GENEVA (13 December 2017) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, has appealed to the United States to end a pervasive policy of impunity for crimes of torture committed by US officials.
“In 2014, a Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme publicly acknowledged the systematic use of torture in US custody," said Nils Melzer.
“To this day, however, the perpetrators and policymakers responsible for years of gruesome abuse have not been brought to justice, and the victims have received no compensation or rehabilitation.
“By failing to prosecute the crime of torture in CIA custody, the US is in clear violation of the Convention against Torture and is sending a dangerous message of complacency and impunity to officials in the US and around the world.”
Mr. Melzer said he was particularly concerned about detainees who had faced prolonged detention in almost complete isolation.
He highlighted the case of Ammar al-Baluchi, named 153 times in the Senate report, who is said to have suffered relentless torture for three-and-a-half years in CIA “black sites” before being moved to Guantanamo Bay, where his torture and ill-treatment are reported to continue.
“Mr. al-Baluchi has been held in isolation at a severely restricted-access facility at Guantanamo Bay for more than a decade,” the Special Rapporteur said.
“In addition to the long-term effects of past torture, noise and vibrations are reportedly still being used against him, resulting in constant sleep deprivation and related physical and mental disorders, for which he allegedly does not receive adequate medical attention.”
The Special Rapporteur also expressed grave concern that statements extracted under torture appeared to be admissible under the 2009 Military Commissions Act and could therefore be used against Mr. al-Baluchi.
The Special Rapporteur strongly reminded the US authorities that the ban on torture and ill-treatment was absolute and allowed for no exceptions whatsoever.
“This is one of the most fundamental norms of international law, and its violation is listed among the most serious international crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes,” Mr. Melzer said.
“No circumstances, however exceptional and well argued, may be invoked to justify torture. From Nuremberg to the establishment of the UN War Crimes Tribunals, the United States has contributed decisively to the fight against impunity worldwide. I therefore now urge the US to live up to its legacy, to end its policy of impunity and to bring its own perpetrators to justice.”
The Special Rapporteur said that, in practice, abuse stopped only when effective sanctions for violations were imposed.
“A society bruised by torture and abuse can heal only when the truth about secret policies and practices is fully disclosed to the public and when full reparation and rehabilitation is granted to victims,” he added.
The Special Rapporteur renewed a long-standing request to conduct an official visit to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and to interview inmates.
"I very much regret that, despite repeated requests, my predecessors and I have consistently been refused access to Guantanamo and other high security facilities in accordance with the standard terms of reference of my UN mandate,” he said.
Mr. Nils Melzer (Switzerland) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2016. Mr. Melzer has previously worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and is currently the Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.
The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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