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Guantanamo: Palau's offer to accept detainees begs serious questions

“They need and are owed permanent and durable solutions” - Daniel Gorevan, Amnesty International

Reports that the Pacific island state of Palau has offered to temporarily accept up to 17 Guantánamo detainees leave many questions unanswered, said Amnesty International in response today.

Even if the offer is taken up it would not relieve the US authorities of their responsibility to the men, Amnesty insisted.

The President of Palau, Johnson Toribiong, said today that Palau had agreed to accept on a temporary basis 17 Uighur men who have been held without charge or trial in Guantánamo since 2002 “as a humanitarian gesture”, subject to periodic review. In subsequent reports, an unidentified US official is quoted saying that there has been "no final decision, no details arranged. We will continue talks with Palau."

Daniel Gorevan, of Amnesty’s Counter Terror with Justice Campaign, said:

“Although Amnesty International has been calling on other countries to offer humanitarian protection to Guantánamo detainees, this announcement raises more questions than it answers and in no way absolves the US authorities of their responsibility towards these men.

“Having been detained in limbo in Guantánamo for more than seven years, the Uighur men need more than temporary half-measures. They need and are owed permanent and durable solutions.”

Reports of Palau’s offer do not specify whether the men would face any further detention in Palau. Neither is information available as to whether the wishes of the detainees have been taken into account or whether the USA would put in place the measures necessary to facilitate family reunification and whether the men would be supported to adapt to a new life in an unfamiliar country.

Amnesty emphasised that the USA began the Guantánamo detentions and therefore carries the primary responsibility for ending them. Nevertheless, Amnesty has long called on other countries to help by accepting some detainees who cannot be returned to their home countries. Many countries have refused, citing the USA’s own resistance to offering them the opportunity to be admitted to the US mainland.

The 17 Uighur men have been held without charge or trial in Guantánamo since 2002, and remain in indefinite detention at the base more than eight months after a US federal judge concluded that their detention was unlawful and ordered their immediate release into the USA. The US authorities successfully appealed the order, which is now before the US Supreme Court, and continue to hold them, arguing that it is a matter for the political branches of government to decide who should be allowed into the USA.

Although President Toribiong’s announcement leaves unclear whether the temporary transfer of the 17 Uighur men to Palau would be an appropriate solution, it is undoubtedly the case that their release from Guantánamo is long overdue. All of the men had been cleared for release at various times between 2003 and 2008, but the US authorities were unable to find a country prepared to accept them. Even after their release into the USA was judicially ordered in October 2008, the USA failed in its responsibility to offer them the opportunity to rebuild their lives on the US mainland and has instead continued to seek to have other countries take on that responsibility. In 2006 Albania accepted five other ethnic Uighur detainees from Guantánamo.

The 17 men are from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China. They cannot be returned to China because they would be at serious risk of torture or execution there. The Bush administration had said that it had asked over 100 countries to accept the detainees but all had refused.

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