have become a symbol of abuse around the world and undermine the United States’ calls for other countries to respect human rights,” he continued.

In this regard, Commissioner Joel Hernández, Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, elaborated, “It is time for the US to transfer the remaining detainees away from Guantánamo, returning those in indefinite detention to their country of origin or third countries, and trying the cases of those facing prosecution before military commissions in the federal courts. During more than fifteen years, the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay have failed to provide independent judicial review of the legality of detention, or due process. In recent years, the military commissions have continued to be plagued by allegations of serious defects in due process, including government surveillance of defense counsel meetings with clients, failure to provide access to exculpatory evidence, and failure to ensure an impartial judge. Furthermore, allegations of torture still have not been investigated and appropriate medical and psychological care continues to be denied to detainees.”

In addition, Commissioner Margarette Macaulay, IACHR Rapporteur for the United States, said: “The indefinite detention of persons, as occurs in Guantanamo, is arbitrary and constitutes a clear violation of international human rights law. The decision of the United States to allow the detention center to continue indefinitely open and to consider the possibility of transferring new detainees to the facilities in the naval base in Cuba, is contrary to all the recommendations that the Inter-American Commission has been issuing to the United States throughout the years, and is contrary to its obligations under international law.”

The Commission reiterates its deep concerns relating to due process guarantees for Guantánamo detainees. The Commission held a thematic hearing during its public sessions in Mexico City in September 2017 regarding alleged human rights violations in the ongoing trials of Guantánamo detainees before military commissions. At this hearing, the Commission received information alleging repeated violations of the defendants’ attorney-client privilege by the United States government and other serious defects in due process, as well as a lack of judicial independence from the Department of Defense. In this regard, the Commission notes its deep concern at the announcement in October that nearly all of Guantánamo detainee Saudi Abd al Rahim al Nashiri’s defense lawyers had resigned from his case, citing incurable ethical conflicts in continuing to represent him apparently related to an unwillingness of the United States government to guarantee the attorney-client privilege at Guantánamo Bay.

The Commission additionally reiterates its longstanding concerns that detainees continue to be denied adequate medical, psychological, and psychiatric care to address the lasting impacts of the torture that has been widely documented at the Guantanamo detention center, and at the lack of guarantees to ensure freedom of religion inside the facility. The Commission recalls its previously expressed concern that the State has never provided a clear justification for the exclusive application of this regime to foreign Muslim men, which creates the appearance that it discriminates against individuals based on their nationality, ethnicity, and religion.

The Commission reiterates its call to the United States to close the Guantánamo Bay detention center as soon as possible, following the specific recommendations contained in “Towards the Closure of Guantánamo” designed to encourage the United States to properly fulfill its commitments under international human rights law.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 031/18