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US must provide reparations to Guantanamo Bay detainees, says UN expert

UN special rapporteur releases report after first visit to Guantanamo detention centre
UN experts have said that Guantanamo has been an enduring symbol of human rights violations over the past two decades.
UN experts have said that Guantanamo has been an enduring symbol of human rights violations over the past two decades (AFP/File photo)

A United Nations expert said on Monday that the US government's treatment of Guantanamo Bay inmates was cruel, inhuman and degrading under international law and called for Washington to apologise and provide reparations to the detainees.

“I observed that after two decades of custody, the suffering of those detained is profound, and it’s ongoing,” UN special rapporteur Fionnuala Ni Aolain told reporters in New York.

“The US government must urgently provide judicial resolution, apology and guarantees of non-repetition,” she added.

Aolain's comments came after she released a new report on Monday, which detailed her observations and recommendations after visiting the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay earlier this year - the first such visit by a UN expert.

"The world has and will not forget. Without accountability, there is no moving forward on Guantanamo," she said in her report.

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The report was released on the UN's International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The US State Department released a statement to commemorate the day, saying: "The United States reaffirms our condemnation of torture wherever and whenever it occurs and stands in solidarity with victims and survivors of torture around the world."

But UN experts have been critical of the American detention centre, saying that it has been an enduring symbol of human rights violations over the past two decades.

"The US Government is under a continuing obligation to complete thorough, independent, and effective investigations into alleged violations, sanction those responsible, provide appropriate redress and reparation to all victims and adopt effective guarantees of non-repetition," the report states.

US President Joe Biden is under pressure to clear out uncharged prisoners at Guantanamo and move ahead with the trials of those accused of having direct ties to al-Qaeda.

But Aolain's report went further, touching on issues pertaining to the rights and needs of former detainees who have been released but continue to deal with the lasting trauma from their detentions.

Her recommendations included removing former detainees from watchlists that "prevent them from the resumption of normal life in society", and providing "as full rehabilitation as possible to the men who were detained at Guantanamo", and address "the situation of men arbitrarily detained in Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates and any other countries where former detainees are being subject to serious violations of human rights".

US 'obligated to provide rehabilitation'

The prison at Guantanamo Bay was opened in 2002 in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent US-led "war on terror". By 2003, it was holding 700 detainees. Since then, hundreds were released and transferred out without ever being charged with a crime.

There are 30 detainees who remain at the facility, with 16 of them being eligible for transfer out of the prison.

Nine are being tried via the military commission process and two have been convicted via the commission process.

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The report was welcomed by rights groups as well as former detainees, who further stressed the call that in addition to the need for the US to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, Washington must provide financial reparations to those who were detained and tortured in the detention facilities.

“I was a victim of US torture by the CIA. I survived and have forgiven my torturers, and I am moving on with my life in Belize. But I still wait for an apology, medical care, and other compensation," Majid Khan, a former detainee who was released earlier this year, said in a statement.

"I appreciate all the support that Belize has provided me, but responsibility lies with the US. It would mean a lot to me."

Biden began a quiet effort to close the detention centre with hopes of transferring out the remaining population eligible for release, but he is facing an obstacle with the detainees ineligible for release.

Many legal experts have said the military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay have been an "abject failure" and have called on the US government to put an end to the proceedings, which have for decades been stuck at the pre-trial stage.

"The government is obligated to provide rehabilitation, and the detainees are entitled to it, but the government is continuing to choose not to meet its obligation," Yumna Rizvi, a policy analyst with the Center for Victims of Torture, said in a statement.

"The government’s response to the report is a denial of the existing reality as it relates to medical care of detainees. The government must address these issues immediately before the worst possible outcome occurs, the responsibility of which will fall squarely on its shoulders."

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