US failure to address as an ongoing human rights issue and to ensure accountability and remedy for past abuses in the counter-terrorism context
Three years ago, in seeking election to the Human Rights Council, the United States of America pledged as follows:
"As the United States seeks to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world, we do so cognizant of our own commitment to live up to our ideals at home and to meet our international human rights obligations."
The modern history of the USA indeed includes examples of remarkable advocacy and progress for human rights. One area, however, where there has been zero human rights progress during the three years since the USA’s pledge is with respect to the system of indefinite military detention without charge or fair trial at the US Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. Detentions at the base are now into their 11th year.
The last three years have also seen no real progress towards full accountability for human rights violations, including crimes under international law, committed by US personnel in the counter-terrorism context. This continues despite copious public evidence of the crimes and crystal clear obligations under, for instance, the UN Convention against Torture.
Further, US courts have systematically refused to hear the merits of lawsuits seeking redress for egregious human rights violations committed in this context. The courts have done so at the urging of government lawyers, citing national security secrecy and various forms of immunity under US law.
It is nearly six years since five UN Special Procedures addressed the Council jointly to call for all detainees at the Guantánamo detention facility to be expeditiously brought to fair trials or released, and for the detention facilities to be closed without further delay. On 23 January of this year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights publicly expressed her deep disappointment at the USA's failure to close that facility, and its determination instead to entrench a system of arbitrary detention, describing as "disturbing" the USA's failure to ensure accountability for serious human rights violations, including torture.