After more than five years of indefinite and lawless detention, these refugees – who have never been charged with any crimes – are trapped in Guantánamo due to government inaction. The EU member States’ possible intervention to offer humanitarian protection to these men in EU countries is seen as a last resort to solve the Guantánamo refugee crisis.
“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. We hope they will help make progress towards that goal by opening their doors to Guantánamo's refugees.”
According to CCR, which represents many of the detainees at Guantanamo in legal challenges, approximately 50 men at Guantánamo are from “high-risk” countries where, should they be forcibly returned, they would be in danger of persecution or torture. Approximately 30 of these men have been cleared for release for months or even years, yet continue to languish in Guantánamo because no country has agreed to offer them humanitarian protection. Detainees at risk include those from countries such as Uzbekistan, China, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia.
Attorneys say the threat to the men’s life and safety is very real: the United States has already sent nearly 40 detainees to human rights abusing countries, including Uzbekistan, Russia, Libya and Tunisia without any process to determine whether an individual would be at risk.
Subsequent to the enactment of the Military Commissions Act in the United States last year, U.S. courts have refused to intervene to prevent the refoulement of detainees and the U.S. has not instituted a process to allow a detainee to challenge a transfer for a fear of torture. The U.S. government has vehemently resisted any attempt by detainees and their attorneys to halt transfers, even where very specific and verifiable fears of persecution and torture exist. The U.S. has relied on diplomatic assurances - promises of humane treatment that have proved worthless in the past - to justify the transfers. Attorneys say that promises coming from human rights abusing regimes are ineffective and unenforceable and that former detainees have been tortured and abused upon their return to their country of origin.
The Joint Hearing of the Committee on Civil Liberties and the Sub-committee on Human Rights on Guantánamo Bay comes two months after the European Parliament adopted an amendment that calls for the increased involvement of the European Union in resolving the refugee problem at Guantánamo. That 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.”
"The European Union is bound by the principle of non-refoulment and that should encourage our intervention in the plight of Guantanamo's refugees. These men will face near-certain torture if EU countries do not intervene to prevent their transfer and provide them safe haven," said Antoine Madelin, FIDH's EU Permanent Representative.
To date, Albania – one of the poorest countries in Europe – was the first country that accepted a small number of Guantánamo’s refugees who could not safely be returned to their home country. In a landmark policy change, last year 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; three have since been transferred to the UK. 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.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.