UN: Gitmo force-feeding is inhumane

Senior UN officials say that the force-feeding of hunger strikers breaches international medical standards

By Natasha Lennard

Published May 3, 2013 1:55PM (EDT)

Guantanamo Bay prison camp has for some time been an abrogation of international legal standards. Now, say senior UN officials, the camp is acting against international medical standards too with the force feeding of hunger strikers. Of the over 100 detainees officially on hunger strike (although attorneys claim the number is even higher) 21 are receiving feeding through nasal tubes.

In a statement signed by El Hadji Malick Sow, chair of the UN working group on arbitrary detention; Juan E Méndez, UN special rapporteur on torture; Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights, and Anand Grover, UN special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and supported by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the force-feeding is roundly decried:

According to the World Medical Assembly's Declaration of Malta, in cases involving people on hunger strikes, the duty of medical personnel to act ethically and the principle of respect for individuals' autonomy, among other principles, must be respected.

Under these principles, it is unjustifiable to engage in forced feeding of individuals contrary to their informed and voluntary refusal of such a measure. Moreover, hunger strikers should be protected from all forms of coercion, even more so when this is done through force and in some cases through physical violence.

Healthcare personnel may not apply undue pressure of any sort on individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike. Nor is it acceptable to use threats of forced feeding or other types of physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have voluntarily decided to go on a hunger strike.

The UN officials reiterate demands placed on the U.S. government to be all special rapporteurs to confidentially visit with detainees (a request previously made in 2011 and 2012). Along with human rights advocates worldwide, the statement also calls on the U.S. to either charge or release the detainees.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Force-feeding Guantanamo Guantanamo Hunger Strike Human Rights Hunger Strike Un United Nations