(Brussels) - Having reached agreement to share information about detainees at Guantanamo seeking to be resettled in Europe, European countries should now jumpstart resettlement negotiations with the United States, Human Rights Watch said today.
The agreement, reached during a meeting of the European Union's interior ministers in Luxembourg on June 4, 2009, states that all 27 members of the European Union (EU) will share information provided by the United States about the detainees before agreeing to resettle the men.
"The information-sharing agreement removes one of the major hurdles Europe had to resettling Guantanamo detainees," said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch. "It should pave the way for the transfer of prisoners who have been wrongfully detained without charge for more than seven years."
European states have long said that they were willing to help President Barack Obama in his efforts to close the Guantanamo prison by agreeing to accept some of the estimated 50 Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release or transfer but cannot return to their home countries due to credible fears of persecution or abuse. However, plans to transfer the detainees from Guantanamo to Europe were hampered by the lack of an EU information-sharing agreement.
The agreement does not allow a state to block another state from accepting a detainee, but does allow for the security concerns of all states to be addressed.
Plans to transfer Guantanamo detainees have also been hampered by the unwillingness of the United States government to resettle any of the detainees itself - a condition several EU countries have said must be met before they will accept any of the men being held in the US prison.
"European countries have agreed to help the United States close down Guantanamo, but have understandably said that they expect the US to do its part," Mariner said.
It was widely reported that the United States planned to resettle several of Guantanamo's 17 Uighur detainees, men from a persecuted Muslim minority in western China who were arrested in Pakistan and handed over to the United States in exchange for bounty. The United States cleared most of the Uighurs of the "enemy combatant" designation and made them eligible for release years ago, but acknowledged they could not be returned to China due to credible fears that they would be tortured.
However, efforts to bring the Uighurs to the United States, where there is an established Uighur community that has offered to provide housing, as well as language and job training, were shelved in May 2009 when members of the US Congress tried to introduce legislation to block Guantanamo detainees from coming to the United States on grounds that they presented a terrorist threat.
"Congress should stop playing political football with the fates of the wrongly imprisoned Uighurs," Mariner said. "Their continued detention hinders Guantanamo's closure, which does actual harm to US national security."