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Guantanamo Bay Detainees

Volume 806: debated on Thursday 22 October 2020

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of the United Arab Emirates about the possible repatriation of 18 former Guantanamo Bay detainees to Yemen.

My Lords, we have not made representations to the Government of the UAE on their plans to return 18 former Guantanamo Bay detainees to Yemen. The UK regularly raises human rights issues with the UAE, and we remain deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Yemen. We will monitor the situation closely.

I thank the Minister for what was a rather disappointing reply. UN experts have expressed deep concern about the 18 previous Guantanamo detainees, all of whom have been cleared of being terrorist suspects by no less than six USA security bodies. They have already undergone two decades of detention and mistreatment, first in Guantanamo and then in the UAE. Repatriation to Yemen would likely result in torture, disappearance and death.

Given the UK’s principled opposition to the Guantanamo detention facility and the death penalty and its often-stated close relationship with the UAE, which allows it to raise sensitive human rights issues, will the Government now call on the UAE to release these men immediately from arbitrary detention and the threat of forcible repatriation?

My Lords, the case is ultimately one between the parties involved—the UAE, Yemen and the United States—but as the noble Baroness highlights, we remain committed to the promotion of universal freedoms and human rights. As she also highlights, we are more likely to bring about change through engagement, dialogue and co-operation. We will continue our relationship with the UAE and raise human rights issues both in private and in public.

I hear what the noble Baroness says but I repeat: these people have been arbitrarily detained and denied the right to a free trial, and they are now threatened with transportation to a place where they may be tortured, persecuted and killed. There is a clear opportunity for the United Kingdom Government to raise these concerns directly with the UAE. I hope that today, she will confirm that the Government will do that.

My Lords, the return of a person to another state where there are substantial grounds to believe that a danger exists of their being subjected to torture is prohibited under international law. I say again that we regularly discuss human rights issues with the UAE. We will continue to monitor events and cases closely and will continue to urge the UAE to uphold international and human rights obligations.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, has said, these 18 men were cleared for release by six US security agencies and transferred to the UAE on the understanding that they would be reintegrated into society there. Will the Government oppose their continued detention in the UAE and call for their release and integration into UAE society? Following up on what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has said, how will the Government actually carry through their human rights obligations here?

My Lords, as I said, the case is ultimately one for the parties involved: the UAE, Yemen and the United States. We will continue to engage with the UAE. We will raise concerns, as we do, at senior level, and we will continue to encourage the UAE to uphold its obligations and promote regional stability.

My Lords, I refer the House to my registered interests. It is absolutely clear that questions need to be answered by a number of international actors in this situation, and if lives are put in danger, pressure should be exerted. However, on the positive side, does the Minister agree that the UAE should be praised for its efforts to secure peace and stability in the region? The US-brokered UAE-Israel normalisation agreement is good news. Does she also agree that the fact that the UAE ambassador to the UK, Mansoor Abulhoul, gave his first interview to Jewish News last week, saying that the

“narrative that the Arabs should be in endless war with the Israelis is absolute nonsense and the Abraham Accords proves that”

is good news for all in the region?

My Lords, I join my noble friend in welcoming the news of the normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel. This is a historic step that takes annexation off the table and is a real opportunity to restart talks between Israel and Palestine.

My Lords, none of the 18 has been charged with any crime in the UAE, and there is no indication of any rehabilitation process taking place there. They were all cleared by the US security agencies, including the Departments of Defense and of Homeland Security. They were all told they would be settled in the United Arab Emirates. This has not happened. We have a close relationship with the United Arab Emirates. It is no good simply saying, “We regularly discuss”; it is a question of the future of 18 individuals in Yemen. So, will she make every possible representation now?

My Lords, I am afraid I have nothing further to add to my previous comments, which were to reassure noble Lords that we do regularly raise human rights issues with the UAE. We have a close relationship with them, and we will continue to raise these issues as and when we are able to.

My Lords, in 2006, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer said that the existence of Guantanamo was a “shocking affront to … democracy.” Our illegal and immoral wars, causing untold deaths and mayhem in Iraq and elsewhere in the region, are a humiliating stain on our history. This screams out the question: could our Government have done more at that time to prevent the construction of what the man who was asked to construct it, US Marine Major-General Lehnert, described as the

“most notorious prison … that should never have been opened”,

and which was created alongside other global detention centres to hold enemy combatants regarded as not suitable for prosecution?

I am deeply disappointed and disheartened by the Minister’s response. If there have been no dialogues, can our Government ensure that those due for transfer will receive proper and independent legal representation and due care throughout the justice process and on their release? Surely, if this Government can lead in enabling justice, we may redeem some sense of international honour and good will.

My Lords, the UK Government’s long-standing position is that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay should close. We will continue to engage with the US Government on this issue, as we do on a range of national security issues in the context of our joint determination to tackle international terrorism and combat violent extremism.

My Lords, I declare my position as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong. I begin by commending the Government, who have spoken out both unilaterally and through multilateral channels on a number of occasions about the imposition of the national security law by China on Hong Kong. However, does the Minister agree that human rights are universal and that Britain should be standing up for them around the world, particularly when people are threatened, as they clearly are in Hong Kong? If Britain is standing up in the case of Hong Kong, why is it not standing up in the case of these men, who were clearly in imminent danger of their lives and subject to long-term abuse?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her words on Hong Kong and I welcome her commendation of our activity there. The UK takes great pride in standing up for universal human rights and freedoms. We will continue to do so with all our partners. We will continue to monitor this event and all cases closely and will continue to regularly raise human rights concerns with the Government of the UAE at senior levels, both in public and in private.