Uighur detainees in Guantanamo

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See also: Uighur
See also: East Turkestan Islamic Movement

The United States held up to two dozen Uighur detainees in Guantanamo. Uighurs are an ethnic group from Xinjiang province in the west of China. These prisoners, citizens of China, were captured in combat zones in Pakistan and Afghanistan. All 22 were suspected of membership in the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.

They are free to return to their homes in China, and China wants them, but they refuse to go and the U.S. has decided not to force them to return. There is a principle in international law, called nonrefoulement, reflect a core tenet in the area of human rights: "ensuring that individuals receive at least a baseline level of treatment matters to all states, not just to the individuals’ states of nationality."[1] The principle derives from both the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees[2]and the Convention against Torture.

Under international law, the only country that is clearly obliged to accept a person's entry is that person's country of citizenship. Hearings on their situation have been held, in 2009, by the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs.


Fifteen Uighurs were determined not to have been "enemy combatants" against the U.S.[3]

Washington wants to release most of these detainees but will not return the detainees to China, which may treat them as anti-Chinese terrorists and Xinjiang separatists. Other nations, concerned about their own diplomatic relations with China, are unwilling to accept the detainees, and the United States faces a serious threat to its diplomatic relationship with China if it grants the detainees asylum in the US.[4]

Detainment at Guantanamo

Documents released in response to the habeas corpus petition, Anvar v. Bush contained a memo entitled: "Information paper: Uighur Detainee Population at JTF-GTMO".[5]

  • All of the Uighurs were in Afghanistan during the Allied war against the Taliban.
  • All of the Uighurs were alleged to be members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
  • Most of the Uighurs were alleged to have completed military training, sponsored by the Taliban, or al-Qaeda.
  • All of the Uighurs were alleged to have fled when their camp was bombed as part of the United States bombing campaign.
  • Many of the Uighurs were alleged to have engaged in hostilities in Tora Bora.

However the captives deny most of the allegations. In Combatant Status Review Tribunals, some or all of the Uighurs were among the 38 detainees determined not to have been enemy combatants, and were transferred from the main detention camp, to more pleasant incarceration at Camp Iguana.


Five of the Uighurs were transported to Albania, in May 2006; they are applying for asylum in Albania. China denounced the transfer of custody.[6]China called the transfer of the Uighurs to Albania a violation of international law. Albania agreed to examine the evidence against the men.

On February 19, 2009, Adel Abdul Hakim, one of the five men sent to Albania in 2006, was accepted as a refugee by Sweden.[7] The Swedish decision was based on Sweden having a Uyghur community that could support his integration into Swedish society, and the presence of his sister, who had already been accepted as a refugee.

Federal appeal

On June 23, 2008 it was announced that a three judge Federal court of appeal had overturned the determination of Huzaifa Parhat's Combatant Status Review Tribunal on June 20, 2008.[8] Parhat's was the first case to ruled on since the Supreme Court's ruling in Boumediene v. Bush. The judges ordered the Department of Defense to either: "release or transfer Parhat, or to expeditiously hold a new [military] tribunal."


  1. Ashley S. Deeks (June 2008), Avoiding Transfers to Torture, Council on Foreign Relations Press, ISBN 978-0-87609-417-4, p. 5-7
  2. United Nations Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons (28 July 1951), Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, General Assembly resolution 429 (V) of 14 December 1950
  3. Chinese Detainees Are Men Without a Country: 15 Muslims, Cleared of Terrorism Charges, Remain at Guantanamo With Nowhere to Go, Washington Post, August 24, 2005
  4. China's Uighurs trapped at Guantanamo, Asia Times, November 4, 2004
  5. Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO, Information paper: Uighur Detainee Population at JTF-GTMO
  6. China Demands Return of Gitmo Detainees, Associated Press, May 9, 2006
  7. Ritt Goldstein (April 30, 2009), "Swedish court secures ex-Guantánamo Uighur's asylum quest", Christian Science Monitor
  8. James Vicini. Appeals court rules for Guantanamo prisoner, Washington Post, 2008-06-23. Retrieved on 2008-06-23. mirror