On March 30, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a key part of the Organization of American States (OAS), issued what was described as “a landmark admissibility report” in the case of Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian held at Guantánamo, who, like the majority of the 171 men still held, has been detained for over ten years without charge or trial. The IACHR is one of the principal autonomous bodies of the OAS, whose mission is “to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere.” Its resolutions are binding on the US, which is a member state. As Djamel’s lawyers at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) explained in a press release:
This ruling marks the first time the IACHR has accepted jurisdiction over the case of a man detained at Guantánamo, and underscores the fact that there has been no effective domestic remedy available to victims of unjust detentions and other abuses at the base. The IACHR will now move to gather more information on the substantive human rights law violations suffered by Djamel Ameziane — including the harsh conditions of confinement he has endured, the abuses inflicted on him, and the illegality of his detention.
The IACHR will specifically review the US government’s failure to transfer Djamel Ameziane or any man detained at Guantánamo for more than a year — the longest period of time without a transfer since the prison opened in January 2002. This failure has moved the United States further out of compliance with international human rights law and the precautionary measures issued by the IACHR to Djamel Ameziane (2008) and other detained men (2002).
Djamel Ameziane is an ethnic Berber, born in 1967, who fled Algeria in 1992 to avoid the deadly civil war that ravaged his country. He traveled to Austria, where he become a successful chef at a well-known Italian restaurant in Vienna, but was forced to leave in 1995, when he was prevented from extending or renewing his visa because of a clampdown on immigration.
He then traveled to Canada, where he lived and worked for five years after applying for asylum. Having obtained a work permit he worked in a number of restaurants in Montreal, and for an office supply company, but in 2000 his asylum application was denied, and he was forced to move yet again.
With few options left to him, he traveled to Afghanistan. where he had the impression he would be able to live freely without discrimination. However, after the US-led invasion in October 2001, he fled to Pakistan, where he was seized by local police and turned over to US forces for a bounty.
In 2008, Amnesty International declared that Djamel would be “at risk of … grave human rights violations if transferred to Algeria,” and Djamel himself has stated, “I have only ever wanted … to live quietly and peacefully in a country where I would not suffer persecution. That is still my goal. I request that another country grant me asylum or family reunification, and agree to resettle me as a refugee.”
CCR also noted, “Djamel is a fine candidate for resettlement. as he speaks English, French, German and Arabic, and is, of course, a skilled chef. He also enjoys drawing, writing, reading mystery novels and playing soccer.”
For Djamel, and for the other Algerians still in Guantánamo — Ahmed Belbacha, Nabil Hadjarab and Motai Saib — the need for resettlement in other countries has always been disputed by the US government, which, under George W. Bush and now under Barack Obama, has repatriated Algerian prisoners, even when, as in the cases of the two men repatriated by President Obama, they were unwilling to be returned home, because of their fears about their treatment.
One, Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, was the last living prisoner freed from Guantánamo, in January 2011, but it is the case of Abdul Aziz Naji, repatriated against his will in July 2010, that has been the most alarming example for Djamel and the other Algerians. In January this year, a year and a half after his repatriation, Abdul Aziz Naji received a three-year sentence “for membership of an extremist group active overseas,” even though, as the legal action charity Reprieve noted, “the prosecutor presented no evidence of Mr. Naji’s guilt — rather, the judge simply questioned him and produced a guilty verdict.”
In seeking a way to secure Djamel’s release from Guantánamo, his lawyers at CCR began working with CEJIL (the Center for Justice and International Law), an organization advocating for the defense and promotion of human rights in the Americas, whose main objective is “to ensure full implementation of international human rights standards in the Member States of the Organization of American States.”
In October 2010, the two organizations secured the first hearing for a Guantánamo prisoner before an international body, when the IACHR heard Djamel’s case. in August 2008, the IACHR had already stated, “All necessary measures must be taken to ensure Djamel Ameziane is not transferred to a country where he would face persecution.”
In response to the IACHR’s ruling, J. Wells Dixon, Senior Staff Attorney at CCR, said, “We renew our request that the IACHR facilitate a dialogue between the United States and other countries belonging to the Organization of American States toward the safe resettlement of men such as Djamel Ameziane, as indefinite detention at Guantánamo will not end unless the international community offers safe homes for the men who cannot return to their countries of nationality for fear of torture or persecution.”
CCR’s press release also stated, “We hope the international community will make a humanitarian gesture and offer Djamel Ameziane protection and the chance to rebuild his life in safety,” and these are sentiments that we at “Close Guantánamo” echo wholeheartedly.
Note: See here for further information about Djamel Ameziane on CCR’s website.