MEPs demand common EU action to help resettle Guantánamo detainees - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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MEPs demand common EU action to help resettle Guantánamo detainees

Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Within 48 hours of taking office, a year ago last month, the new President of the United States Barack Obama announced his intention to close Guantánamo Bay detention centre within 12 months of him assuming office.

Today, 198 prisoners remain in Guantánamo, and it is estimated that some 50 of those prisoners have been cleared for release but cannot be returned home because of the risk of imprisonment, torture or other human rights abuses.

Guantánamo Bay (Photo: Guardian)In a debate during last week's Strasbourg session, MEPs called on the EU member states to do more to accept prisoners and help Mr Obama to close the detention centre, which many Members said "is in the EU's interest".

Representing the Spanish Presidency, Secretary of State for the EU López Garrido Diego, said that this impasse was a "thorn in the side of EU-US relations" and "we welcome Mr Obama's continued persistence to close the centre."

Portuguese MEP Carlos Coelho (EPP) admitted the centre was "the biggest mistake of the George Bush administration" and the EU needs to cooperate to accept these prisoners.

Compatriot Ana Gomes (PT, S&D) cited Article 24 of the Lisbon Treaty to state that the EU should have a common policy and that it was the High Representative Catherine Ashton who has the initiative. "We must do all we can to close this door on a gruesome part of our history," she said.

Sarah Ludford (UK, ALDE) said that "while understanding the difficulties in unravelling the mess left by George Bush, the delays which mean nearly 200 men remain there are extremely frustrating." She added to the calls for EU governments to act because doing so is a "duty both out of transatlantic solidarity and out of guilt at their own complicity".

The same theme was continued by Helmut Scholz (DE, GEU) who said that many member states have "dodged responsibilities to take prisoners" and that is genuinely a "problem of transatlantic cooperation".

Cuba Map (Photo: BBC News)Concluding the debate in which all political parties expressed similar viewpoints, Pawel Samecki, the now former Commissioner in charge of Regional Policy, reminded MEPs that it falls under the purview of each Member state to take prisoners.

MEPs have campaigned for the closure for the Guantánamo Bay detention centre for many years, and in June last year the EU and the US agreed a framework that would allow EU member states to accept some of these detainees.

This framework came about as a result of a joint resolution unanimously adopted by the Parliament in the February Strasbourg session four months before that, calling for EU states to accept low-risk prisoners who cannot be sent home for fear they might be mistreated.

In that debate then, Graham Watson (UK, ALDE) had said "Europe cannot stand back and shrug its shoulders".

Last week's debate came on the back of an announcement by Latvia that it will take in one prisoner from Guantánamo.

To date only seven former detainees have been welcomed into Europe as free men, and Latvia is one of several EU countries — including Albania, Belgium, Ireland, France, Portugal, Spain, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy, and non-EU Switzerland — that have agreed to accept former prisoners or have already done so.

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