ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland is ready to consider taking in detainees from the U.S. prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba if that helps to shut it down, the Swiss government said on Wednesday.
“For Switzerland, the detention of people in Guantanamo is in conflict with international law. Switzerland is ready to consider how it can contribute to the solution of the Guantanamo problem,” the government said in a statement.
Switzerland said it welcomed the expressed intention of U.S. President Barack Obama to close the prison and would investigate security and legal implications of possibly taking in detainees.
Hours after taking office on Tuesday, Obama ordered military prosecutors in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals to ask for a 120-day halt in all pending cases.
The camp is widely seen as a stain on the United States’ human rights record under the administration of George W. Bush.
European governments, which for years have called for the camp to be closed, are under pressure to help find a home for around 245 remaining detainees. The camp has held more than 750 captives since opening in 2002, most without trial.
Under Bush, Washington tried in vain to persuade its allies, in particular in the 27-nation European Union, to take in inmates who cannot go back to their home country and who the United States does not want to accept either.
Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, has historically attracted refugees from trouble spots around the world and is home to international humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross and U.N. refugee agency.
But its reputation for tolerance has been threatened by the rise of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), and its campaigns against immigration. The SVP condemned the government overture as giving “free rein for terrorists.”
Portugal was the first EU state to say it would accept detainees and France has said it is ready to do so as well, but others are less enthusiastic. EU foreign ministers will discuss the issue at a meeting on January 26.
EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot welcomed on Wednesday Obama’s plans to freeze military trials at Guantanamo.
“I am delighted that one of the first actions of President Obama was to turn the page on this sad episode of Guantanamo prison,” he said in a statement. “For me, this is very symbolic. In a lawful state, everybody should enjoy the right to defense.”
Additional reporting by Marcin Grajewski in Brussels; editing by Elizabeth Piper
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.