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Omar Khadr: the case is not closed

    Tuesday, December 18, 2012 - 00:00
    Omar Khadr, left, as a child in a photo provided by his family. And right, in custody in Guantanamo Bay in 2009.

    Omar Khadr was transferred to Canada on September 29, but the campaign for justice continues.

    On September 29, 2012, Omar Khadr was finally transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Canada after ten long years. Captured in Afghanistan at the age of 15 in July 2002, he never should have been on a battlefield in the first place. As the Canadian government stated at the time: “It is an unfortunate reality that juveniles are too often the victims in military actions and that many groups and countries actively recruit and use them in armed conflicts and in terrorist activities.” But instead of demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration, Omar Khadr and other children sent to Guantanamo faced torture and ill-treatment, unlawful detention and the hopelessness of indefinite legal limbo.

    Accused of throwing a grenade that ended the life of a US Special Forces soldier, Omar Khadr’s trial by military commission ended in a plea agreement in October 2010. He was sentenced to eight more years in detention, the first of which was to be served in US custody before he would be eligible for transfer to Canada. Diplomatic notes exchanged between the US and Canada at the time of the plea agreement stated that the “Government of Canada is inclined to favourably consider Mr. Khadr's application to be transferred to Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence.” In November 2010, then Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon told the House of Commons that Canada would “implement the agreement.”

    Almost a year after Omar Khadr became eligible for a transfer to Canada, the request stil sat unsigned on the Minister of Public Safety’s desk. In the face of too many delays, Omar Khadr’s lawyers launched a Federal Court action in mid-July. That pressure and the work of many others over the years - including Amnesty members from all over the world - ultimately contributed to his transfer at the end of September 2012.

    An explanation for the long delay is owed not just to Omar Khadr, but to the Canadian public. The courts, UN bodies and numerous NGOs including Amnesty International have repeatedly pointed to the outstanding human rights violations yet to be remedied in Omar Khadr’s case. The allegations of torture and ill-treatment are credible and troubling, and must finally be investigated. Canadian officials were also found to have violated Omar Khadr’s Charter rights when they continued to interrogate him in Guantanamo despite the fact that his detention and treatment violated international standards. His status as a child combatant – and the obligations that follow from that – also continue to go unacknowledged.

    Please use the form on the right hand side to send a message to Prime Minister Harper that the case of Omar Khadr is not closed.  Not only are there violations yet to be recognized and remedied, but we must ensure that there is greater consistency in the government’s approach to Canadians detained abroad facing serious human rights violations.