40 detainees still remain in the detention centre in Cuba, but only nine of them have been charged with or convicted of crimes
United Nations human rights experts have appealed to the new United States administration to immediately close the "disgraceful" Guantánamo Bay detention centre.
The remaining detainees risk death from rapidly deteriorating health by old age and mental and physical harm suffered in cruel and inhuman conditions of imprisonment, they said on Monday.
In 2003, the facility was holding 700 prisoners. Nineteen years later, 40 detainees still remain but only nine of them have been charged with or convicted of crimes, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.
"Guantánamo is a place of arbitrariness and abuse, a site where torture and ill-treatment was rampant and remains institutionalised, where the rule of law is effectively suspended, and where justice is denied," the experts said on the 19th anniversary of its establishment on January 11, 2002.
The experts are Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Leigh Toomey (chair-rapporteur), Elina Steinerte (vice-chair), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, Mumba Malila, Seong-Phil Hong of the working group on arbitrary detention, Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.
They said the Covid-19 pandemic further exacerbates health vulnerabilities for the increasingly elderly prison population.
"The very existence of this facility is a disgrace for the United States and the international community as a whole. Guantánamo should have been closed a long time ago," the UN experts said.
United Nations experts have consistently demanded the dismissal of the Military Commissions and the closure of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, holding them incompatible with the United States' obligations under international law.
"We must not forget these detainees, who have been subjected to torture or victims of comparable trauma, and still languish in Guantánamo, in a virtual legal limbo, outside the reach of the constitutional judicial system of the United States," they said.
"The prolonged and indefinite detention of individuals, who have not been convicted of any crime by a competent and independent judicial authority operating under due process of law, is arbitrary and constitutes a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or even torture."
Military Commissions are still undergoing pre-trial proceedings on motions to suppress evidence resulting from torture. Trials are not expected anytime soon, as such proceedings are likely to last several years, leaving the defendants indefinitely held. Six have long been cleared for transfer and one has recently been cleared for release through national security processes. All remain imprisoned.
"The Military Commissions violate the requirements of impartiality, independence and non-discrimination and should never have been used in the manner in which they were deployed at Guantánamo. These individuals should receive a fair and public hearing by competent, independent and impartial civilian court previously established by law," the experts said.
"We appeal to US authorities to prosecute, in full compliance with human rights law, the individuals held at Guantánamo Bay or, alternatively, immediately release or repatriate them while respecting the principle of non-refoulement."
'US must uphold its international legal obligations'
The experts said the United States must uphold its international legal obligations, conduct prompt and impartial investigations of alleged human rights violations and provide redress and rehabilitation to those who have endured prolonged arbitrary detention or any form of torture or ill-treatment.
"With a new administration coming into office in the United States and as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Guantánamo must finally be closed forever," they said.