(Washington, DC) - Switzerland's decision to accept for resettlement two Uighur detainees who have been wrongfully detained at Guantanamo for more than eight years is a significant contribution toward closing the prison, Human Rights Watch said today.
Swiss authorities announced today that they would resettle two of the seven remaining Uighurs at Guantanamo on humanitarian grounds. The announcement comes just a week after Switzerland agreed to resettle an Uzbek detainee from Guantanamo.
"Switzerland should be commended for its humanitarian action," said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. "By agreeing to resettle three Guantanamo detainees, the Swiss are making a major contribution to shuttering Guantanamo."
Several other European countries, including Albania, Belgium, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Slovakia, have accepted Guantanamo detainees.
The two Uighur detainees, whose names have not been released, are members of an oppressed Turkic minority from western China who have been cleared for transfer or release from Guantanamo for years, but cannot return home due to credible fears of persecution or ill-treatment there.
Twenty-two Uighurs were originally detained at Guantanamo. They had reportedly been living together in a Uighur camp in Afghanistan when the US-led coalition bombing campaign began in October 2001, and a group of them fled into the mountains. Arab travelers promised to take them to a safe house in Pakistan, but instead turned them over to Pakistani authorities who, in turn, handed them over to the United States - reportedly for large bounties.
The United States cleared most of the Uighurs for release from Guantanamo in 2004, and has been looking for countries to resettle them ever since. In 2006, Albania resettled five of them, and in 2009, Bermuda four and Palau six.
Human Rights Watch has long called on the United States to resettle some of the Uighurs in the United States, specifically in Virginia, where there is a vibrant Uighur community that has offered to provide housing, language training, and other services to aid in the men's resettlement. However, in 2009 the US Congress passed legislation barring the resettlement of Guantanamo detainees in the United States. Because several European countries made US willingness to take in Guantanamo detainees a pre-condition for doing so themselves, that decision has severely hampered the Obama administration's efforts to find resettlement countries.
In addition to the Uighurs, scores of other detainees from countries such as Algeria, Libya, Tajikistan, and Tunisia are in need of resettlement in third countries due to credible fears that they would face torture or other ill-treatment if they were returned to their countries of citizenship.
"Given the hurdles the US Congress put in its way, the State Department has done a remarkable job in finding homes for the Uighurs and other detainees in need of resettlement," Prasow said. "We hope Switzerland will serve as an example for other countries to come forward and volunteer to resettle detainees so that Guantanamo can be closed as quickly as possible."