Guantanamo: UK should break silence on taking prisoners

New letter urges EU countries to offer ‘humanitarian protection’ to detainees who risk torture or persecution at home

Amnesty International is calling on the United Kingdom to break its silence over providing “humanitarian protection” to Guantánamo prisoners in an effort to assist new US President Barack Obama’s administration in closing the prison camp as soon as possible.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“This week we’ve already seen huge strides being taken by the new US president to dismantle the travesty of justice embodied by Guantánamo and now is the time for other governments to move on this as well.

“European governments have been talking publicly about the possibility of their countries taking Guantánamo prisoners who need a place of safe resettlement and it’s time for the UK to break its silence on this.

“The question of where to safely resettle at risk Guantánamo prisoners is already causing massive delay and unnecessary suffering to prisoners who should have been freed months or years ago.

“This is a historic moment and the UK - which itself has an obligation to former UK residents like Binyam Mohmamed and Shaker Aamer - should help break this log-jam by offering to resettle some of the detainees who have suffered a travesty of justice at Guantánamo.”

Next week (26 January) EU foreign ministers will be meeting in Brussels to discuss ways of helping to close the Guantánamo Bay prison, and in a new letter today a coalition of human rights organisations - Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, La Federation internationale des ligues droits de l'Homme (FIDH), and Reprieve - is urging EU countries to offer humanitarian protection to detainees who risk torture or persecution if forcibly returned to their countries of origin.

On January 20, by order of President Barack Obama, prosecutors at Guantánamo Bay sought a 120-day suspension of military commissions proceedings in order to allow the new US administration time to review the military commissions process and pending cases. The rights groups welcomed this development as a positive step and expressed the hope that it heralded quick movement toward the closure of Guantánamo. But the groups emphasised that the Obama administration will need the help of European governments to implement any plan to close the prison camp.

Of the approximately 240 detainees still at Guantánamo more than seven years after the prison camp opened, some 60 men could face torture or persecution if returned to their home countries, and at least one is stateless. The US may permit some of the men to be admitted to the US mainland, but the remaining detainees need humanitarian protection in other countries where they will be safe.

Amnesty International European Union office director Nicolas Beger said:

"Amnesty International hopes that as a result of this meeting EU member states will send a common message on their willingness to help close Guantánamo, and - most important - follow it up with concrete action to find homes for detainees who cannot be returned to their countries of origin."

Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney Emi MacLean said:

“There is a real opportunity for the new US Administration to turn a new leaf, close down Guantánamo Bay and end, once and for all, the appalling era of illegal detentions and human rights abuses. This can only be achieved if EU countries step up and offer protection for those men who still languish in Guantánamo simply because there is nowhere safe for them to return.”

Human Rights Watch senior counter-terrorism counsel at Julia Hall 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."

La Federation internationale des ligues droits de l'Homme (FIDH) president Souhayr Belhassen said:

"Every day adds a toll to the already dire humanitarian nature of the situation. No time should be wasted in releasing these individuals."

Reprieve staff attorney Cori Crider 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."

- Read the Letter (PDF)

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