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US/EU: Help Close Guantanamo by Accepting Some Detainees

Obama Administration Seeking EU Support


The European Union should help the Obama administration close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by accepting some of the detainees who cannot return to their home countries because they would risk torture or other abuse, Human Rights Watch said today. According to media reports, the Obama administration yesterday made its first formal request to EU countries to resettle some of the detainees.

"The Obama administration can't solve the Guantanamo problem on its own," said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. "European allies have long urged the US to close Guantanamo. Now they have a chance to help make that happen."

Of the approximately 240 prisoners still being held in Guantanamo, an estimated 50 to 60 - from countries such as Algeria, Libya, China, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan - have told their lawyers that they fear torture or abuse in their home countries and do not want to be returned there. Several of these men have been cleared to leave Guantanamo for years, but remain trapped there because neither the United States nor any third country has been willing to accept them.

Human Rights Watch welcomed a statement today by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that France would accept an Algerian detainee from Guantanamo, but said that much more help from European governments is needed.

"If every EU nation were willing to resettle two or three detainees from Guantanamo, the hardest part of the problem would be solved," Mariner said.

Included among those who have been cleared to leave Guantanamo for years are 17 Chinese Uighurs, most of whom have been in US custody since late 2001. Although the US cleared most of these detainees for release by 2004, they were not returned to China due to credible fears that they would be tortured upon return. For several years, the US government has tried to convince other countries to resettle the Uighurs. In 2006, Albania agreed to take in five of them, but no other country has yet offered to do so, in part because the US had not been willing to accept any itself.

In October 2008, a US federal court noted that attempts to resettle the Uighurs elsewhere had failed and ordered that they be brought to the US. In February, a federal appeals court overturned the ruling, saying that only the president - and not the courts - could permit the men to enter the US. Uighur communities and refugee resettlement groups in the US have offered to provide housing, job training, and other support services to the Uighurs if they are brought there.

"Now that the Obama administration has asked the EU for help, it needs to show that it too is going to shoulder part of the burden," Mariner said. "The easiest way to jump-start serious negotiations is for the US to act quickly to accept the Uighurs."

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.