Press Release

IACHR Welcomes the Resettlement of Six Guantanamo Detainees to Uruguay and Urges OAS Member States to Follow Uruguay’s Example

December 10, 2014

Washington, DC – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the resettlement to Uruguay of six detainees held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. This important humanitarian gesture on the part of Uruguay provides a significant step forward in the resettlement of detainees and thus towards the closure of Guantanamo.

On December 7, 2014, four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian arrived in Uruguay after twelve years of continuing detention at Guantanamo. They were captured in the context of the “war against terrorism” in 2002 and were never charged or tried. In 2010 a special inter-agency review board coordinated by the U.S. Secretary of Defense unanimously found that these detainees do not present a significant threat to the security of the United States and cleared them for transfer. The current security situation in their home countries, however, did not allow them to be repatriated, and a law passed by the U.S. Congress prohibits the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States. Therefore, since then the former detainees had been waiting for a third-country to receive them.

Following its long tradition and commitment to asylum, the government of Uruguay accepted, as a humanitarian gesture, to receive the former detainees. President Jose Mujica, who rejected a U.S. proposal to ban the detainees from traveling for two years after their release, declared that the six are “free men” who are fully welcomed into Uruguayan society and are also welcome to bring their families. The Uruguayan government will help the former detainees find work and housing, and will provide them with temporary financial assistance. According to publicly available information, the former detainees have been granted refugee status.

In a letter addressed to the people of Uruguay, Abdelhadi Omar Faraj, one of the former Syrian detainees, explains how he was turned over to the U.S. military for ransom and then sent to Guantanamo as a suspected terrorist. He expresses his gratitude to the Uruguayan people for the immense trust they have placed in them by opening the doors to their country. He also thanks President Mujica for his “noble act of solidarity” and for his “commitment to treat them as human beings,” adding that he and the other five “will only bring good will and positive contributions to Uruguay while learning Spanish and remake [their] lives [in Uruguay].”

The IACHR has closely monitored the human rights situation of persons detained at Guantanamo since the opening of the detention facility on January 11, 2002. “Two months after the first prisoners arrived, the Commission granted precautionary measures on their behalf and requested the United States to have the legal status of the detainees determined by a competent tribunal. In 2006, given the United States’ failure to give effect to the precautionary measures, the Commission issued Resolution No. 2/06 urging the State to close the detention facility. This request was reiterated in 2011 and 2013,” recalled Commissioner Felipe Gonzalez, Rapporteur for the United States.  “The resettlement of six detainees to Uruguay, where they will be finally able to rebuild their lives after twelve years of unlawful detention, is not only an important humanitarian gesture on the part of Uruguay, but this kind of solidarity on the part of third countries provides a significant step forward toward the definitive closure of Guantanamo,” he added.

The Inter-American Commission congratulates Uruguay for its openness and solidarity, and reiterates its request that the United States proceed to immediately close the detention facility; transfer the detainees to their home country or third countries in observance of the principle of non-refoulement; expedite the release of those already cleared for transfer; and house any detainees subject to trial in appropriate conditions and accord them applicable due process rights. Further, the IACHR calls for the repeal of the law that prohibits transfers of Guantanamo detainees to the United States.

According to public information, 67 of the 136 detainees currently held at Guantanamo have been cleared for transfer. The Inter-American Commission notes that in 2014, 19 detainees were repatriated or resettled in third countries versus 15 reportedly transferred in the previous three years. This progress, however, is not sufficient to lead to closure of the facility without delay. The IACHR welcomes reported discussions with South American countries about accepting Guantanamo detainees and urges OAS Member States to consider receiving detainees in an effort to achieve the goal of closing the prison and to reaffirm the longstanding tradition of asylum and protection of refugees in the region.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 147/14