Lawmakers demand Guantanamo Uighurs move to US

23rd May 2009, Comments 0 comments

American authorities cleared the 17 imprisoned Uighurs four years ago and have previously asked Germany to take some of the Uighurs in.

Washington -- Two lawmakers with President Barack Obama's Democratic Party appealed Thursday to let Uighurs locked up at Guantanamo Bay move to the United States, saying they were victims of injustice.

The plea came despite an overwhelming Senate vote a day earlier to block money to transfer inmates out of the deeply controversial "war on terror" prison in Cuba, which Obama on Thursday vowed again to shut down.

US authorities four years ago cleared 17 imprisoned Uighurs -- members of a largely Muslim group in northwestern China who the State Department says face worsening persecution by Beijing.

But they are stuck at Guantanamo Bay due to fears that Beijing would torture them if they return. The United States has asked Germany, home to a large Uighur community, to take them in.

"We cannot expect the world to miraculously resolve this problem of our own making," Congressman Jim McGovern said.

"It is not enough, quite frankly, to ask that they be placed in Germany or in some other European country. I believe that we have an obligation to resettle at least some of the Uighurs here in the United States."

He and other lawmakers were addressing a world assembly of Uighurs, including dissident leader Rebiya Kadeer, who were meeting at the US Capitol in a bid to showcase their international support.

"Despite all of our words and our resolutions, we have let you down and we have put America's judicial system and our moral standing in the world at risk," said Bill Delahunt, like McGovern a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts.

"The Uighur people are not enemies of America. In fact, I know you admire our fundamental ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," he said.

But the Senate on Wednesday cut off money to transfer the Guantanamo detainees, with Democrats joining Republicans in fearing public reaction to moving them into communities.

Nury Turkel, an attorney working on the detainees' legal team, denounced the Senate vote.

"What it did was effectively to try to build an American gulag in Guantanamo even though the Uighur men have already been cleared," he said. "President Obama needs to show leadership to free them."

More than 100 Uighur leaders are taking part in the talks in Washington, a venue chosen both for its large Uighur community and to symbolize hopes of drawing the sort of global attention given the Tibetan movement.

"The Chinese government is doing all that it can to prevent the Uighur issue from being internationalized and has intensified its repression," Kadeer said.

"I am calling for the support of the free world -- especially the United States, Western Europe and human rights groups. I believe our peaceful struggle shall succeed and we will find a way to peacefully achieve our freedom and human rights," she said.

Kadeer was released to the United States under international pressure in 2005 after spending some six years in prison following an attempt to meet US congressional researchers.

China accuses her of separatism and supporting "terrorism" in Xinjiang, charges Kadeer rejects.

Some Republican lawmakers accused President Barack Obama of turning a blind eye to abuses by China as he seeks broader cooperation on other issues, particularly the economy.

"The Chinese government's human rights record is worsening, while the concern of other governments is diminishing," Chris Smith, a Republican congressman from New Jersey, told the Uighurs.

"Despite this, I want to assure you that you have many friends in Congress and insist to you that you have plenty of reason to believe that you will prevail," Smith said.

Shaun Tandon/AFP/Expatica

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