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Saudi Arabia: video link between Guantanamo detainees and families

16-02-2011 News Release 11/36

Kuwait/Geneva (ICRC) – As recently as a few days ago, families in Saudi Arabia were able to talk via video-teleconference with relatives held at the US facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, using a service set up jointly by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Saudi Red Crescent Society in Riyadh, Jizan, Jeddah, Najran, Abha and Hail.

"This new tool has helped ease the anguish of the families and also of the detainees, since now they can not only talk but also actually see each other," said Sonia Larbaoui, an ICRC delegate in Kuwait. "The joy of seeing a loved one after so many years can be very intense and immediate – it can even make people speechless for a few moments."

The latest calls were made over the past week. Previous rounds of calls took place in September and at the beginning of December last year. So far, a total of 25 video-teleconference calls have been made between 13 detainees and their families in Saudi Arabia, who have also spoken to each other by telephone 66 times since April 2008. Detainees and their families are given the opportunity to use the video service once every two months.

The Saudi Red Crescent acts as a liaison with the families and handles the administrative and other practical arrangements required for the calls to proceed.

The president of Saudi Red Crescent, His Royal Highness Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah Bin Abul-Aziz, said that the video-teleconference call programme "maintains communication between the families and the detainees. The programme is one of the best practical tools that reflect the joint efforts between the Saudi Red Crescent and the ICRC for the sake of humanity."

People who have been separated from one another can maintain ties using not only the video-telephone calls but also Red Cross/Red Crescent messages (brief family messages forwarded by the ICRC) and ordinary telephone calls. "Although nothing can replace a personal visit, a video link may well be the next best thing," said Ms Larbaoui.

The ICRC has been visiting detainees in Guantanamo Bay and other places of detention under US authority since 2002. It opened its regional delegation for the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Kuwait in the aftermath of the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The activities of the regional delegation cover Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman as well as Kuwait.

For further information, please contact:
Fouad Bawaba, ICRC Kuwait, tel: +965 9787 9434 or +965 253 22 062
Marçal Izard,  ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 58 or +41 79 217 32 24