Portugal urges EU to shelter Guantanamo prisoners
Portugal has stepped to the forefront of efforts to grant asylum to people who were imprisoned at the US military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, but once freed, fear returning to authoritarian government hands in such countries as Algeria or Sudan.
"The time has come for the European Union to step forward," Portuguese foreign minister Luis Amado said in a letter to the 27 EU governments released on Thursday (11 December).
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He added: "As a matter of principle and coherence, we should send a clear signal of our willingness to help the US government in this regard, namely through the resettlement of detainees."
The Portuguese government "will be available to participate," the minister concluded.
The Guantanamo prison - holding individuals the US has termed "enemy combatants" from around the world since 2002 - has been widely denounced by jurists and civil liberties advocates as for its extra-legal character and reported human rights abuses.
US president-elect Barack Obama is expected to move swiftly to close the controversial site after he is sworn in as president.
Some 250 individuals are still held at the Guantanamo base. Around 40 of them are believed to face the potential threat of persecution and torture should they be returned to their home countries, nations where human rights abuses are common, such as Algeria, China, Libya, and Uzbekistan.
The Portuguese move has received a warm welcome from both the United States and human rights activists.
Washington described Portugal's call on the EU to house the individuals as "highly significant" and "a quite open challenge to the rest of Europe."
Human Rights Watch has called on other EU capitals to heed Lisbon's call.
"For years, the US has been unable to convince its European allies to accept Guantanamo detainees who cannot be sent back home. For the first time an EU government is publicly pushing to make that happen and others should echo Portugal's call," said Jennifer Daskal, a campaigner with the New York-based organisation.