Written By: Aayesha Soni
[ACTION] South Africa must step up and accept cleared Gitmo detainees
South Africa has a golden opportunity to show the world why its constitution is one of the more just and progressive in the world – by helping to right a global wrong.
“Guantanamo is the same as the internment camps for Japanese-Americans during the Second World War in the way it deprives innocent people of their freedom. In America, we don’t learn from our history”. Described as such by former guard Terry Holdbrooks, Guantanamo Bay prison, which was established in January 2002 by the United States government, has become notorious for its abuses and denial of due process.
Since 2002, 779 men, aged from 13 to 105, have been detained there outside any legal framework. Their treatment, in violation of international law, has included gruesome physical, mental and sexual torture. Through the 6000-page Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA Torture, redacted to 525 pages, we have been enlightened to the exact extent of one of the greatest disgraces of our time.
Of the 116 persons currently remaining at Guantanamo Bay, 52 are cleared for release. Those cleared for release are completely innocent, but have been labelled as ‘terrorists’. There have been numerous documented narratives where innocent individuals, based solely on their Islamic religion, were robbed of all the freedoms the US claims to champion.
Being released is only the beginning of their journeys, and reintegrating into a society that has played a helping hand in the complete disruption of their lives will be no easy feat. This is where South Africa could be afforded the opportunity to be the shining light of democracy and freedom.
South Africa is able to take the diplomatic steps to resettle detainees, which falls within the South African government’s responsibilities under international law, and under its own Refugee Act of 1998. CAGE Africa, a branch of CAGE in the UK, has submitted a petition to the South African government, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, and the Department of Home Affairs, to resettle between 1 and 11 of the 52 cleared Guantanamo Bay detainees.
I implore the relevant authorities to grab this opportunity to display why South Africa’s constitution is considered one of the most progressive in the world! We have the platform to afford men who have been the unjust victims of abject cruelty the chance to attempt to reclaim their lives and live as peaceful citizens in a democracy. Surely the South Africa in which I am proud to declare my religious freedom, would not lose such a golden opportunity.
The War on Terror is a monster that has allowed to be bred out of the womb of fear and has shown no distinction between civilians and combatants. We, as South Africans, now have the global podium to showcase our regard for human rights, and I have full confidence that our government will not fail these innocent men and their families.
Our country’s icon of human rights Archbishop Desmond Tutu has described Guantanamo Bay as a “horrendous subversion of law”. He has joined the chorus of well-respected voices calling for its termination; it is time we heed the call of the Archbishop and facilitate an attempt at redeeming a damning human rights violation. It is time to resettle former Guantanamo detainees in South Africa.
You can sign the petition to resettle detainees in South Africa here.
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