Guantanamo: Preserving human dignity through direct family contact

This image shows the video monitoring screen used for video-teleconference calls between members of the general detainee population at Guantanamo and their families. Copyright: A Nelson/ICRC

This image shows the video monitoring screen used for video-teleconference calls between members of the general detainee population at Guantanamo and their families. Copyright: A Nelson/ICRC

Recently, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald reported on the ICRC’s role in facilitating interactive video conversations between two detainees (formerly held by the CIA and currently held separately from the general population in a classified location at Guantanamo Bay) and their respective families.

The ICRC welcomes this development since the calls represent the first time the families of these particular detainees have been able to directly interact with their relatives since their arrival at Guantanamo Bay. 

We believe very strongly that in situations of prolonged detention, family contact enables detainees to maintain their sense of human dignity – something that should be preserved, regardless of the reasons for which they are being detained or any charges against them. 

Such exchanges also allow the family members – be it a father, mother, wife, brother, sister, son, or daughter – the opportunity to see their relative and hear their voice, which serves the interests of humanity. 

And, very importantly, under customary International Humanitarian Law, applicable to both international and non-international armed conflicts, detainees must be allowed to correspond with their families. 

Worldwide, we visit roughly half a million detainees in around 100 countries and we consistently advocate for as much family contact as possible between detainees and their loved ones.

As reported by the Post, the first call, involving one detainee, took place on January 17 and the second call, involving the other detainee, took place on January 18. Our role was to make it possible for their relatives to take part in the exchanges in the countries where the families live. The exchanges, themselves, were administered by the US authorities, who also developed the infrastructure for the calls. 

Additionally, the authorities were responsible for monitoring the exchanges and for security and clearance-related aspects of the calls. 

Each conversation lasted for a total of approximately 30 minutes (not including translation and clearance times). 

We don’t publicly discuss what is said during video-telephone calls but the intent of such exchanges is always strictly humanitarian and limited to family news only. (For example, who married whom, who had a baby, how elderly family members are doing, etc.)  

We are ready and willing to facilitate further such calls in the future.

In the meantime, ICRC delegates will start their 106th regular visit to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in early February.

Media queries about the ICRC's work at Guantanamo Bay should be directed to DC-based spokeswoman, Anna Nelson (202-361-1566) 

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Learn more about the ICRC’s video-telephone call program

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