Human Rights Groups Urge Europe to Help Close Guantanamo

For Immediate Release

Human Rights Groups
Contact: 

Sharon Singh, Amnesty International, 202.544.0200x302;
Jennifer Nessel, Center for Constitutional Rights: +1.212.614.6449;
Julia Hall, Human Rights Watch: +1.716.884.0001; (mobile) +1.716.432.0140;
Antoine Madelin, FIDH: +32.(0)2.609.4422;
Cori Crider, Reprieve: +44.(0)207.353.4640; (mobile) +44.7962.890.575

Human Rights Groups Urge Europe to Help Close Guantanamo

Offer Humanitarian Protection to Detainees Who Risk Torture or Persecution at Home, Urges Rights Coalition

BRUSSELS - A coalition of human rights organizations today called on E.U. foreign ministers meeting in Brussels next week to help close the Guantanamo Bay prison by offering humanitarian protection to detainees who risk torture or persecution at home.

The attached letter to the ministers attending the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on Jan. 26, 2009, is signed by Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, La Federation internationale des ligues droits de l'Homme (FIDH), and Reprieve.

The Obama administration will need the help of European governments to implement any plan to close the prison camp.

Of the 250 detainees still at Guantanamo nearly seven years after the prison camp opened, approximately 60 men could face torture or persecution if returned to their home countries, and at least one is stateless. The United States may decide to admit some of the men to the U.S. mainland, but the remaining detainees need humanitarian protection in other countries where they will be safe.

"Amnesty International hopes that as a result of this meeting E.U. member states will send a common message on their willingness to help close Guantanamo, and - most important - follow it up with concrete action to find homes for detainees who cannot be returned to their countries of origin," said Nicolas Beger, director of Amnesty International's European Union office.

Emi MacLean, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said: "There is a real opportunity for the new U.S. administration to turn a new leaf, close down Guantanamo Bay and end, once and for all, the appalling era of illegal detentions and human rights abuses. This can only be achieved if E.U. countries step up and offer protection for those men who still languish in Guantanamo simply because there is nowhere safe for them to return."

Julia Hall, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, said: "Offering safe haven to some of the most vulnerable detainees would be a significant humanitarian gesture. Europe could help the new administration shut down the unlawful detention facility, a major goal, and be a force in re-establishing the rule of law."

Souhayr Belhassen, president of La Federation internationale des ligues droits de l'Homme (FIDH), said: "Every day adds a toll to the already dire humanitarian nature of the situation. No time should be wasted in releasing these individuals."

Cori Crider, staff attorney with Reprieve, said: "Many of the detainees are marked by seven years of illegal detention and now cannot go home. A 'homecoming' for them stands to be a tragedy, as it has already been for some of Reprieve's clients. The assistance of European governments can prevent this from happening and we hope that Europe will reach out to these men."

 

text of letter:

22 January 2009

Dear Foreign Ministers:

As members of an international coalition of non-governmental organizations advocating for the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, we are writing in advance of the meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) to be convened in Brussels on 26 January 2009.

We understand that the question of how the European Union can help the United States meet its goal of closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility will be on the meeting agenda, and respectfully request that EU member states agree to provide humanitarian protection to Guantánamo detainees who could be at risk of torture or persecution in their home countries, or who are stateless.

We recognize that the United States has created the problem of Guantánamo, and therefore carries the primary responsibility for closing it. President Barack Obama has committed unequivocally to closing the facility, and has demonstrated his willingness to act swiftly on the matter, seeking a suspension to military commission proceedings as one of his first acts as President. We will continue to press the new administration to adopt and implement a plan for its closure in accordance with the US’s human rights obligations.

President Obama and the United States will need the help of European governments to implement this plan.

Of the 250 detainees still being held at Guantánamo nearly seven years after the opening of the detention facility, approximately 60 detainees could face torture or persecution if returned to their home countries, and at least one is stateless. Those men expressing fears of torture or persecution come from Algeria, Azerbaijan, China, Libya, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Russia, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia and Uzbekistan.

These detainees include a group of Chinese Uighurs that the United States had cleared for release years ago, yet continue to be detained at Guantánamo because there is nowhere for them to go. In October 2008, a US federal court ordered the government to release the Uighurs and admit them to the US mainland because the government had failed to secure places for the men in safe third countries. Although the Bush administration appealed the ruling, and the Uighurs remain detained at Guantánamo, our organizations remain optimistic that the federal court order will be upheld. The United States should likewise offer any other detainees who cannot be returned safely to their own countries the opportunity to be admitted into the United States

Release into the United States, however, may not be a practical solution for all of the detainees who cannot be returned home. The stigma attached to these men because of the rhetoric from US authorities creates a real concern that any detainee released in the United States may be subjected to constant harassment and suspicion.

The long history of action by European governments on behalf of human rights and international protection for vulnerable persons makes it ideally situated to provide safe places for vulnerable Guantánamo Bay detainees who have nowhere else to go.

A significant number of EU member states have well-developed infrastructures to assess the men’s needs and provide support, integration, and rehabilitation services to former detainees. Our organizations have long commended the EU’s stated commitment to the full rehabilitation of victims of torture and other ill-treatment. Member states’ expert social and medical programs make many EU countries particularly well-placed to offer the vital support that some former detainees may require.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, long a partner with the EU and other European countries in the project to offer international protection in Europe to persons who fear persecution, could also provide expertise on the integration and rehabilitation of the former detainees. Most EU member states have significant government services to provide support for recipients of international protection, as well as excellent networks of migrants, human rights, and other civil society organizations to assist with integration and rehabilitation.

Many EU member states have rightly called on the US government to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. In recognition that some detainees fear torture or persecution at home or have no place to go, EU member states should now offer them refuge and support. In the past year, a number of internationally recognized experts and bodies have called Europe to action on the issue of offering refuge to vulnerable Guantánamo Bay detainees, among them the UN special rapporteur on torture, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee, the EU counterterrorism coordinator, various committees and members of the European Parliament, and representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

In recent weeks, government officials from a number of EU states—including Germany, Finland, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom—have taken the important step of agreeing in principle to accept some detainees and offer them refuge on their territories or publicly calling on EU member states to offer such safe haven.

These efforts indicate a growing and welcome acknowledgement that European assistance is needed to achieve the goal of closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, along with the recognition that European governments should demonstrate the political will to deal with challenges that may arise with respect to receiving and integrating these men.

Now is the time for European states to take a humane and practical step to help right a terrible wrong. Such a decision would be applauded by the human rights community.

Our organizations sincerely believe that the willingness of European governments to offer humanitarian protection to Guantánamo detainees who cannot be returned home is critical to any successful “close Guantánamo” plan, and we will do everything we can to assist you in this endeavor.

 

With best wishes for a productive meeting,

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