December 12, 2007, New York, NY – Today, the European Parliament adopted an amendment that calls for the resettlement in European countries of Guantánamo detainees who cannot return to their home countries for fear of torture. The resolution calls for the European Commission and the Council of Europe to “launch an initiative at the European and international level for the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners from third states that cannot be returned to their countries of origin because they risk being persecuted or tortured.”
According to Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) attorneys, there are approximately 50 detainees at Guantánamo from “high-risk” countries where, should they be forcibly returned, they would be in danger of persecution or torture. Detainees at risk include those from countries such as Uzbekistan, China and Libya. Attorneys say the threat to their life and safety is very real: without any process to determine whether an individual would be at risk, the United States has already sent nearly 40 detainees to human rights abusing countries, including Uzbekistan, Russia, Libya and Tunisia. CCR, which coordinates the representation of Guantánamo detainees, wrote a report about this issue, “Guantánamo’s Refugees: Trapped by Inaction” (available on the CCR website).
CCR applauds the decision of the European Parliament to work towards the safe resettlement of the men at Guantánamo who cannot return to their home countries.
“The United States has twice tried to send one of our clients to Libya despite verifiable fears of torture or even execution if he were forcibly returned there. European intervention is necessary to ensure that individuals are not transferred to torture,” said CCR attorney Emi MacLean. “European Union countries have stated that the United States should shut down Guantánamo. Now they should help make progress towards that goal by opening their doors to Guantánamo's refugees: the detainees who can't be sent to their home countries for fear of torture there.”
To date, Albania – one of the poorest countries in Europe – has been the only country that has accepted a small number of Guantánamo’s refugees who could not safely be returned to their home country. In early August, in a landmark policy change, the British government also called for the release of five non-citizens currently detained in Guantánamo and stated that it would accept them into the UK. Four of these men had previously applied for or been granted asylum due to fears of persecution in their home countries; three are expected to be released to the UK before the end of this year. Sweden is also currently considering the asylum application of Adel Al-Hakim, a Chinese Uighur who was detained at Guantánamo until the middle of 2006 when he was brought by the United States to Albania. Mr. Al-Hakim has a sister living as a refugee in Sweden – his only family outside of China.
CCR represents several men at Guantánamo who fear they will be tortured if returned to their home countries, including Libyan detainee Abdul Ra’ouf Al Qassim. In 2006, the U.S. government officially cleared Mr. Al Qassim for release from Guántanamo. The military, however, is seeking to transfer him to the custody of the human rights abusing regime of Colonel Muammar Al Qadhafi, where Mr. Al Qassim would face almost certain torture and persecution.
On the same day as the European Parliament amendment, Martin Scheinin, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism, presented to the UN Human Rights Council the report on his May 2007 mission to the United States. The report focuses extensively on Guantánamo and:
• Calls for Guantánamo to be closed;
• Concludes that the U.S. government has returned certain detainees to their countries of origin despite knowing that they face a risk of torture if returned;
• Recommends that other countries help resettle detainees who are in need of international protection, and that the United Nations High Commission on Refugees work with the U.S. to establish a process by which detainees can be resettled in accordance with international law;
• Calls on the U.S. government to either release the men at Guantánamo or provide them with fair trials;
• Emphasizes that the U.S. is required to respect the rights guaranteed by international human rights treaties it has ratified, even outside its territorial borders; and
• Concludes that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA – including stress positions, extreme temperature changes, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding – violate the international prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and calls for accountability for those who conducted or colluded in such interrogation practices.
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last six years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and – just this month – sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee.” CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating over 500 pro bono lawyers in order to defend the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have been represented. CCR represented the detainees with co-counsel in the Supreme Court on December 5.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.