UN human rights chief says US should close Guantánamo prison

The top human rights official at the United Nations said Friday that the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay is in “clear breach” of international law and should be closed.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she was “deeply disappointed” that the Obama administration had yet to close it.

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“The continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees amounts to arbitrary detention and is in clear breach of international law,” Pillay said in a statement Friday. “Allegedly, around half of the 166 detainees still being held in detention have been cleared for transfer to either home countries or third countries for resettlement.”

One of President Obama’s first moves in office was an executive order that called for closing the prison in Cuba, but he gained little traction to do so during his first term, due in part to congressional opposition.

The White House said last month it is still committed to closing the prison during Obama’s second term, although it has yet to take any actions in that direction.

Pillay said the Obama administration’s continued commitment to closing the prison was “welcomed.”

“Nevertheless, this systemic abuse of individuals’ human rights continues year after year,” she said. “We must be clear about this: the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold.”

Pillay said that “as a first step,” the U.S. government at least should release the detainees who have been cleared for transfer. 

Congress has enacted restrictions on the Obama administration's ability to release any detainees from Guantánamo in the last several versions of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Pillay also noted the hunger strike that’s grown in size at Guantánamo in recent weeks, saying it was “scarcely surprising that people’s frustrations boil over and they resort to such desperate measures.”