Press release

Guantánamo: European Parliament calls on EU Member States to accept inmates

External relations - 04-02-2009 - 13:23
Plenary sessions
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In adopting a joint resolution, the European Parliament welcomes President Obama's decision to close Guantánamo Bay but recalls that the main responsibility for the closing and for the future of the prisoners rests with the United States. MEPs, nevertheless, call on the Member States to be prepared to accept Guantánamo inmates in the EU in case the US asks so, in a resolution adopted in Strasbourg and adopted with 542 votes in favour, 55 against and 51 abstentions.

MEPs affirm that the responsibility for respect for international law and fundamental rights rests with all democratic countries, particularly the EU and its Member States, which together represent a community of values.  MEPs call on the United States to ensure that Guantánamo detainees are granted their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Option for detainees
On the situation of detainees, MEPs say that detainees against whom the United States has sufficient evidence should properly tried without delay and, if convicted, imprisoned in the United States.
Those who are not to be charged and cannot be repatriated - real risk of torture or persecution in his home country - should given the opportunity to be admitted to the United States and afforded redress. Those not charged and willing to go back voluntarily to their home country should be able to so as quickly as possible, says the resolution.
MEPs also call on the Member States, should the United States administration so request, to cooperate in finding solutions, to be prepared to accept Guantánamo inmates in the EU. Member States have a duty of loyal cooperation to consult each other on possible repercussions on public security throughout the EU, says the resolution.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, in January 2002 the United States established a high-security detention facility at Guantánamo Bay (Cuba), where terrorist suspects have been detained.
The inmates have been denied their fundamental human rights, notably the right of fair trial, and have been subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, which amount to torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.
Number of prisoners
There are 242 prisoners left in Guantánamo and 62 of them will need to be resettled. Among these 62, 17 are Chinese-Muslim prisoners from the Uighur ethnic minority. Others come from Afghanistan (1), Algeria (10), Azerbaijan (1), Egypt (1), Ethiopia (1), Libya (6), Palestine (3), Russia (1), Syria (9), Tajikistan (1), Tunisia (10) and Uzbekistan (4).
Debate in plenary - 3 February 2009
MEPs debate the closure of Guantanamo Bay prisoner camp and CIA rendition flights
In the joint debate, many MEPs called on Member States to facilitate the closure of the facility within one year (as announced by the new Obama administration) by accepting detainees while, at the same time, ensuring that detainees are not sent to countries where they could be persecuted. During this legislative period, MEPs repeatedly called on the US to close the Guantanamo camp.
Czech Presidency of the Council
You, like the Council, will welcome President Obama's decision to close Guantanamo within a year", said Czech Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexander VONDRA for the Council Presidency. This decision had been "unequivocally welcomed" by EU ministers in the General Affairs Council, as had President Obama's decision to end special military commission trials, secret detention, and "enhanced interrogations" - and this should facilitate transatlantic co-operation in combating terrorism, he added.
"Guantanamo is primarily a US responsibility", but Member States could perhaps "help in practice", he said. This might include accepting detainees cleared for release, he added, but this possibility raises "political, legal and security issues" that must first be discussed with justice and home affairs ministers. "The Council will return to this issue once these are clarified", promised Mr Vondra.
European Commission
Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Jacques BARROT, who was also speaking on behalf of External Relations Commissioner Bettina Ferrero-Waldner, said the Commission welcomed the "clear changes in American policy" including "the greater attention being devoted to human rights, notably as regards suspected terrorists".
The EU had asked the USA several times to close Guantánamo.  What is at stake, he said, "is not just the principle that international law must be respected". Detention without trial "plays into the hands of terrorist groups trying to recruit new members".
On 26 January EU foreign ministers discussed Guantanamo with a view to agreeing on concerted EU action.  Mr Barrot said the question of finding "safe places" for detainees would be examined but it was a "delicate matter".  So far, there had been no formal request by the USA for European states to take detainees in.  On 26 February the JHA Council would try to work out a concerted EU approach but - and he stressed this several times - it would be up to the Member States to take the decisions on each case.
Turning to the issue of CIA rendition flights, Mr Barrot said the Commission's line had been based on three things: the need to tackle terrorism while respecting human rights, to establish the truth and to prevent any repetition of such a situation.  The Commission had requested information from some Member States, including Poland and Romania. but ultimately the responsibility for conduction investigations lay with the national authorities, not the EC.
Political group speakers
Speaking for the EPP-ED group, Hartmut NASSAUER (DE) said the question was whether former Guantánamo detainees should be settled in the EU.  It depends, he said, on what considerations inspire our decision making. Some, apparently, have been tortured, and torture was a terrible thing.
"Should we therefore take them in for humanitarian reasons, irrespective of the charges laid at their door?" he asked.  "What other considerations should we take account of? Many past and present detainees were trained in terror camps in Afghanistan after 9-11 - they did not go there to admire the scenery. They are potential terrorists, and we have a duty to protect our citizens.  Torture, regrettably, happens around the world, but we have never said all those who have been tortured have a right to come to Europe. We must ensure potential terrorists do not step onto European territory."
Martin SCHULZ (DE) leader of the Socialist group, said that the security of people living in Europe was naturally a vital consideration, which needed to be part of our decisions and negotiations - but was it a potential security risk or the very existence of a prison infringing international law which was the greatest threat? The previous US President's responded to 9-11 by infringing human rights, which had only led to more problems in the world.
"There is now a US President who wants to go back to the best values of his country," said Mr Schulz. "Are we to refuse to help in these circumstances? We say rule of law is valid here, when an illegal situation is being stopped, do we say we invoke security reasons for not taking anyone?"  He argued the President Obama was facing opposition to his decision, but was publicly backing human rights on principle.  It was by respecting human rights, even those of terrorists who would deny them to others, that we showed ourselves to be superior to terrorists.  We would do more to tackle terrorism by taking the hand proffered by the US than by following the approach outlined by Mr Nassauer, he said. Those who posed a threat should be monitored, he added, but human rights must be paramount.
Graham WATSON (ALDE) expressed delight and a sigh of relief at the election of President Obama. The new US administration is right to condemn water-boarding, right to call a halt to flawed military trials, right to signal closure of Guantanamo within a year.  Mr Watson welcomed assurances that US has disowned squalid practices such as extraordinary rendition:  'the Axis of Illegality' but we in Europe cannot stand back.  Too many of our Member States were complicit, he said.  The US go-it-alone mentality of the 43rd President ended in a cul de sac of failure. The resulting situation is a conundrum we must solve together.  Should Europe not offer rights and freedoms to released prisoners from Guantanamo where no other country will?  We need a co-ordinated European position on this issue not piecemeal Member State action.  Our help will be sought, we would be wrong to say no.
Konrad SZYMANSKI (UEN) said that normal interpretation of International Law would require immediate closure of Guantanamo but "we have not been living in normal times since 9/11".  One in nine of the released prisoners has gone straight back to terrorist activity.  Caution is urged.  Three things are clear:  we should be willing to take in our own citizens and residents; we should isolate serious threats and seek reform of the current Geneva Convention.
Kathalijne BUITENWEG (NL) spoke for the Greens-EFA group, which she said, was pleased with the Czech Presidency's aim of finding a joint EU response. Parliament had asked Member States to be pro-active on this: "Will you now ask the US which prisoners are concerned and what their background is so we can gradually make preparations?" she asked Mr Vondra.
On the issue of CIA flights and prisons, she said we should not forget that terrible things had happened and that EU governments had helped the previous US government in these actions - they were wrong to have done so, she added.
Gabriele ZIMMER (GUE/NGL) said that now that a new government in America is changing its policies on Guantanamo, the "EU is beginning to cower". This is not a time to cast doubt or to "preach one thing and do another", she said, Member States have to overtly state what is required, and the first step is to close Guantanamo. 
According to Nils LUNDGREN (IND/DEM, SE) "we're all relieved following the change of circumstances in the USA".  Terrorist suspects must "always be treated as innocent until proven guilty".   He believed the released detainees should not have to remain in America but at the same time "we in the EU are not obliged to take them in".
Koenraad DILLEN (NI, BE) welcomed the closure of Guantánamo Bay and stressed that "democracy must always respect the rule of law". But "democracy also needs resolute means to fight terrorism".  In passing he also criticised Cuba and China for their human rights abuses.
British and Irish speakers
Sarah LUDFORD (ALDE, UK) cited the humanitarian argument, "to rescue these men from the hellhole in which some of them have suffered for seven years.". Secondly, Europe’s credibility: we have called on the US to close Guantánamo, now we have to help to make that true. Thirdly, our own self interest in ending a potent symbol that acts as a pretext for terrorist recruitment and radicalisation and, lastly, moral responsibility.
Colm BURKE (EPP-ED, IE) said given that many EU Member States were complicit in the process of extraordinary rendition, he believed that EU countries, including Ireland, have a collective responsibility to accept a certain number of low-risk Guantánamo detainees from the US for resettlement within the EU. Cohesive leadership, he said, is now needed from the Irish Government in this regard. In a spirit of transatlantic cooperation and to participate in the fight against international terrorism, Ireland should play its part to assist the new US Administration in closing Guantánamo.
Charles TANNOCK (EPP-ED, UK) opposed EU Member States entangling themselves in the inevitable legal complications and the burden imposed on  security services of taking non-EU national prisoners previously designated as enemy combatants. Mr Tannock did not regret the detention of the most dangerous terrorists intent on "destroying our way of life when they were proven to be so". However, one of Guantanamo’s major drawbacks was that it forestalled any regular criminal proceedings against those held there. Ultimately regular criminal trials are, he said, the only way to resolve the status of Guantanamo prisoners who are non-EU nationals.. Since the inmates of Guantanamo were captured by the United States, it is America’s responsibility to prosecute them in its own courts, or return them to their countries of origin if innocent.
Vote on resolution on Guantanamo - Wednesday, 04.02.2009
REF.: 20090203IPR48108