USA: Amnesty International condemns Operation Liberty Shield - criticizes
blanket detentions for asylum seekers from specific countries

18 March 2003

'Liberty from Unwarranted Detention is a Hallmark of a Free Society,' Organization Stresses

(Washington, DC) -- Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) today condemned the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) decision to enact Operation Liberty Shield, which mandates the detention of asylum seekers from Iraq and at least 33 other countries. The plan allows the DHS to detain "for the duration of their processing period" asylum applicants "from nations where al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda sympathizers, and other terrorist groups are known to have operated," according to today's Department of Homeland Security's announcement.

"Al-Qaeda sympathizers are known to have operated in many European countries, throughout the Middle East, and even in the United States itself," said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. "Therefore, Operation Liberty Shield gives immigration authorities carte blanche to detain virtually all persons seeking asylum in the United States. Such new authority is far too blunt an instrument to use in an effort to protect Americans' security, and it is guaranteed to damage the liberties of everyone subjected to it."

Amnesty International recognizes the US government's obligation to protect its citizens and supports legitimate means of doing so. However, blanket detention of asylum seekers is also barred by international standards, which state that the detention of asylum seekers should normally be avoided and is justified only in limited cases prescribed by law. Governments have the burden of showing the necessity for detention of asylum seekers in prompt and fair individualized hearings before a judicial or similar authority.

"Operation Liberty Shield denies liberty to the victims of human rights abuse who come to our country seeking freedom," said Schulz. "Liberty from unwarranted detention is a hallmark of a free society. To name an operation that denies liberty to asylum seekers 'liberty shield' is Orwellian."

Operation Liberty Shield would authorize the detention of asylum seekers from these unnamed countries for the duration of the asylum procedure. "The asylum process usually takes months, sometimes years," said Bill Frelick, Director of AIUSA's Refugee Program. "As a result, traumatized people seeking our protection who have never committed a crime could find themselves in prisons and jails for months and months simply because they asked our country for asylum from persecution."

Source: Amnesty International, 322 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10001
Contact: Wende Gozan 212/633-4247 or or Bill Frelick at 202/544-0200 x239
© Copyright 2003

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