Counter-terrorism policies are used to target, constrain, and attack civil society across the globe, says human rights expert at UN - Detentions in Guantánamo, Xinjiang, and Northeast Syria highlighted as ongoing egregious violations of human rights.
A new human rights report presented at the United Nations in Geneva draws a “clear and sustained line” between the torture and extraordinary rendition that have been part of the so-called ‘war on terror’ and contemporary practices of mass arbitrary detention and torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Xinjiang (China) and northeast Syria.
Lack of access, transparency, accountability and remedy — highlighted as part of the 20th year of since the 9-11 attacks and the first rendition to Guantánamo Bay (Cuba) - are the elements that have enabled and sustained a permissive environment for contemporary large-scale detention and harm to individuals, said the report’s author, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin.
Ms. Ní Aoláin is the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism. Her latest report is a billed as a follow-up to a seminal 2010 report, referred to as the “Joint Study”.
“The report does not make for easy reading. It shouldn't make for easy reading. We should all feel profoundly troubled by the ongoing reality of sustained arbitrary detention and torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that continued since 2001, despite the unequivocal call by the Joint Study and other human rights bodies to bring an end to these practices.”
The most important part of her report was its annex, Ms. Ní Aoláin said, as it listed the names of every single individual identified who was subject to secret detention.
“Counterterrorism discourses essentially justified the most egregious of human rights violations: from the practice of waterboarding to solitary confinement, to the denial of medical treatment, to physical harm to the bodies of those who are slapped across borders and then detained many of them for decades,” Ms. Ní Aoláin told reporters in Geneva.
The practice of torture by “waterboarding” (simulated drowning) was legally justified and brutally carried out in “black sites” controlled by the United States, Ms. Ní Aoláin said at her presentation to the Human Rights Council today, adding that detainees were placed in coffin-like structures for extended periods of time, kept in solitary confinement - often for months at a time - and subjected to degrading forms of sexual torture. She later reminded reporters that 38 detainees are still being held without trial at Guantánamo.
Her report also identifies grave concerns about practices of arbitrary mass and secret detention with other serious violations of international law directed at the Uighurs and other ethnic groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region under the banner of “re-education” — the subject of multiple communications by experts of the Human Rights Council.
Her mandate continued to highlight the scale of human rights and humanitarian law violations that followed from holding thousands of men, women and children in a situation of mass arbitrary detention in northeast Syria. The conditions in these camps met the threshold of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law. Repatriation was the only international law compliant solution to the existence of these camps and sites of detention, she said.
“No decent or humane society should accept that leaving their children in a situation of cradle to grave. Arbitrary detention is unacceptable,” Fionnuala Ní Aoláin said. Speaking of all three situations highlighted by the report, Ms. Ní Aoláin said that “all of these places of detention are, in my view, dark stains on our collective conscience.”
Ms. Ní Aoláin said that not a single individual who was subject to extraordinary rendition and torture had received an adequate remedy. There is a clear obligation under international law to provide adequate remedy to individuals and their families who experienced these profound violations, she said. She also reminded her audience that there is no statute of limitations on these grave violations of international law. “Those who planned, executed or colluded in these grave violations have to be held accountable” the Special Rapporteur said. This need for accountability remains important, she said, “ despite the great desire to engage in a process of collective forgetting and a compact of comfortable amnesia on torture and rendition.”