European Governments Should Resettle Guantanamo Detainees

European Governments Should Resettle Guantanamo Detainees

(Berlin, November 10, 2008) – European governments should provide humanitarian protection to those Guantanamo detainees who will not be charged with a crime but cannot be returned to their countries of origin for fear of torture or other serious human rights violations, five leading human rights organizations said today. European governments should agree to accept them into their countries and ensure they are provided with adequate support.
Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, Reprieve, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) urged governments to work with the new US administration to take this important step in order to facilitate the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo. The human rights groups made their call after a two-day closed strategic workshop in Berlin, convened by the organizations with other international actors active on the issue of humanitarian protection.

“We must find a solution to the 50 men imprisoned at Guantanamo simply because they have nowhere to go,” said Emi MacLean, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “The US government has twice previously tried to send our client, Abdul Ra’ouf Al Qassim, to Libya even though it is undisputed that he would likely be tortured, or disappeared into Libyan jails, if returned. His survival depends on the simple humanitarian gesture of another country opening their doors to him.”

It is the primary responsibility of the United States to find solutions for all those held at Guantanamo, since it brought them to the detention facility and is holding them there unlawfully. If the United States is not planning to charge and try them in ordinary US courts, and cannot release them to their own countries safely, it should immediately offer them an opportunity to be released into the United States.

It is also clear, however, that governments in Europe and elsewhere can and should play a vital role in providing such individuals with humanitarian protection in the form of a safe place to get on with their lives after years of suffering. The involvement of European governments will be instrumental in reaching a solution to this problem – a solution that is critical to the international aim of closing Guantanamo.

“Everyone appears to rightly agree that Guantanamo 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 Guantanamo.”

Around 50 of the detainees currently held in Guantanamo cannot lawfully be sent back to their countries of origin because they would face a real risk of human rights violations such as torture or other ill-treatment. They come from countries including China, Libya, Russia, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan.

“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 Guantanamo – 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 Guantanamo 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 Guantanamo, but he is going to need Europe’s help,” said Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program 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.”

“FIDH and CCR mobilised 77 members of the European Parliament who issued a joint call to EU member States to offer relocation for Guantanamo detainees,” said Souhayr Belhassen, president of FIDH. “As an important strategic partner of the US, the EU should help the Administration relocate these men.”

Statements of Support from International Actors

“The efforts must be renewed now with European governments and the U.S. government working to close Guantanamo and offer protection to those unable to be returned safely to their own countries. The efforts of human rights NGOs are coming at the best moment, in order to use the next months in the most positive way.”
– Anne-Marie Lizin, Special Representative on Guantanamo for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE.

“I urge European governments to open their doors to a small number of men who fear persecution or torture if transferred to their home countries. Such assistance is both the right thing to do, and of critical importance in our attempts to push for the immediate closure of Guantanamo Bay.”
– Thomas Hammerberg, Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe

“We are at a critical juncture. It is now possible to anticipate the closing of Guantanamo, the end to the US practice of executive detention, and the re-affirmation of fundamental human rights principles, including the prohibition of torture in all circumstances. But European engagement and support will be essential to get there. One step that European governments should take is to accept into their borders the small number of men at Guantanamo who cannot be repatriated safely. Guantanamo cannot be closed until these men have a country which will accept them, and where their lives and liberty are not in jeopardy.”
– Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

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Commentary, October 23, 2008

Ask Secretary Rice to support UN peacekeeping troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo

More than 250,000 civilians displaced by recent fighting:
Ask Secretary Rice to support UN peacekeeping troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Help guarantee hope for civilians in the DRC.
Take Action Now!

UN peacekeepers remain the last hope for hundreds of thousands of affected civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly women and children. The current force is thinly stretched and cannot effectively enforce its mandate of stopping attacks against civilians and protecting humanitarian operations.

"The United States is deeply concerned by the spiraling crisis in the Congo. (...) We urge the Congolese Government, rebel leadership and the neighboring governments to take all possible measures to prevent human rights abuses by troops under their command. We condemn all attacks on innocent civilians and urge all parties to the conflict to ensure that such attacks cease. The cycle of violence and impunity must be stopped."

Powerful statement. The U.S. State Department issued it more than 10 years ago, in August 1998. It did not prevent what became known as “Africa’s first world war” (1998-2003), which was centered in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and involved several neighboring countries.

Today, the humanitarian and human rights crisis in eastern DRC will again spiral out of control – if we do not act now.

At least 250,000 civilians have been displaced by the recent fighting, bringing the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from this and previous rounds of conflict to well over one million. Many IDPs remain out of the reach of aid workers, and some humanitarian operations have been suspended because of the fragile security situation. There is a high risk that the situation will escalate into a regional conflict.

Amnesty International works continuously on addressing the underlying causes of conflict, trying to end impunity for perpetrators of the most egregious human rights violations. But, our priority now is to protect civilians through reinforcing the capacity of the UN’s peacekeeping mission (Mission des Nationa Unies en République Démocratique du Congo, MONUC).

A few hours ago, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, briefed the Security Council and stressed the difficulties facing the UN peacekeepers. Now, members of the Security Council must act to strengthen the peacekeepers’ capacity.

We must act to guarantee that hope for civilians becomes a reality, not a sound bite. Ask Secretary Condoleezza Rice for her support to strengthen UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Larry Cox
Executive Director
Amnesty International USA
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