02 April 2013

Timor-Leste people tell U.S. to close Guantanamo prison

During the last few weeks, people all over the world have been asking the United States Government to close the illegal prison it operates on a U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba. Although many detainees have been released, the U.S. still imprisons 166 human beings -- all men, all Muslim -- in Guantanamo, many for more than eleven years. None of them has been convicted in a judicial process, and their imprisonment violates U.S. and international law, as well as the fundamental principle of "innocent until proven guilty."

For more than fifty days, more than 100 of the prisoners have been on hunger strike. Many human rights activists are fasting in solidarity with them. Although starving themselves may be the only way the prisoners still have to express themselves, people outside Guantanamo's cells also have other means.

In Timor-Leste, about 30 people wrote a letter to President Barack Obama to appeal that the prison be closed immediately, its inmates released and compensated for the severe violations to their human rights. They also demanded that people who committed crimes related to their illegal arrest, imprisonment and torture at Guantanamo be brought to justice.

They also wrote to Timor-Leste President Taur Matan Ruak and other public officials in Tetum, at right. This letter asks the Head of State to ask the United States, in Timor-Leste's name, to free all Guantanamo prisoners, close the prison because it violates human rights principles, and compensate the victims and ask their countries to welcome them back. Based on Timor-Leste's history, and its ratification of international human rights conventions, the signers hope that President Taur Matan Ruak will represent Timor-Leste's people's request to show solidarity with the Guantanamo prisoners.

When signers of the letter to President Obama delivered it to the U.S. embassy, the embassy respected their freedom of expression and an embassy official graciously accepted the letter and will forward it to the White House. Organizers had spoken with Ambassador Judith Fergin in advance, and she asked Timor-Leste's police to allow the peaceful protest, notwithstanding Timor-Leste's law which bans protests within 100 meters of government and embassy facilities.
Atauro Island, across the sea behind the demonstrators, was used by Portuguese and Indonesian occupiers of Timor-Leste as a political detention center.  Indonesia sent more than 6,000 Timorese people there, where they were often held for many years without charges, just as in Guantanamo. Today, everyone in Atauro is free, and the island is a farming/fishing community and an ecotourism resort.
This is the text of the letter to President Obama:

Klibur Solidaridade Timor-Leste
Office of the HAK Association, Farol, Dili, Timor-Leste
Telp. +670-331-3323 email: timorsolidarity@gmail.com

President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500 USA

2 April 2013

Dear President Obama,

As you know, Timor-Leste’s people suffered long and struggled hard to restore our independence, and we appreciate the support that the United States Government has given to help rebuild our country after the Indonesian occupation. Because of our past, we understand the hardships of prolonged detention and the suffering of imprisonment.

Today we are appealing to the United States Government to immediately release the 166 men imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay detention center and to close the prison! It is illegal and immoral to keep people in prison without trial, and most of them have already been jailed for more than 11 years. The USA is responsible to compensate these men for the severe violations to their human rights.

More than four years ago, on your first day in office, you promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Yet it remains open. More than half of the men, 86, have been cleared for release but remain in prison. Faced with indefinite detention and no hope for justice, the men are desperate; more than 100 are on a hunger strike, some of them have not eaten for more than six weeks. They are risking their lives because they have given up hope that the United States will live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all, that the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” will ever be applied to them.

The United States spends $800,000 a year to keep each one of these men incarcerated in violation of its own and international law. Why doesn’t the United States use its resources to do justice? We remind you of your own words when you accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, “For all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter and can bend history in the direction of justice.”

We demand that you adhere to the rule of law. The United States loses its credibility in advocating for a democratic and free Timor-Leste, governed under the rule of law, when you yourselves flaunt the principles your country claims to represent. We demand that those responsible for these human rights abuses, including the torture, illegal and inhumane treatment of the prisoners be held accountable.

For Peace with Justice,

Signed by more than 30 Timor-Leste citizens and a few from other nations

1 comment:

  1. What incredible solidarity the Timor-Leste people show for the prisoners....it is a lesson to all of us to lend our voice for justice!