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UK/USA: Clarify fate of Britons held in Guantánamo

UK/USA: Clarify fate of Britons held in Guantánamo Bay

The UK authorities must contact the relatives of Britons held in Guantánamo bay and not leave it for media speculation to keep the relatives informed, Amnesty International said today.

Media outlets have reported today that the US Ambassador at large for war crimes Pierre-Richard Prosper has indicated that some of the UK nationals held in US custody at Guantánamo Bay could be repatriated subject to certain conditions.

While Amnesty International would welcome a decision to repatriate the UK nationals, the organization remains concerned that there has still been no official confirmation of these reports and is writing today to the Secretay of State for Foreign Affairs, Jack Straw to urge that he immediately clarify whether a decision has been made on the fate of these individuals.

"This is not the first time that similar reports have appeared in the media, and this sort of media speculation inevitably causes great anguish. The families of the UK detainees remain entirely in the dark about the fate of their relatives while some of them have been inundated with media requests for a reaction to these speculations."

As to the conditions attached to any releases, Amnesty International reiterates its long-held concern that anyone reasonably suspected of having committed a crime should be charged with a recognizably criminal offence and tried in court proceedings which fully meet international fair trial standards, and bar the possibility of the death penalty, irrespective of where the trial may take place.

The question of post-repatriation surveillance is clearly a matter for law enforcement officials. Amnesty International urges that any post-repatriation measure be in accordance with international human rights, including the right to a fair trial.

Most of the UK detainees -- together with many hundreds of other people of around 40 different nationalities -- have been held for two years at the US Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay in Cuba in a legal black hole without access to any court, to lawyers or to families.

Amnesty International remains deeply concerned about the fate of all those held at Guantánamo -- detainees must be released unless charged with recognizably criminal offences and brought to fair trial. They must not be forcibly returned to any country where they would be at risk of further human rights abuses.

Amnesty International is concerned about the fate of six foreign nationals who were named in July 2003 as the first to be made eligible for trial by military commission under the Military Order signed by President George Bush in November 2001. Such commissions would have the power to hand down death sentences, and there would be no right of appeal to any court against the decisions handed down by these executive bodies. The commissions will lack independence and will restrict the right of defendants to choose their own counsel and to an effective defence. The commissions will also accept a lower standard of evidence than in ordinary courts. This could include evidence extracted under torture or coercion. Lord Steyn, a judge from the UK's highest court, had said that such trials would be "a stain on United States justice". Among the six named in July 2003 by the US President are two UK nationals, Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi, Australian national David Hicks, and Yemeni national Salim Ahmed Hamdan. The identities of the other two detainees are unknown. Reports indicate that they may be from Pakistan and Sudan.

Amnesty International is also concerned at the continued refusal of the UK authorities to make representations on behalf of the UK residents held at Guantánamo Bay.

"Governments, including the UK, should vigorously defend the rights of their nationals detained by other governments. At the same time governments should speak out firmly against all violations of international law, even if the violator is an ally. It is unacceptable that the fate of Guantánamo prisoners appears to be subject to political/diplomatic considerations rather than universal human rights principles," the organization concluded.

See USA: Holding human rights hostage,

USA: "Double jeopardy" for some Guantánamo detainees, take action! Visit

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