U.N. Independent Expert Denied Access to Hutto Detention Center

May 4, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

ACLU Calls for Answers from U.S. Government

NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union today called on the U.S. government to explain why it is denying a United Nations independent expert access to the Hutto immigrant detention facility in Taylor, Texas.

According to the U.N. human rights office in Geneva, Dr. Jorge Bustamante, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, was scheduled to tour the Hutto facility on Monday as part of an official fact-finding mission. But according to news reports, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is denying Dr. Bustamante access to the facility.

“We are deeply disappointed that the U.S. government is not living up to its human rights commitments,” said Jamil Dakwar, Advocacy Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “The U.S. government claims it is a beacon for human rights, yet it keeps a shroud of secrecy over its own policies.”

The ACLU said the U.S. has a history of blocking international experts from access to controversial detention facilities. In 2005, four U.N. human rights experts issued a statement rebuking the government for not allowing full access to detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison. In 1998, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women was denied access to women’s prisons in Virginia and Michigan, despite prior agreements with corrections officials.

The Special Rapporteur is conducting a three-week fact finding mission at the request of the U.S. The Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council with the mandate to monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries and on human rights violations worldwide. The tour of Hutto — a converted prison that houses about 400 immigrants, including children and asylum seekers — was considered a major part of the Special Rapporteur's mission. Earlier this year, the ACLU filed federal lawsuits on behalf of 12 children detained at the Hutto facility, charging that the children are subject to inhumane treatment.

According to the official terms for fact-finding missions, the Special Rapporteur must have “access to all prisons, detention centers and places of interrogation.” The terms also mandate that the Rapporteur be given confidential and unsupervised contact with witnesses and potential victims of human rights violations.

The ACLU sent a letter today to the U.S. State Department and the Department of Homeland Security seeking answers on why the Hutto facility tour was cancelled.

“It is imperative that the United States give the Special Rapporteur full access to facilities like Hutto,” Dakwar said. “This raises serious questions about what the government is trying to hide by denying access to independent experts.”

More information on the Special Rapporteur’s mission is online at: www.aclu.org/humanrightsofmigrants

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