Unkept promise

In an open letter, nearly 60 organizations from several countries condemn the continued existence of Guantanamo

In condemnation of the continued existence of the prison at Guantanamo, considered the ultimate symbol of illegality, torture and other violations committed by the United States in the ‘war on terror’, nearly 70 organizations from several countries on the continent sent today, January 22, a joint statement urging the U.S. government to immediately close the detention center.

Click here to read the joint statement by the organizations.

The date the document was sent is symbolic: it marks seven years since the promise to close the facility made by President Barack Obama in an executive order signed on January 22, 2009.

“Guantanamo is an example of illegal actions, impunity, lack of due process and infringement of the right to truth, justice and redress. The fact that Guantanamo remains open to this day symbolizes impunity for future abuses,” reads the statement.

The same reasons also led the United Nations to once again harshly criticize the U.S. government in an open letter signed by six special rapporteurs.

Although the commitment to close Guantanamo was confirmed by Obama at the summit in the Philippines in November 2015 and renewed in his final State of the Union address in January of this year, the president will only be able to deliver on his promise if the prison is emptied.

Of the nearly 780 men who have spent time at Guantanamo during its 14-year history – an anniversary marked last week – 91 are still imprisoned there. Of these, 34 could be released if a country offered to receive them – like Uruguay, France, Ghana and another 26 nations have already done.

The role of Brazil

The statement also stressed the duty of Latin American countries to contribute to the closure of Guantanamo, through a regional effort to take in these people who face no charges.

The pressure for Latin American countries to join the international efforts to close Guantanamo has risen over the past few months. In December, the Mercosur Social Summit published a specific item in its final declaration calling for the block to take in former prisoners.

The recommendation echoes the points made in a report published in August 2015 by the IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) of the OAS (Organization of American States). This document was explicit in its appeal for countries in the region to reassert “the long tradition of asylum and protection of refugees” by receiving detainees from Guantanamo.

Despite pressure from Brazilian and international human rights organizations, President Dilma Rousseff has still not spoken officially about the possibility of Brazil actively contributing to the closure of the prison.

In June 2015, during a visit by Rousseff to President Barack Obama, Conectas published five reasons why Brazil can and should receive men held at Guantanamo as refugees:

1.     It is necessary to put a stop to the violations associated with the existence of the prison, such as torture, arbitrary detention and force-feeding. But before Guantanamo can be closed and these violations can end, the complex first needs to be emptied.


2.     The origin of Guantanamo is in the United States, but its impact on human rights violations is global. Its existence undermines international law and the consensus that has been built on the prohibition of torture and mistreatment and on the right to due process and to a defense. In a country like Brazil, which has the world’s fourth largest prison population, it is imperative to reinforce the value of these guarantees.

3.     No charges are pending against the prisoners who have been cleared for release. After a careful review process, six U.S. agencies (including the CIA and the FBI) unanimously found that these people pose no threat to national security and could finally be released after spending years in prison without formal charges.

4.     The resettlement of Guantanamo detainees would be a boon for Brazilian foreign policy. A decision to join the group of countries that have already received prisoners would increase Brazil’s political clout, reasserting its prominence in global crises and setting an example for other countries in the region to follow. President Dilma Rousseff, herself a survivor of torture during the Brazilian dictatorship, has the standing to establish herself as a reference in the struggle to close Guantanamo.

5. The social and political conditions are favorable. Brazil has a tradition of receiving immigrants and refugees and it has adopted humanitarian initiatives in certain cases – like for Haitians and Syrians. Resettling Guantanamo prisoners would also be consistent with the principles of solidarity and non-indifference defended by Brazilian diplomacy.

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