Robert Edgar, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC), released a letter Friday to the Secretary of State Colin Powell, urging the United States government to take responsibility for the Uighur Chinese Muslims being held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base. The Oct. 29 letter, the latest in the series of NCC criticisms of government policies regarding Guantanamo Bay, said the US government should provide asylum to the Uighur prisoners.
About two dozen Uighurs are among the several hundred detainees being held in the military base camp in Cuba. The prisoners had been captured by the U.S. since 2001 when the war on terrorism was launched in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Last week, the Uighurs were ¡°determined not to pose a threat any longer to the United States or its Allies,¡± and were approved to be released from the prison camp. The Pentagon said the U.S. is trying to find a third country willing to take them in because of fears that the Uighurs will face persecution when they return to China.
¡°I am writing to you about the grim situation faced by the Uighur Chinese prisoners who are being held by the United States at Guantanamo,¡± Edgar wrote in his statement. ¡°As you know, they have been determined innocent of any crime and are of no threat to the U.S. But they are unable to be returned to China after their release for fear of execution, since they are a persecuted minority there.¡±
While the Pentagon did not release the names of the nations that have been asked to provide asylum to the Uighurs, media outlets have said mostly European countries have been asked and have denied the plea.
Edgar explained that because of this ¡°refusal of many of our allies to accept them,¡± the ¡°only option left to the U.S¡¦ may be to allow the Uighurs to remain in our country.¡±
Edgar also offered the services of Church World Service (CWS), one of the main humanitarian service partners of the NCC, in providing refugee assistance.
¡°If the U.S. should decide to accept this responsibility, the National Council of Churches USA is pleased to inform you that its partner organization, Church World Service, on behalf of and through our member faith communions, is committed to offer resettlement services to these refugees,¡± said Edgar.
Powell has yet to respond to the letter.
The Uighurs are the largest minority group in China¡¯s far-western Xinjiang province. Since 9/11, officials in Beijing insisted that a small Uighur separatist group known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) has ties to al-Qaeda. By mid 2002, the U.S. designated the ETIM as a foreign terrorist organization and froze its assests.
China claimed that about 1,000 Uighur fighters trained in Afghanistan before the 2001 anti-terrorism campaign was launched. However, human rights groups said the number was closer to 100. Human rights campaigners also said hundreds of Uighur separatists have been executed and jailed by the Chinese under the pretense of the ¡°war on terror.¡±
The following is the entire statement by Edgar, as released by the NCC:
October 29, 2004
Secretary of State Colin Powell
U.S. State Department
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Powell:
I am writing to you about the grim situation faced by the Uighur Chinese prisoners who are being held by the United States at Guantanamo. As you know, they have been determined innocent of any crime and are of no threat to the U.S. But they are unable to be returned to China after their release for fear of execution, since they are a persecuted minority there. The refusal of many of our allies to accept them only compounds the problem.
This dilemma is a direct outcome of the failed U.S. policy on Guantanamo. Earlier this year in a case for which the National Council of Churches USA submitted an amicus brief, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of the Guantanamo detainees with regard to their right to due process. The release of several detainees without charge further undercut the government¡¯s argument that such detentions were necessary. Now, we have a situation where detainees could be killed as a direct result of U.S. policy.
It would appear that the only option left to the United States, despite possible harm to U.S.-China relations, may be to allow the Uighurs to remain in our country. If the U.S. should decide to accept this responsibility, the National Council of Churches USA is pleased to inform you that its partner organization, Church World Service, on behalf of and through our member faith communions, is committed to offer resettlement services to these refugees. As you may already know, Church World Service has a long and solid track record with regard to refugee assistance.
This unfortunate situation, born of a deeply troubling national policy, deserves to be rectified in an honorable manner. I pray that together we can begin this process in the days ahead.
Rev. Robert Edgar, General Secretary