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Jean Lambert London's Green MEP

Guantanamo Bay protest speech

Jean’s speech on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay, delivered during a special demonstration at Trafalgar Square on Saturday, 7th January 2012.

Thank you for the invitation to be here today, but no thanks to the US Government who make it necessary for us to be here again, calling for the closure of Guantanamo.

Every year I hope that this will be the last time we have to hold this event. I think we all felt particularly confident when Obama made his commitment to close Guantanamo in 2009. But I had not really understood the resistance there would be within Congress and Senate: how they had bought into the “exceptional situation” argument, after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, which seemed to mean that international and national law was not equipped to deal with crimes such as murder and conspiracy. I had not understood how willing Congress and Senate would be to accept the Bush Presidency’s virtual rewriting of international Conventions on the conduct of war. Nor had I understood how Congress and Senate would prefer to see detainees kept outside the norms of justice in order to appease local fears concerning the transfer of detainees to Stateside detention facilities.

I believe we are also disappointed that the other Governments of democratic states have been so unwilling to assist the United States by helping to find alternative arrangements for detainees: those in need of humanitarian protection, those who cannot go back to their country of origin due to the situation there (many are from Yemen, for example) and not even those “cleared for release” years ago. None have been resettled since we stood protesting a year ago.

EU Member States have accepted only 26 men over the years: that includes those who already had connections with the EU country concerned, such as those now back in the UK who had international protection status here.

Of course, to our very deep sorrow and anger, we still have a missing London resident – Shakar Aahmer, cleared for release, still in Guantanamo.

The European Parliament is clear that Member States should assist the USA by taking detainees: we said this in 2009 and again in a resolution on anti-terrorism strategy in December last year. I am sure it will be said again at a meeting I am co-hosting later this month with Sara Ludford and our Portuguese colleague, Ana Gomes.

The EP’s Civil Liberties Committee is also doing a report to follow up on the so-called CIA Flights report we published in 2007 and to look at what has happened and has yet to happen, in EU Member States implicated in the transfer, detention and maltreatment (including torture) of some detained in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the USA.

But there are other issues related to this country to which we should pay attention.

In the UK, we have also seen the creep of so-called exceptional measures being seen as “normal”, not least the use of so-called “secret evidence”, where those accused or detained cannot see the full evidence against them. This means that they cannot challenge the evidence, cannot instruct their Council properly so cannot obtain a fair hearing. There are currently 21 areas where such evidence may be used.

The Government consultation on the Green Paper on Justice and Security closed yesterday: we need to follow what comes from this – challenge any proposals which make it more difficult for individuals to have a fair trial and which stop evidence of wrong-doing by authorities coming to light. Some analysts have said that some of the proposed measures could be more restrictive than seen in Guantanamo, for the detainees there…

We need to stand up for the importance of Human Rights, even when it is “inconvenient” or “embarrassing” for the Government.

We have to resist “rebalancing”, rewriting or stepping back from international Human Rights norms in the name of effectively combating terrorism.

We have to remember that the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy recognises that Human Rights compliance while countering terrorism is an indispensible part of a successful strategy to combat terrorism. Our Government and the American Government have signed up to this. The Strategy represents a clear affirmation by all UN Member States that effective counter-terrorism measures and the protection of human rights are not conflicting, but rather complementary and mutually reinforcing goals {1}.

There is another reason why Guantanamo is such a scar on the Human Rights reputation of the USA: it is completely counterproductive to the goals that the USA says it seeks to achieve.

Human Rights are universal, indivisible and cannot be compromised if we really want to tackle terrorism. That is why Human Rights must be upheld and Guantanamo closed.

The Strategy therefore identifies respect for human rights for all, and the rule of law, as one of its four pillars and as the fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism.

In Pillar 1, the Strategy also recognises that compliance with human rights is necessary in order to address the long-term conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, which include the lack of rule or law and violations of human rights, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, socio-economic marginalisation and lack of good governance. While making it clear that none of these conditions can excuse or justify terrorism, (Alex Conte: ICJ 28th September 2011)