Human Rights Week: the last British national in Guantanamo

Give a f*ck human rights week campaignLabelled ‘Give a f*ck’, next week is LUU’s first annual Human Rights Week. It is being coordinated by LUU Amnesty International, but there will be daily events organised by different societies. Each day will be assigned a different cause, from economic and social to environmental rights. Oscar Frandsen of Amnesty International talks about the society’s campaign on Shaker Aamer, the last British National in Guantanamo.

Could you go 10 years without seeing your family? Since 2002, Shaker Aamer has done just that. He is the last British detainee of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba and has not seen his wife or four children – the youngest of whom he has never met – since 2001. A Saudi national and long term British resident, Shaker was seized by U.S. forces who claimed he was fighting for the Taliban while carrying out work for an Islamic charity in Afghanistan in 2001. He was then transferred to the facility in February 2002. Shaker has twice been approved for transfer from Guantanamo: first by the Bush Administration in 2007 and then by the Obama Administration in 2009. However, new legislation governing transfers from Guantanamo and the British Government’s failure to make effective representations seeking his release mean that Shaker remains imprisoned without charge. He claims to have suffered systematic abuse at the hands of his US captors in Guantanamo as well as in Afghanistan including beatings, sexual assault, white noise, sleep deprivation and extreme interrogation methods including asphyxiation. Significantly, Aamer alleges that he was tortured in the presence of MI6 officers in both Guantanamo and Afghanistan. He also claims that he was visited by agents three times between 2002-2005, by which time the use of torture was widespread knowledge.

While at Guantanamo, he has been involved in protests against the horrific conditions within the camp including hunger strikes and has spent much of his time in solitary confinement. He has lost some 40 per cent of his body weight, and dropped to just 65kg. After visits from his lawyers – Clive Stafford Smith and Cori Crider – in late 2011, both have expressed fear at his deteriorating mental and physical state and claim that “authorities seem determined to grind him down into nothing”. Stafford Smith claims that he is very definitively viewed as a threat by the United States, not in the sense of being an extremist but in the sense of being someone who can eloquently criticise “the nightmare that happened there”.

It is imperative that action is taken to ensure Shaker’s long overdue return to the UK. As part of Human Rights Week, on Monday November 26 Amnesty International Society will be staging an awareness campaign in the Union building. We will be collecting signatures to add to the online petition to call for Shaker’s immediate return and to continue to add pressure to the British Government to act over their long overdue promises to bring him home. The Free Shaker campaign is far more important than just bringing an end to his individual plight; it seeks to raise awareness of injustices worldwide, where innocent civilians can be imprisoned for years without charge or trial and tortured in order to gain information on issues they know nothing about. But more importantly, it touches on issues that are fundamentally essential and that we take for granted. Our personal freedoms are something that we seek to protect, and by making people more aware of these issues, we can guarantee their preservation in the future. The spirit of solidarity means that human rights abuses anywhere are the concern of people everywhere and change is possible. If we can work together at a local level, we can also work collectively to foster change at an international level too.

Take a look at LUU Amnesty International’s campaign video below:

words: Oscar Frandsen

photo: courtesy of LUU Amnesty International Society

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