U.N. Official Says Gitmo Force-Feeding Violates International Law

A United Nations official called the practice of force-feeding hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay “torture” on Wednesday, adding the world body to a growing list of those concerned over U.S. treatment of detainees there.

For the last several weeks, a hunger strike has been spreading throughout Guantanamo, as detainees refuse to accept food what is now widely understood as a protest of their indefinite detention. In response, the military has begun force-feeding several of the inmates through a nasal tube to keep them alive. According to AFP, the United Nations’ main human rights office has taken notice:

“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.

A bipartisan task force on detainees assembled by the Constitution Project earlier this month condemned force-feeding and one member also suggested that it could be torture. “The World Medical Association and international officials have clearly identified that process as cruel, in human and degrading treatment,” said Dr. Gerald Thomson. “And given the level of brutality could extend to torture.”


U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who has long advocated for the closure of Guantanamo, reiterated her call for the prison’s closure when the hunger strike first began. “Given the uncertainty and anxieties surrounding their prolonged and apparently indefinite detention in Guantanamo, it is scarcely surprising that people’s frustrations boil over and they resort to such desperate measures,” Pillay said of the hunger strike at the time.

Coville’s statement is in-line with the opinion of the American Medical Association (AMA), which recently wrote to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel condemning the practice. Both the AMA and United Nations base their conclusion on the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Tokyo in 1975, which holds that when a prisoner “refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.” In 1991, the group also declared that force-feeding is “never ethically acceptable.”

As of Wednesday, 100 of the 160 prisoners held within Guantanamo are on hunger strike. According to the Department of Defense, 23 of those striking are being force-fed, an increase of two from yesterday. Military doctors have been rushed to Guantanamo to provide additional support to the base’s medical facilities.

President Obama on Tuesday said he would renew his attempt to close Guantanamo Bay, saying that the prison is not in the United States’ interest and is “not sustainable.”