“I’m in a cage like an animal
No one asked me am I human or not”
Former detainee at Guantanamo Bay
Sana’a, Yemen – Governments must stop undermining rights they have promised to defend, said Amnesty International Sunday at the conclusion of a two-day conference on the impact of the illegal detention of Guantanamo detainees and other detainees held after September 11 in the Gulf region.
“The situation at Guantanamo Bay is a major human rights scandal that has widespread implications for the whole world,” said Javier Zuniga, senior director at Amnesty International. “This policy promotes a world in which arbitrary and unchallengeable detentions become acceptable.”
The harsh conditions of detention of the Guantanamo Bay detainees have had far reaching consequences on their communities and families, including voiceless women and children, whose rights must also be recognized and respected, participants said. Similarly, the continuing arbitrary and illegal detentions of thousands of persons in many countries in the Gulf, represents a fundamental challenge to the rule of law and constitutes a betrayal of fundamental human rights principles.
The conference is the first to gather relatives of detainees in the Gulf, human rights organizations, lawyers from throughout the Middle East and around the world, activists and members of civil society institutions. It was organized jointly by Amnesty International and the National Organization for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms (HOOD) in Yemen on 10-11 April.
“Progress and civilisation must not be measured only by scientific, technological and military progress. They must be measured by the human conscience, the degree of disapproval of human rights violations and by what we can do to bring human sufferings to an end,” said Amat al-Alim al-Soswa, Yemen’s minister of human rights in her opening speech of the conference Saturday.
Stripping detainees from any access to due process of law or even their fundamental entitlement to the most basic human rights standards constitutes an unprecedented human rights scandal,” a document released at the end of the conference said. “As human rights defenders, it is our most central belief that every woman, man, and child has inherent rights that belong to them as human beings.”
The document entitled the “Sana’a Appeal” criticised the abuse generated by sweeping security measures adopted by many governments after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, and which amounted to “a human rights crisis that poses a threat to people of the world.”
Human Rights Watch
The appeal called on the governments of the United States and the Gulf region to end the legal limbo of all the detainees, including those held in undisclosed locations, and to grant them full access to lawyers, doctors, families and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“Governments must ensure that all those held are charged and given fair trials or released… They must ensure that detainees are treated humanely and halt the forcible return of foreign nationals to countries where they would face serious human rights violations,” the appeal read.
Participants also called on governments to ensure strict compliance with human rights standards in any security cooperation between states, and in all security training programs. They also asked that Amnesty International and other international human rights organizations be granted access to detainees and officials in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Base, and all other undisclosed locations.
“The detention of individuals in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Bagram, Afghanistan, without regard to due process is a major threat to all our freedoms,” said Terry Waite, human rights activist and former hostage. “International human rights have been hard-won across the years. I thank God for organisations such as Amnesty International who refuse to allow them to be lost at this point in our global history.”
The international community must also ensure that the United Nations (UN) human rights mechanisms urgently address the abrogation of fundamental norms in the detention and treatment of persons in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Base and other undisclosed locations, urged the appeal.
Non-governmental organisations and the civil society must press their governments to review security legislation against the standards of international human rights law and to seek respect for the fundamental human rights of nationals of their own country held in Guantanamo Bay, and to support and disseminate the appeal.
They are also urged to develop initiatives to educate the public regarding human rights obligations and create and support a mechanism for lawyers and jurists in the region to share information and coordinate efforts on legal appeals for detainees.
“We, the families, honestly need you,” said Khaled al-Odah whose son Fawzi al-Odah has been detained in Guantanamo for the past two years. “Organising such conferences will keep this case alive in the conscience of the world community.”