Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Case for Not Inviting the UN Human Rights Commission to Guantanamo

All the major media has picked up an announcement by "UN Human Rights experts" that they have reliable allegations of torture or mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay and that the U.S. has been "stalling" and denying them access to the base.

Putting aside the merits of their allegations for the moment, it is worth pointing out that the U.S. has no legal obligation to allow the UN experts to visit and, further, that these "UN experts" have been dispatched by the much-derided UN Commission on Human Rights. Of course, none of the media reports have made this clear.

Technically speaking, the UN expert in question is a Special Rapporteur appointed by the Commission to investigate allegations of torture. Special Rapporteur's mainly make news by making "special visits" to countries to investigate allegations. Here's the catch: they can only make visits if they are invited. But there is no legal obligation to invite them under U.N. human rights treaties or the UN Charter. It is purely discretionary among member states, and members states often don't even bother responding to these requests for invitations.

The U.S. in particular might reasonably exercise this discretion against invitations given their track record. Special Rapporteurs have carried out six visits to the U.S. in the past to investigate allegations of "extrajudicial executions" (e.g. why the U.S. should give up the death penalty), "suppression of religious freedom" (if anything, the problem in the U.S. is too much religion), and the "right to education" (the U.S. should spend more money on education), etc., etc. These reports are not horrible, but they don't reflect any particular expertise or insights on anything other than very broad notions of what international law requires.

Let's be honest. The Commission is very close to a laughingstock right now, and its special rapporteurs are annoyed because everyone (not just the U.S.) ignores them. What better way to raise the Commission's profile, and that of its rapporteurs, then holding a press conference to accuse the U.S. of stalling in allowing a visit to Guantanamo. Very smart, and it just might work .


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if Cuba invites them?

6/23/2005 1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hiding behind a technicality is pretty smart too. The invitation is long over-due.

6/25/2005 8:01 AM  
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