Today, on the eighth anniversary of the first transfers to the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, human rights groups and lawyers — Amnesty International, Cageprisoners, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Reprieve — urged more European states, including Germany, Finland, Sweden and Luxembourg, to provide new homes for up to 50 prisoners, who cannot be returned to their home countries for fear of torture or other human rights violations.
These men — from countries including Algeria, China, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan — have been cleared for release by the Obama administration’s interagency task Force, which has been reviewing their cases all year. Many were also cleared by military review boards under the Bush administration, and some were also cleared by the US courts, after judges granted their habeas corpus petitions.
As Amnesty International explained in a press release, “These men remain detained for the sole reason that they have no safe place to go. They have been essentially abandoned at Guantánamo. The plight of these men poses one of the most significant obstacles to the closure of the detention center.“
Although six countries — Belgium, France, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal and the UK — have stepped forward to take prisoners from Guantánamo who are not their own nationals, only nine men have so far been given new homes in Europe. Ten more have been sent to Bermuda and Palau, and two have been transferred to Italy for possible trial.
The groups involved in today’s plea to European states welcomed the actions of those countries which have already come forward to assist, but expressed disappointment that others had not taken concrete steps in line with the EU-US Joint Statement on the Closure of Guantánamo Bay, issued on June 16, 2009, in which EU Member States expressed their willingness readiness to assist with the reception of former prisoners on a case-by-case basis.
Former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg (the Director of Cageprisoners), Clive Stafford Smith (the Director of Reprieve) and a representative from the Center for Constitutional Rights are today beginning a tour across Europe urging more states to offer cleared prisoners a safe haven. The tour will be hosted by Amnesty International’s national sections, and will include visits to a number of European countries — including Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden — which could provide safe and appropriate reception for prisoners from Guantánamo, giving them the chance to rebuild their lives.
The organizations will also be calling on government officials in countries which have already accepted detainees to share expertise, encouragement and examples of good practice with their counterparts in countries which may be considering following suit.
Sharon Critoph, Campaigner on the US at Amnesty International, said, “Although several countries have already led the way, it is disappointing that only a few European governments have stepped forward to help those in need of protection. Amongst those governments which have failed to assist are those previously most vocal in calling for Guantánamo to be closed.”
Sophie Weller of the Center for Constitutional Rights said, “The last decade saw the erosion of the rule of law and international respect for human rights. Guantánamo stands for all that went wrong and it must now be closed. The men who remain detained because they lack a safe haven continue every day to pay the human price for delay and inaction in achieving this aim.”
Clive Stafford Smith, the Director of Reprieve said, “Many European governments have condemned the ongoing detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Now they can do something about it. Actions really do speak louder than words in this case; its time to turn the rhetoric into reality and get Guantánamo closed as soon as possible.”
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.