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UN Declares US Force Feeding of Prisoners a Breach of International Law

World body agrees that the force feeding of hunger striking prisoners at Guantánamo is never ethically acceptable

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

A U.S. Navy doctor displays the feeding tubes used against hunger striking detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, a practice the United Nations has said violates international law. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

Reaffirming the stance of the world community, the United Nations' human rights office announced Wednesday that the force feeding of prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay Detention facility is a breach of international law.

"If it's perceived as torture or inhuman treatment—and it's the case, it's painful—then it is prohibited by international law," Rupert Coville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, told AFP.

Confirming that the treatment is certainly painful, one detainee, speaking recently through his lawyer David Remes, described the process by saying it felt a "razor blade [going] down through your nose and into your throat."

The statement follows the announcement Tuesday that at least 40 "medical personnel" were sent to the prison to help expand the force-feeding operation, which was implemented to counter an ongoing hunger strike by more than 100 prisoners protesting their indefinite detention and ill treatment.

Of those partaking in the strike, 21 detainees are reportedly being strapped down and fed against their will through nasal tubes.

According to Coville, the UN "bases its stance on that of the World Medical Association" which, declared in 1991 that forcible feeding is "never ethically acceptable".


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"Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied with threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the force feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting," the WMA stated.

During a press conference yesterday, President Barack Obama addressed the ongoing detention and said he was going "examine every option" for closing the controversial prison.

Following his statement, the human rights watchdog group Witness Against Torture began circulating a petition asking the President to take "immediate steps" to close the detention facility. Overnight the petition gained over 60,000 signatures with the goal of reaching 500,000.

"There is something fundamentally wrong with a system where not being charged with a war crime keeps you locked away indefinitely and a war crime conviction is your ticket home," writes petition author Morris Davis."

"Obama announced on April 30 that he plans to do his part to close Guantanamo, but he has made this promise before. Now is the time to hold him to his promise and urge him to take the steps necessary to dismantle Guantanamo Bay Prison."


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