From the field - Ten years of ICRC action at Guantanamo

Ten years of ICRC action at Guantanamo - Photo courtesy of Reuters/Brennan Linsley/Poo

Ten years of ICRC action at Guantanamo - Photo courtesy of Reuters/Brennan Linsley/Poo

Ten years ago today, the ICRC conducted its first visit to persons held by the US at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The camp had been opened for seven days when a team of delegates arrived on the island on January 18, 2002. 

Daniel Cavoli, who had registered and visited many of the detainees after their capture in Afghanistan and led the first ICRC teams at Guantanamo, remembers these early days.

Starting in January 2002, we have conducted 85 visits at the facility, where 171 persons from 24 countries are currently held. Our most recent visit ended on December 21st, 2011.

A visiting team discusses a day's work at our Guantanamo office.

A visiting team discusses a day's work at our Guantanamo office.

Like anywhere else in the world, our detention visits at Guantanamo aim to ensure that the detainees' life, dignity and fundamental rights to legal protections are respected. Sami Elhaj, a journalist from Al Jazeera who was detained at Guantanamo for almost six years, explainswhy ICRC visits were important to him.

Since the beginning of our action at Guantanamo, we have submitted 75 detention reports to US authorities. Through these confidential reports and ongoing bilateral discussions with US officials at the facility and in Washington D.C, we share our observations and make recommendations about any improvement in the conditions of detention that may be necessary.

A significant aspect of our visits in Guantanamo is to enable detainees to maintain regular contact with their families. Since April 2008, we have worked with US authorities to facilitate phone calls between detainees and their relatives. Over 1,800 humanitarian phone calls have been made to date. Starting in September 2009, we have facilitated video teleconference calls between detainees and their relatives in 20 countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Today, contacts between detainees and their families and how to improve them are an important part of our discussions with US authorities.

Jean-Paul Corboz is protection coordinator at ICRC Washington. Mr. Corboz supervises all detention related files at ICRC Washington, including visits to Guantanamo and follow up interventions. He speaks about our action on the island and the challenges at hand ten years after that initial visit.