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February 3, 2010, New York – Lawyers for two Uighur brothers imprisoned by the U.S. Government at Guantánamo Bay since 2002 announced today that the men would soon be living free in the Swiss Canton (state) of Jura.
Lawyer Elizabeth Gilson, who has been working with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) to free the men for nearly five years, said, “We are so grateful to the Swiss people for providing this tremendous victory in the cause of justice by giving a homeland to these two innocent men.”
The Swiss Federal Council voted this morning to take in the two brothers. The Chinese government had objected strenuously to the move, arguing that the men should be returned to China. Although it refuses to provide the Uighur prisoners sanctuary in the U.S. mainland, the U.S. government nevertheless has refused to return them to China, out of fear that they will be tortured or killed. At the same time, the United States has been pressing Switzerland and other allies to help empty the prison at Guantànamo Bay. At a press conference this afternoon in Bern, Swiss Minister of Justice Evelyn Widmer-Schlumpf said, “Switzerland's decision to take in the ethnic Uighur brothers was guided by humanitarian principles and should not be interpreted as giving preference to one country over another.”
Justice Minister Widmer-Schlumpf specifically commended the efforts of Ms. Gilson, who just completed a week-long media tour in Switzerland designed to tell the Swiss people about her clients and why the Swiss should give them a home. “These men have been told for nearly eight years that they didn’t belong in Guantanamo. They were brought there after Pakistani villagers kidnapped and sold them for substantial bounty payments offered by the U.S. All they want now, after all these years, is to live peacefully in a democratic country where they will be safe,” said Gilson.
The two brothers are among seven Uighurs who remain incarcerated at Guantànamo. The U.S. government acknowledged that there were no grounds to hold the men during court proceedings in October 2008. More than 100 nations have been approached, and most have thus far been unwilling to take the Uighur prisoners, presumably out of fear of angering China. Despite pressure from the communist Chinese, five of the Uighur prisoners were released to Albania in 2006, and four to Bermuda in 2009. All are living peaceful and productive lives. Six more have temporarily been relocated to the tiny island nation of Palau, where they are awaiting resettlement in a third country.
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last eight years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee” there. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 50 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.
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.