(Washington, DC, December 11, 2008) - Other EU governments should accept Portugal's call to resettle Guantanamo detainees who cannot be returned to their home countries, Human Rights Watch said today. The Portuguese foreign minister, Luis Amado, made the call this week in a letter to his EU counterparts, stating that the "time has come for the European Union to step forward."
Portugal is the first country to press publicly and formally for a coordinated EU resettlement plan.
"For years, the US has been unable to convince its European allies to accept Guantanamo detainees who cannot be sent back home," said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch. "For the first time an EU government is publicly pushing to make that happen, and others should echo Portugal's call."
Of the 250 detainees still being held at Guantanamo, about 30 to 40 have expressed concern about being tortured or persecuted if returned to their home countries. The men come from places such as China, Uzbekistan, Libya, and Algeria - all countries with long records of committing torture.
These detainees include a group of Chinese Uighurs who have been cleared for release for years. US efforts over several years to convince its European allies to resettle these and other detainees have been unsuccessful, in part because the Bush administration has been unwilling to accept them in the United States. In October 2008, a US federal court ordered the Bush administration to release the Uighurs into the United States because the government had failed to find another placement for them. The government has appealed the ruling, and the Uighurs remain detained in Guantanamo.
Human Rights Watch has long called on the United States to resettle some of the Guantanamo detainees into the United States who cannot be sent back home, including the Uighurs. Human Rights Watch also recognizes that EU assistance in resettling some detainees is necessary to ensure the prompt closure of Guantanamo.
"The United States created the Guantanamo problem, and the United States is responsible for solving it," Daskal said. "But European governments can play a vital role in helping resettle detainees who have nowhere else to go."