UN rights experts demand release of Pakistani national detained at Guantánamo

UN rights experts demand release of Pakistani national detained at Guantánamo

A group of rights experts from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] on Wednesday demanded that the US government release Guantánamo detainee Ammar al Baluchi, a 40-year-old Pakistan national, stating that his detention the center is “arbitrary and breaches international law.”

According to a written opinion [text, PDF] from the group in January, al Baluchi was arrested in April 2003 in Karachi, Pakistan, for his alleged association with Al-Qaida [Britannica backgrounder], and then transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006. He has since been held indefinitely by the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] as an “alien unlawful enemy combatant,” pursuant to the government’s interpretation of the laws of war.

The written opinion further speaks of a hearing conducted by the Combatant Status Review Tribunal [DOD backgrounder] in March 2007 wherein al Baluchi was labeled an “enemy combatant.” The hearing, which lasted one hour and 20 minutes, allegedly failed to provide al Baluchi “with basic procedural protections, such as the exclusion of coerced statements and unreliable hearsay evidence, and denied him the ability to cross-examine witnesses.” According to a source referred to in the hearing, the government’s evidence was considered by the Tribunal to be “presumptively correct.”

The experts concluded that al Baluchi’s continued detention since 2006 at Guantánamo is a serious violation of his right to be presumed innocent:

Mr. al Baluchi has been subject to prolonged detention on discriminatory grounds and has not been afforded equality of arms in terms of having adequate facilities for the preparation of his defence under the same conditions as the prosecution. … Mr. al Baluchi has been deprived of due process and the fair trial guarantees that would ordinarily apply within the judicial system of the United States … This act of discrimination on the basis of his status as a foreign national and his religion has denied Mr. al Baluchi equality before the law.

Stating that al Baluchi’s detention violates at least thirteen separate articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text, PDF], the experts demanded that al Baluchi be released immediately and be awarded an enforceable right to compensation or reparations including physical and psychological rehabilitation adding that “Widespread or systematic imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of the rules of international law may constitute crimes against humanity.”