Ref. :  000028970
Date :  2008-03-03
Language :  English
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Will Europe take in Guantánamo Bay prisoners?

When Christopher Columbus’ crew landed in a small Cuban bay in 1494, they could not have known the notoriety that the place - later Guantánamo Bay - would achieve. A hearing in Parliament on 28 February debated whether European countries should provide shelter to released detainees from Guantánamo who would be in danger if they returned to their own countries. The hearing found MEPs divided over the need to help the men and whether they should take responsibilty for a US-made dilemma.


The Guantánamo camp is a US military camp operating since 2002 on the existing US military base in Cuba. Human rights organisations claim that many of its detainees were civilians who were arrested or kidnapped in the turmoil of the war in Afghanistan and sold to US forces for a bounty. International NGOs have criticised the US practice of offering large rewards for Taliban or Al-Qaeda fighters as this can lead to people being betrayed to settle old scores.

A dangerous paradox: "should I stay or should I go?"

Part of the hearing focused on what to do with the prisoners whom the Americans would willingly release (around 30 out of around 300) but who could face torture and persecution if returned to their countries of origin. According to the US Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), detainees at risk include those from countries such as China, Uzbekistan, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan and Egypt.

Paradoxically, as the pressure to close Guantánamo escalates, the danger of further exposure to torture only grows. According to CCR representative Emi MacLean, "these men are faced with an impossible choice: to be detained indefinitely in the US extrajudicial prison camp at Guantánamo or to be repatriated to countries in which they face certain torture or persecution".

Speaking after the hearing, subcommittee vice-chair Baroness Sarah Ludford (Liberal ALDE) said that "the detainees live in the most appalling conditions; some of them are losing their minds because of the enormous pressure of living in tiny cells (2 m× 2.5ms) with no daylight at all, but with the lights permanently on".

Resettling endangered detainees in Europe?

CCR representative MacLean believed the answer for Europe was to open its doors to these "few stranded refugees". German MEP Ewa Klamt (EPP-ED) wondered "why should the EU be obliged to solve problems that the US did not want to resolve itself?" She preferred to stress the democratic nature of the USA, pointing out that the three leading presidential candidates all believed "Guantánamo should be closed".

Sarah Ludford said "it is time for Europe to muster the political will and help America finally close this shameful chapter of history...digging the Americans out of the hole that they dug themselves into", i.e. by taking in some of the endangered detainees.

Portuguese Socialist MEP Ana Maria Gomes argued that the "complicity" of some Member States in sending individuals to Guantánamo in the first place was probably inhibiting their readiness to take in refugees now.

EP’s role in preventing a humanitarian crisis

On February 16th 2006, an EP resolution "calls on the US Administration to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and insists that every prisoner should be treated in accordance with international humanitarian law and tried without delay in a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent, impartial tribunal."

A later Resolution of December 12th 2007 on the fight against terrorism calls on the Commission and the Council "to launch an initiative at the European and international levels for the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners from third states who cannot be returned to their country of origin because they risk being persecuted or tortured."

During a press conference held after the hearing subcommittee chair Hélène Flautre (Greens/EFA) emphasised Europe’s role in preventing a possible humanitarian crisis. The French MEP said she thought that the EP should continue pressurizing and mobilising EU members to accept detainees likely to be repatriated into notorious human rights abusing regimes.

MEPs also thought that a personalised monitoring of individual cases should be launched identifying possible European host countries for the refugees at risk. Thus far only Albania, the UK and Sweden showed willingness to accept cleared detainees on their territory. Sarah Ludford noted that "we need to rescue people from this legal and diplomatic limbo" as there is "an acute need for a humanitarian solution".

The debate took place at a joint hearing organised by Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee and its Human Rights subcommittee


Further information:
- Press Info
- Hearing documents
- Civil Liberties committee
- Human Rights Sub-committee
- Resolution on fight against terrorism
- Resolution on Guantánamo Bay


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