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UN experts urge UAE not to repatriate former Guantanamo prisoner to Russia

Ravil Mingazov, a Muslim Tartar, faces 'substantial risks of torture or ill-treatment', UN experts warn, calling on the Emirates to cancel any plans for transfer
Emirati director-general of punitive and correctional institutions, Brigadier Ali al-Shamali, at Dubai's Al-Awir central prison in the UAE on 21 May 2020 (AFP)

A former Guantanamo detainee faces a "substantial risk of torture" if the United Arab Emirates repatriates him to Russia, UN human rights experts have warned. 

The United States transferred Ravil Mingazov, a Muslim Tartar, to the UAE in 2017 after he spent 15 years in Guantanamo Bay prison camp without charge or trial. 

While the conditions of his transfer were kept confidential, his family and legal team have said they were given assurances that he would be freed within months of arriving in the UAE. More than four years later, however, Mingazov remains imprisoned. 

'Mingazov has been subjected to continuous arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance'

- UN experts

Meanwhile, his lawyers say that the UAE has held Mingazov in worse conditions than that of Guantanamo Bay, detailing allegations of torture, including water deprivation. They have also accused the Emirates of withholding vital medical care. Mingazov, now 53, was 33 when he was detained by the US. 

"We are seriously concerned that instead of releasing him in accordance with the alleged resettlement agreement between the US and the UAE, Mr Mingazov has been subjected to continuous arbitrary detention at an undisclosed location in the UAE, which amounts to enforced disappearance," a group of UN experts said in a statement on Friday. 

Religious persecution

Even more concerning, the group said, is the UAE's plans to transfer Mingazov to Russia, where the experts say he is likely to be tortured and held in arbitrary detention "based on his religious beliefs". 

Muslim Tartars have long been a targeted minority in Russia, which has been accused of ethnic cleansing against the group. Russia also has a record of prosecuting former Guantanamo detainees under dubious trials.

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Mingazov, a former Red Army ballet dancer, has insisted that he fled Russia for Afghanistan out of fear of persecution. His wife, son and other family members who live in the UK had hopes that he could one day join them there, the Guardian reported, but they have been kept out of the loop by the UAE regarding his continued imprisonment. 

Meanwhile, no official information has been shared with Mingazov or his family regarding the planned repatriation to Russia, according to the UN experts.  

"Any repatriation process happening without full respect for procedural guarantees, including an individualised risk assessment, would violate the absolute prohibition of refoulement," the experts said, referring to a legal term that describes the forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are likely to be persecuted.

The UAE has transferred at least three of the 23 former Guantanamo detainees that it has accepted from the US to other countries.

The US State Department did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment by the time of this article's publication. 

The UAE's ex-Gitmo prisoners

In October, the same experts urged the UAE to stop its plans to repatriate 18 other former Guantanamo detainees to Yemen. The Emirates halted those plans but has continued to hold the detainees under questionable circumstances without any form of due process.

"While we welcome the Government’s decision not to repatriate these Yemeni nationals, we continue to be gravely concerned at their indefinite detention at an undisclosed location, without charge or trial, with extremely restricted family contact, no legal representation and recurrent periods of prolonged solitary confinement," the experts said.

'We urge the UAE to review its policy of repatriating former Guantanamo detainees despite substantial risks of torture'

- UN experts

"We urge the UAE Government to review its policy of repatriating former Guantanamo detainees despite substantial risks of torture or ill-treatment in the States of destination," the experts said. 

"It is not acceptable that detainees who did not return home, after years of arbitrary detention at Guantanamo Bay, from fear of persecution are now being repatriated with no judicial oversight or possibility to challenge this decision," the experts said.

"We repeat our call to the Emirati government, to observe its international human rights obligations and refrain from forcibly repatriating detainees to their countries of origin where they may incur a risk of torture and ill-treatment," the experts said.

"The government should also stop violating the rights of detainees resettled in the UAE and order their immediate release and reunification with their families."

There are currently 40 people left at Guantanamo Bay's prison camp. US President Joe Biden has vowed to close the facility before he leaves office, but Mingazov's case highlights long-term issues with the US's policy of transferring former inmates to their home or third party countries.