Guantánamo: New call for Europe to take 50 men trapped at camp

On the eighth anniversary of the first transfers to Guantánamo, leading human rights organisations have today (11 January) urged more European countries to accept detainees held at the US detention centre at Guantánamo who cannot be returned to their countries of origin for fear of torture or other human rights violations.

Countries like Germany, Finland, Sweden and Luxembourg are being asked to do more to aid the transfer of roughly 50 such men who remain trapped after years of unlawful detention.

Amnesty International US Campaigner Sharon Critoph 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.”

The call coincides with fresh efforts to secure the release of two Guantánamo prisoners with links to the UK - Shaker Aamer (41), a Saudi Arabian national formerly resident in the UK, and Ahmed Belbacha (40), an Algerian, formerly living in Britain. There are fears that both men would be at risk of human rights abuses if forcibly returned to Algeria. At 2pm today, Johina Aamer, the 12-year-old daughter of Shaker Aamer, will hand in to Downing Street a personal letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown asking him to step up efforts to secure the release of her father. Mr Aamer has been held at the camp since February 2002.

Meanwhile, Reprieve, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and former Guantánamo detainee Moazzam Begg of the organisation Cageprisoners are today beginning a tour across Europe urging more states to offer the men a safe haven. The tour will be hosted by Amnesty International’s national sections.

Amnesty, Reprieve and the CCR are stressing that 50 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 centre.

Meanwhile, a number of European countries offered a safe haven to such detainees, in line with the stated aims of the EU-US joint agreement on the closure of Guantánamo. These include France, Ireland, Portugal, Hungary and Belgium. On this important anniversary, human rights groups are urging others to follow suit.

The men in this predicament at Guantánamo come from countries such as Libya, Tunisia, Syria, China and Russia, where they will be at serious risk of torture or other human rights violations if returned. The US government has been seeking safe countries willing to offer these men an opportunity to rebuild their lives and is primarily responsible for finding solutions for all those held at Guantánamo.

Human rights groups have expressed concern that the detention facility will remain open well past 22 January 2010, the date by which US President Barack Obama had pledged to close it. Unless more European countries step forward now to help, the fear is that some of the most vulnerable detainees remain at serious risk of forcible return to abuse.

The Center for Constitutional Rights’ Sophie Weller 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.”

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith 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.”

Background information
There are 198 prisoners still held in Guantánamo. Since mid-June 2009 only seven former Guantánamo detainees have been returned to Europe as free men. A further ten have been sent to Palau and Bermuda, and two have been transferred to Italy for possible trial. Approximately 50 more still urgently need protection.

The Reprieve-CCR-Moazzam Begg tour will include visits to a number of European countries - including Luxembourg, Sweden and Germany - which could provide safe and appropriate reception for detainees from Guantánamo, giving them the chance to rebuild their lives.

The organisations 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.

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