31st May 2023

Pressure mounts for EU to take Guantanamo prisoners

  • Guantanamo Bay has held more than 750 prisoners from around the world since its creation in 2002 (Photo: Joshua Sherurcij)

European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pottering has become the latest high-ranking politician to call on EU states to take in prisoners from the US military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, once it is closed.

The EU had always been in favour of closing Guantanmo, because it is not in line with European principles for justice, Mr Pottering told the Hamburger Abendsblatt in an interview published on its website on Tuesday (20 January).

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But "when demanding the closure of Guantanamo, one must also stand by and help the Americans to do it …Convicted terrorists must of course serve their sentence in the EU," Mr Pottering said.

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 in the name of "the war on terror."

US Democrat Barack Obama, who is to be sworn in as America's 44th president on Tuesday, is expected to decide to close the base.

On Monday, The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg also urged the institution's 47 member states to accept former Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

"While the US has created the Guantanamo problem and has the primary responsibility for correcting the injustices, there are cogent arguments for European assistance in closing the centre," Mr Hammarberg said in an opinion published on the Council's website.

Human rights groups have been issuing similar statements.

"Unfortunately Guantanamo has become a problem for everyone as it has become part of the terrorists' recruiters narrative," Jennifer Daskal, senior counter-terrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.

EU states divided

EU foreign ministers are to discuss the issue officially for the first time at a meeting in Brussels on 26 January, although no major breakthrough is expected.

Some member states, notably Portugal, have already spoken out in favour of the move.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has also said he wants Paris to take in Guantanamo inmates, while the UK agrees more countries should do so – but has itself not said yet whether it would accept detainees who are not UK residents.

Germany is divided with Social Democrat foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in favour of the idea, but Conservative interior minister Wolfgang Schaeuble opposed.

On the other hand, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden are reluctant to step in, according to news agencies reports.

"It is not up to the Netherlands to take in former detainees," but to the country which has detained them until now, a Dutch foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Meanwhile, Deutsche Welle earlier this week reported Austrian Interior Minister Maria Fekter as saying: "America created Guantanamo. It has to come up with the solution."

Since its creation in 2002, Guantanamo has held more than 750 prisoners from around the world, most of whom without trial. Some 250 people are still detained there today.

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