UN rights chief urges US close Guantanamo

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A sign is seen for a demonstration urging the government to close down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, outside the US Supreme Court 11 January 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Astrid Riecken - Getty Images - AFP)

Published Monday, January 23, 2012

UN rights chief Navi Pillay on Monday lamented the United States' failure to close the detention facility at its naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, three years after incoming President Barack Obama pledged to shut the camp.

"It is 10 years since the US government opened the prison at Guantanamo, and now three years since January 22, 2009, when the president ordered its closure within 12 months," the High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

"Yet the facility continues to exist and individuals remain arbitrarily detained – indefinitely – in clear breach of international law," she said in a statement.

Pillay said new legislation had only entrenched the system of arbitrary detention at Guantanamo Bay, that accepted its first prisoners on 11 January 2002.

The National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law in December 2011, "effectively codifies" indefinite military detention without charge or trial, she said.

"This piece of legislation contravenes some of the most fundamental tenets of justice and human rights, namely the right to a fair trial and the right not to be arbitrarily detained."

"I urge the US Congress to take steps to enable the US administration to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center – as it stated it wished to do – in compliance with the government's obligations under international human rights law," she said.

Pillay said the United States should respect the principle of non-refoulement, under which no one should be sent back to a country where they may face torture, and investigate all allegations of human rights violations, including torture, at Guantanamo Bay.

The US has struggled to find alternative homes for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, with reluctant allies unwilling to agree to transfer deals.

The Taliban is hopeful the US will release five of its officials currently detained in the notorious prison as a confidence-building measure, although Washington said it is yet to make a decision on the matter.

Marc Grossman, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said on Sunday that the release of Taliban prisoners would need the support of Congress.

"We haven't made any decisions and it's no surprise to any of you that this is an issue in the Unites States of law. We have to meet the requirements of our law," Grossman said.

The Taliban announced this month that it would open a political office in Qatar as a prelude to holding peace talks with the United States and its allies, seen by their supporters as the best chance of ending the decade-long war ahead of a withdrawal of foreign combat troops in 2014.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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