January 11, 2012, marks the ten year anniversary since the first detainees arrived at the U.S. naval base Guantanamo Bay. Today, 171 prisoners are still behind bars – five of whom are Tunisians. For the occasion, a conference gathering several Tunisian human rights organizations was held today, in Tunis, to discuss ongoing efforts to achieve the release of the five remaining Tunisian detainees. The conference was hosted by Reprieve, a British organization that works globally toward securing the release of Guantanamo detainees.
Human rights associations joining the conference included Amnesty International, the Tunisian Human Rights League, and Human Rights Watch. They all called for the closure of the prison facility in Guantanamo Bay and for the immediate release of the remaining five Tunisian prisoners. They also called for compensation to be provided to the detainees.
Former detainees were also present at the conference to show support to their fellow prisoners in Guantanamo. Adel Ben Mabrouk, a former prisoner, was present at the conference. Accused of being a member of Al-Qaeda, Ben Mabrouk spent eight years in Guantanamo. He was released in 2009 when no evidence was found to confirm the alleged affiliation.
Rafiq Al Hami, another former prisoner, also attended the conference. Al Hami spent seven years in Guantanamo and was released in 2010. He urged the Tunisian government to put pressure on American authorities to release the prisoners that remain behind bars.
Family members of the remaining prisoners were also present. Imed Hakeemy, brother of Adel Hakeemy – one of the five Tunisians remaining in Guantanamo – asked the Tunisian government to prioritize returning the detainees back to their country. “The prisoners in Guanatanmo are suffering greatly without having committed any crime. They are being treated unjustly.”
Polly Rossdale, a member of Reprieve and co-host of the event, said that the organization met with members of the Tunisian government and that they intend on negotiating the issue with American authorities. “Tunisia needs to bring the Arab Spring to Guantanamo,” said Rossdale.
“In order to complete the revolution, all Tunisians need to benefit – including those who are illegally detained in Guantanamo,” she added.
A representative of Human Rights Watch said that Tunisia is moving forward with human rights policies – however, there are some shortcomings that the current government can resolve to reach a caliber that is afforded by global democracies.
Another human rights activist and representative of the Freedom and Justice association believes that the notorious detention center is a, “black mark in American history,” and must be closed. “We asked the Tunisian government to apply pressure on U.S authorities and to release the remaining Tunisians. We hope that they will return to their homes as soon as possible,” he concluded.
Zouheir Makhlouf, general director of Amnesty International in Tunis, said that different associations are going to meet to draft a number of demands regarding the issue and formally present them to the Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice, Samir Dilou.
Out of a total of 779 individuals that have been detained at the facility since 2002, twelve have Tunisian nationalities. Seven have been released, two returned to Tunisia, and five were resettled in Europe.