(Washington, DC) - The transfer of four Uighur detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Bermuda is a positive step toward closing the prison, but does not eliminate the need for the United States to resettle some detainees on its soil, Human Rights Watch said today. The vote by the US Congress today to block funding for the resettlement of detainees in the United States undermines those efforts, Human Rights Watch said.
"The prospects for these men would be better near other Uighurs in the US or Europe," said Stacy Sullivan, counterterrorism advisor at Human Rights Watch. "But getting them out of prison and offering them a chance for a normal life are the first priority and the right thing to do."
Human Rights Watch called on the United States to work with Bermuda to ensure that the men's families are allowed to join them, and that they are provided with reintegration assistance, including housing, job training, and medical care, if needed. It also urged Washington to leave open the possibility that the men could be resettled in the United States in the future and called on European nations to make good on promises to help resettle additional Guantanamo detainees who cannot be sent to their home countries.
The four Uighurs, members of an oppressed Turkic minority from western China, were flown from Guantanamo Bay to Bermuda on June 11, 2009. They are among nearly 50 Guantanamo detainees, including 13 other Uighurs, that have been cleared for release or transfer but cannot return to their home countries due to credible fears of persecution or ill-treatment. Human Rights Watch urged the United States to transfer the remaining Uighurs for resettlement on US soil.
According to several media reports, the United Kingdom criticized Bermuda, a self-governing British overseas territory, for not consulting with London before agreeing to accept the Uighur detainees, claiming that their resettlement raised security concerns.
Human Rights Watch urged the British government not to interfere with the Uighur resettlement in Bermuda.
"The Uighurs have endured political oppression in China and seven years of imprisonment at Guantanamo," Sullivan said. "If the United Kingdom is serious about helping the United States close Guantanamo, it should applaud this step, not hinder it."
European states have said that they were willing to help US President Barack Obama in his efforts to close the Guantanamo prison by agreeing to accept some of the detainees and, earlier this month, the European Union adopted an information-sharing agreement to facilitate the resettlement process. However, they have been reluctant to take in detainees until the United States agrees to resettle some of the men itself.
It was widely reported earlier this year that the United States planned to resettle several of the Uighur detainees in the United States. Those efforts were shelved, however, in light of Congress's efforts to pass legislation blocking Guantanamo detainees from being transferred to the United States on grounds that they presented a terrorist threat.
"Congress's exaggerated claims of a threat posed by bringing a few wrongfully imprisoned Guantanamo detainees to the US are blatant fear-mongering," Sullivan said. "These men don't pose a threat to national security - but keeping Guantanamo open does."