EU ministers urged to help close Guantánamo

With the executive order issued by the US President Barack Obama on the closure of Guantánamo, a coalition of human rights organizations is calling on EU foreign ministers to help close the detention facility in Cuba. The ministers were urged to help by offering humanitarian protection to detainees at risk of torture or other serious human rights violations if returned to their home countries.

In a joint open letter to the ministers attending the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting in Brussels today, the coalition said that now is the time for “European states to take a humane and practical step to help right a terrible wrong.”

Published last Thursday, the letter was signed by Amnesty International, the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, La Federation internationale des ligues droits de l’Homme (FIDH) and Reprieve.

“Our organizations sincerely believe that the willingness of European governments to offer humanitarian protection to Guantánamo detainees who cannot be returned home is critical to any successful ‘close Guantánamo’ plan, and we will do everything we can to assist you in this endeavour,” the letter said.

President Obama’s first acts in office were to suspend the military commission proceedings at Guantánamo and issue, following this with executive order on its closure as well as an order on interrogation practices by US personnel.

The five organizations welcomed these developments as positive steps, but they emphasized that the Obama administration will need the help of European governments to implement any plan to close the prison camp.

Nearly seven years after the prison camp opened, there are approximately 245 detainees at Guantánamo. Approximately 60 men could face torture or other serious human rights violations if returned to their home countries. At least one is stateless.

The US may decide to admit some of the men to the US mainland, but the remaining detainees need humanitarian protection in other countries where they will be safe.

“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,” said Nicolas Beger, director of Amnesty International’s European Union office.