The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that the continued indefinite detention of Guantanamo prisoners was a “clear breach of international law.” Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed her disappointment in the U.S. government’s failure to close Guantanamo Bay prison despite President Obama’s order to close the detention facility in January 2009.
In addition to the arbitrary detention of Guantanamo detainees, the High Commissioner highlighted other violations of international human rights law including torture that occurred in Guantanamo. The National Defense Authorization Act codified the U.S. contravention of international law by legalizing “indefinite military detention without charge or trial.”
Navi Pillay recognized President Obama’s commitment to interpreting the National Defense Authorization Act in a manner consistent with the U.S. Constitution and international law, yet called for the United States government to “ensure that individuals deprived of their liberty can have the lawfulness of their detention reviewed before a court.” Pillay reminded the United States that the Convention against Torture, ratified by the U.S. in 1994, imposed an affirmative duty on States Parties to investigate serious human rights violations including torture. Pillay recommended that the United States conduct such investigations in order to hold U.S. officials accountable for authorizing and implementing “coercive interrogation methods analogous to torture” at Guantanamo Bay.
Pillay urged the U.S. government to adhere to its obligations under international human rights law while operating the Guantanamo detention center and pushed Congress to “respect the principle of non-refoulement” when closing Guantanamo.
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Article 2 of the Convention against Torture, which the United States ratified in 1994, states that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Article 12 outlines the obligation for a state to investigate: “Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.”