Governments must be held to account for secret detentions

Amnesty International today called on all states to take concrete steps to end secret detention, following publication of a detailed United Nations report on its widespread use in the name of countering terrorism.

The UN study highlights the global nature of the problem, naming dozens of countries, covering every region of the world, as undertaking secret detention, or being complicit in it through international networks of detainee transfers and intelligence agencies.

Secret detentions, as the UN report clearly states, constitute a series of human rights violations and ‘cannot be justified under any circumstances.’ The practice is irreconcilable with international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

“Secret detention is not only unlawful in itself, it enables a range of abhorrent abuses including torture and extrajudicial execution,” said Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy for Amnesty International.

“States must act swiftly to implement the recommendations in this important study, to confront and end secret detention and the human rights violations it entails and enables.”

Amnesty International has campaigned for decades against human rights violations associated with secret detentions worldwide, including enforced disappearance, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, extrajudicial execution, and arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

The UN study highlights secret detention practices in USA-led global ‘war on terror’ operations since 11 September 2001.

Amnesty International continues to push for real accountability for abuses, including crimes under international law, perpetrated by the United States government in the course of such operations.

Governments that colluded in US rendition and secret detention programmes have also been urged to investigate the human rights and criminal implications of their own roles.

This week, Amnesty International wrote to the Lithuanian Prosecutor General urging him to open a criminal investigation into allegations that secret detention facilities existed on Lithuanian territory from 2003 to 2005.

Other human rights violations related to secret detention in the name of ‘countering terrorism’ that Amnesty International has campaigned against include enforced disappearance in Pakistan, and the secret or prolonged incommunicado detention of “security suspects” in Saudi Arabia and those accused of involvement in terrorism-related activities in Tunisia.


The Joint Study was prepared by four Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council (the Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism; the Special Rapporteur on torture; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances).

Amnesty International welcomed the decision of the four Special Procedures to produce a joint study, which enabled them to address the human rights aspects of the practice of secret detention in an integrated and comprehensive manner, and welcomed the global geographic coverage of the report.

The Special Procedures will present the Study for discussion by states and civil society at the UN Human Rights Council at its next session; the presentation and discussion is scheduled for the week beginning 8 March.

Amnesty International submitted information to the experts and the organization’s published research features among the wide range of sources cited in the study.