UN demands access to Guantanamo detainees

By Jonathan Fowler

The Independent

26 June 2004

Thirty-one United Nations human rights experts yesterday urged the US and other governments holding terror suspects to give monitors access to their detention facilities.

Four experts should be allowed to visit jails including those in Iraq, Afghanistan and the US base in Guantanamo Bay, they said. The terms of visits by UN monitors normally include unlimited access without prior notice and confidential interviews with detainees.

The experts would report to the 53-nation UN Human Rights Commission. They have not presented formal requests to the states, but will ask the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, to do so. A direct request in March to the US to visit Guantanamo Bay has been ignored.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which serves as a watchdog to ensure adherence to the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of warfare, is the only independent body so far given access to US facilities.

The 31 experts said they condemned terrorism, but wanted to ensure human rights standards were upheld by states fighting for them, particularly following charges of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. The abuse is the subject of investigations by US authorities.

Human rights campaigners welcomed the experts' call. "If the Bush administration is serious about its rejection of torture, it needs to let the UN inspectors in," Reed Brody, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch in New York, said.