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Europe rights commissioner urges countries to welcome Guantanamo detainees

[JURIST] Council of Europe (COE) [official website] Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg [official profile] on Tuesday sent a letter [text] to all member states urging them to welcome certain released Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees. The letter, addressed to all 47 COE member states, called on the states to cooperate with and contribute to US plans to close the detention facility [JURIST news archive] by accepting detainees who are cleared for release. Hammarberg's request followed his visit to Washington, DC where he met with US President Barack Obama and other officials to emphasize that the detainees should be "tried in accordance with international human rights law standards" or "released in full respect of the principle of presumption of innocence." Hammarberg also called for the US to provide reparations [press release] to those who were unlawfully detained. Stating that there are approximately 50 detainees who are currently cleared by authorities but cannot be repatriated for various reasons, Hammarberg asked the member states to follow the example already set by some countries, saying:

While Council of Europe member states have accepted their own nationals who had been in Guantanamo, certain others, such as Albania, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom, have also accepted non-citizens from Guantanamo. Authorities from a number of other member states have made public their willingness to accept non-citizen Guantanamo detainees. ... It is beyond doubt that a number of the Guantanamo detainees are in need of international protection. Reliable reports have indicated that some of those released and returned to their home countries have suffered serious human rights violations, such as torture and unlawful detention.

Although he assured the countries that accepting detainees is purely voluntary, Hammarberg stressed that cooperation with the facility's closure will strengthen the fight against terrorism while affirming the purpose of the Council of Europe to preserve human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The commissioner's request follows an agreement [JURIST report] made last week by the Council of the European Union [official website], which set forth the terms of accepting detainees in a way that would minimize any danger posed to other member states. The council agreed that member states should only receive detainees who are officially cleared for release, do not face prosecution in the US, and have compelling reasons to not return to their home countries. The council also reaffirmed that the US still bears the primary responsibility for finding residence for former detainees. In March, US officials met with leaders from the EU to discuss plans [JURIST report] to transfer detainees to European countries. Many countries have indicated their openness to accepting detainees, including Tunisia, Lithuania, Ireland, and Portugal [JURIST reports]. Other states have expressed reservations about accepting detainees, including Poland and Spain, while Italy [JURIST reports] and the Netherlands [AFP report] have said they will not accept detainees.

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