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PRESS CONFERENCE ON RESPONSE RECEIVED FROM UNITED STATES ON ACCESS TO GUANTANAMO BAY DETENTION FACILITIES

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

31 October 2005

(Issued on 1 November 2005.)

Speaking at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on Torture, said that various special rapporteurs of the United Nations had received allegations of human rights violations in detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, including arbitrary detention, torture, ill treatment, and violations of the rule of law.

On 25 June 2004, he said, a first joint letter had been sent requesting a visit to the suspected terrorists. In April 2005 of this year the first joint meeting with United States officials had been held in Geneva, where United States officials had stated that a joint visit to Guantanamo Bay was being seriously considered at the highest level. Nevertheless, no response had been received when all the special rapporteurs had met again in Geneva in June 2005.

Consequently, at the Geneva meeting it had been decided that five special rapporteurs would carry out a joint investigation into the legal and the factual human rights situation of detainees, and repeated the request for a joint visit. Finally, in a meeting with United States officials at United Nations Headquarters last Friday, assurances of United States cooperation with all five rapporteurs had been received. However, the letters from the Defence Department inviting them to visit the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay were only extended to three. On Saturday, 29 October, all five had met at Headquarters and had decided to accept the invitation and to carry out the joint visit on 6 December 2005 in accordance with their terms of reference for fact-finding missions.

Continuing, he expressed his regret that two of his colleagues, Paul Hunt, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to health and Leandro Despouy, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, had not been invited to attend. Furthermore, although a visit of several days had been requested, only a one-day visit had been offered, which they were prepared to accept, in the spirit of compromise.

The special procedures could not make any compromise in terms of reference, including unrestricted access to detainees and private interviews with them, he stressed. He was sure that the United States Government would fully understand and finally agree that United Nations investigators were not in a position to accept a “guided tour” of Guantanamo, as had been arranged in the past for members of Congress and media representatives.

In recent fact-finding missions to Georgia, Mongolia and Nepal, private and unsupervised visits had been granted, he said. Further, China had recently accepted his terms of reference, enabling him to start a fact-finding mission there, about three weeks from now. The United States Government had encouraged China to accept such a visit and had always insisted that it should include unsupervised and unannounced visits. He was sure that the United States Government would appreciate that he could not apply lower standards of independent fact-finding to the United States than to other countries.

In a letter of invitation, the Department of Defence had stressed that the United States was committed to the rule of law and to striving for transparency. The special rapporteurs were, therefore, confident that they could carry out the visit to Guantanamo on 6 December in full compliance with terms of reference.

Continuing the briefing, Leila Zerrougui, Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, said that the Working Group had already visited 20 countries and had never accepted supervised meetings with detainees. The United States Government had made a positive step and she hoped that in the near future she could visit those who were detained in Guantanamo, in accordance with the terms of reference.

Asked why he was so sure the United States would change its mind on 6 December and allow private visits, Mr. Nowak said that he was sure that the United States would agree to it. The special rapporteurs would have to have assurances from the United States Government before the visit, or the visit could not take place, he said.

Asked whether the United States was trying to hide the way in which its prisoners were being treated, Mr. Nowak said that the United States Government claimed to have nothing to hide, in which case there was no reason for the special rapporteurs not to visit the prisoners in private.

A correspondent asked which other countries had recently denied the special rapporteurs access to prisoners. Mr. Nowak replied that in recent fact-finding missions to Georgia and Nepal, there had been no problem. In Mongolia, the special rapporteurs had not able to speak to prisoners on death row.

Asked if there were countries that were not allowing visits to take place, Ms. Zerrougui said that there were many countries that did not agree to visits. The special rapporteurs were currently in the process of negotiating visits to Turkey, Ecuador and Honduras. Requests had also been sent to Syria, Egypt, Turkmenistan and Algeria, but so far no responses had been received.

A correspondent asked what explanation the United States had given for its refusal to agree to private interviews. The United States had said that, in principle, there was a war going on, Mr. Nowak said, and that United Nations human rights rapporteurs were not competent to visit Guantanamo Bay.

Asked whether China’s compliance with the terms of reference meant that they were more transparent than the United States, Mr. Nowak replied that the China visit had taken a long time to negotiate and he was confident that the United States Government would also end up complying with the terms of reference.

Could it be concluded that the Chinese system was more open to human rights criticism than the United States system? asked a correspondent. Mr. Nowak replied that the situation after 11 September was very specific. The special rapporteurs were not conducting a general fact-finding mission to the United States, but had asked for access to suspected terrorists, so it was difficult to compare the two situations.

If the special rapporteurs were not granted access to the prisoners, what would be next step? a correspondent asked. Mr. Nowak said that they would, nevertheless, submit a joint report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in the coming spring. If private access to prisoners was not granted, the visit would not go ahead, but they would still be able to draw on a great deal of evidence.

Asked to elaborate on the situation regarding visits to Ecuador and Turkey, Ms. Zerrougui said she hoped to visit those two countries in 2006.

Asked why they were willing to accept a visit of just one day, Ms. Zerrougui said that they were willing to compromise in order to achieve their aims. It was the terms of reference that were the most important. Mr. Nowak added that the special procedures could hopefully conduct about 20 interviews on that one day.

A correspondent asked which other detention facilities outside of Guantanamo they were concerned about. Mr. Nowak replied that he wished to carry out investigations wherever suspected terrorists were held by the United States. In that regard, the special rapporteurs had asked the United States Government to provide a list of places of detention.

Asked about the legal standing of the terms of reference regarding international law, Mr. Nowak said that those were standards that were taken seriously, even though they were not legally binding. Ms. Zerrougui said it had to be ensured that fact-finding missions were conducted impartially and effectively. It was common sense to have such terms of reference even if they were not legally binding.

A correspondent asked what role the media had played in presenting the facts on Guantanamo Bay in a fair and impartial manner. Many journalists had not had proper access, Mr. Nowak replied, and it was difficult, therefore, for them to report objectively. There were many different rumours, which was one of the reasons a fact-finding mission was necessary.

Asked how he felt about the Pentagon’s position that visiting Guantanamo Bay came under the jurisdiction of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), he said that the special rapporteurs were also monitors for international human rights law. The terms were different, however, so there was no competition whatsoever.

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For information media • not an official record



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