Europe urged to protect Guantanamo detainees who cannot be returned home

Five human rights groups have called on European governments to provide humanitarian protection to Guantánamo detainees who will not be charged with any crime but who cannot be returned to their country of origin for fear of torture or other human rights violations.

Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, Reprieve and the International Federation for Human Rights urged governments to accept Guantanamo detainees into their countries and ensure they are provided with adequate support. The call to work with the new US administration on this important step towards the closure of the detention facility at the US Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was made after a two-day closed strategic workshop in Berlin. The workshop was convened by the NGOs with other international actors active on the issue of humanitarian protection. Around 50 of the detainees currently held in Guantánamo, who the US government has said it does not intend to charge, cannot lawfully be sent back to their countries of origin because they could face torture and other ill-treatment. They come from countries including China, Libya, Russia, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan.

A joint statement by the human right groups highlighted the “primary and ongoing legal responsibility held by the USA to find solutions for these individuals after years of unlawful detention, including providing them with a safe place to live and receive rehabilitation,” “Everyone appears to rightly agree that Guantánamo must be closed, and President-elect Obama has said that he will close it,” said Daniel Gorevan, Counter Terror with Justice Campaign Manager at Amnesty International. “Clearly, other governments can help make this happen by offering protection to individuals who cannot be released to their own countries. This would have a double effect: helping to end the ordeal of an individual unlawfully held in violation of his human rights, and helping end the international human rights scandal that is Guantánamo.” “This is a key opportunity for both sides of the Atlantic to move beyond the misguided acts of the ‘war on terror’: rendition, secret detention, and torture,” said Cori Crider, Staff Attorney at Reprieve. “President-elect Obama says he will close Guantánamo — the question is when and how. One of Reprieve’s clients was sent back to Tunisia, drugged, hit, and threatened with the rape of his wife and daughter. “Another is fighting, even now, to stay in Guantánamo because Tunisia threatened him with ‘water torture in the barrel.’ The US still asserts total authority to send him back. Europe can send a powerful message by reaching out to Obama and providing a safe alternative for these few people.” “President-elect Obama has committed to closing Guantánamo, but he is going to need Europe’s help,” said Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Director at Human Rights Watch. “European governments could provide much-needed assistance by agreeing to take in some of the detainees who cannot be sent back home.”