Since the first detainees were brought to the offshore prison at Guantánamo Bay in January 2002, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and allies have been advocating on behalf of detainees domestically and in international fora, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The IACHR is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States, of which the United States is a member, and works to protect and promote human rights in the Americas.
In February 2002, CCR, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), and co-petitioners submitted a request to the IACHR to issue Precautionary Measures (PMs) for all detainees at Guantánamo. The request asserted that the PMs would protect the detainees’ rights, including the right to be treated as prisoners-of-war and to be free from arbitrary, incommunicado, and prolonged detention, unlawful interrogations, and trials by military commission in which they could be sentenced to the death. In March 2002, the IACHR issued PMs
urging the U.S. government to clarify “the legal status of the detainees determined by a competent tribunal” so they are “afforded the legal protections commensurate with the status that they are found to possess, which may in no case fall below the minimum standards of non-derogable rights.”
Since then, the IACHR has had in place PMs that cover all of the men who continue to be detained at Guantánamo, and at times has expanded the scope of those measures to include requests that the U.S. government ensure the detainees at Guantánamo are not transferred to countries where there are substantial grounds for believing they would be in danger of being subjected to torture or other mistreatment and that the prisoners have fair hearings and access to counsel.
As the U.S. government has shirked responsibility for the blatant human rights abuses at the prison over the last decade, CCR has continued to use the IACHR as an international platform to advocate for the men detained at Guantánamo – the overwhelming majority of whom have never been charged with a crime and remain subject to indefinite and arbitrary detention. This forum has also given CCR and allies opportunities to build continuous public pressure on the U.S. government for failing to adhere to international human rights norms with respect to the operation of the prison. Our involvement with the Commission has included petitions, supplemental filings, and hearings on behalf of all prisoners at Guantanamo (Detainees in the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, MC-259-02) and individual men (Djamel Ameziane
, MC-211-08, P-900-08; Al Zahrani
v. United States).
In March 2013, CCR and co-petitioners were granted a thematic hearing to educate and update the Commission on a breadth of issues. CCR, CEJIL, Physicians for Human Rights, and the CUNY CLEAR Project provided expert testimony on the grave psychological impact of indefinite detention; the deaths of men at Guantánamo; the lack of access to fair trials; and illegitimate U.S. policies that restrict the closure of the prison. The hearing marked the first time since President Obama’s re-election that U.S. officials were confronted with questions about Guantánamo and its future in a formal public setting. The government’s failure to answer the Commission’s simple questions about how it plans to close the prison camp was indefensible, especially given the humanitarian crisis that was unfolding as they spoke. The hearing took place during the fifth week of the hunger strike, when a majority of detainees were peacefully protesting worsening prison conditions, religious provocation, and the crushing reality that after 11 years in indefinite detention, there seemed to be no end in sight to their suffering.
On April 5, 2013, the IACHR issued a press release
following the conclusion of its Spring session and in response to the information that we provided them at the thematic hearing, strongly condemned the U.S.’s policy of indefinite detention as a serious violation of the right to humane treatment and urged the U.S. to close Guantánamo “without delay and proceed to prosecute or release the detainees". Then in May 2013, the IACHR issued a strong joint-statement
with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the UN Special Rapporteur on countering terrorism, the UN Special Rapporteur on health, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calling on the U.S. government to “respect and guarantee the life, health and personal integrity of detainees at the Guantánamo Naval Base”. Additionally, they demanded that the United States take immediate steps to end the crisis unfolding at the prison and close the detention center. Further, on July 23, 2013, the Commission extended the scope
of its existing PMs due to "allegations of widespread abuse and mistreatment, including unnecessary and humiliating searches, the force feeding of detainees who have chose to participate in a hunger strike, and the increasing segregation and isolation of detainees."
On October 28, 2013, CCR, CEJIL, and Juan Méndez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, were invited to appear at a hearing convened by the Commission to update on the government's progress to close the prison.