UNITED NATIONS - U.S. authorities must respect the
human rights of prisoners taken from the Taliban regime and al-
Qaeda network of alleged terrorist groups, U.N. High Commissioner
for Human Rights Mary Robinson urged Wednesday.
"All detainees must at all times be treated humanely, consistent
with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Geneva Convention of 1949," she
told reporters in Geneva.
Her appeal followed the transportation, in recent days, of some 50
prisoners from Afghanistan to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba. Many were hooded, handcuffed, shackled, and sedated.
At the United Nations in New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's
chief spokesperson said the U.N. chief supported Robinson's call.
"The Secretary-General has no argument with anything she says,"
said Fred Eckhard.
At issue, according to Robinson, is the status of the prisoners as
well as their treatment.
The United States has reserved the right to try the prisoners on
its own terms, refusing to call them prisoners of war (POWs)
because this designation would trigger rights protections under
the Geneva Convention.
Nevertheless, U.S. officials insist the prisoners are being
treated humanely. They are provided three ''culturally appropriate
meals'' a day as well as opportunity to bath, exercise, and seek
medical attention, said Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke.
Robinson, however, pointed out that the detainees were taken from
the ranks of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which were involved in an
armed conflict with the United States in Afghanistan, and
therefore were combatants in an international conflict.
As a result, she said, their status is defined and protected by
the Geneva Convention of 1949, which governs the conditions under
which POWs are treated. ''A competent tribunal, in accordance with
the provisions of the Geneva Convention,'' must determine the
prisoners' legal status, she said.
Robinson added that the United States has ratified both the ICCPR
and the Geneva Convention. "I think it's important at a time of
difficulty that human rights and international humanitarian
standards be clearly upheld and observed," she said.
According to Robinson, detailed information of specific
allegations against the detainees is not yet available but the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and consular
officials were to have access to the prisoners.
Human rights campaigners have criticised detention conditions.
Amnesty International said plans to house detainees in cages would
fall below minimum standards for humane treatment, and that
temporary cells for the prisoners are smaller than permitted under
U.S. standards for ordinary prisoners.
U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the prisoners
''are in an environment that is a lot more hospitable than the
environments we found them in."
However, Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch said the treatment
meted out to the prisoners does not meet international standards.
"We're concerned about the conditions, the open cages, the chain
link fence enclosures,'' said Fellner.
Robinson, a former president of Ireland, is the only senior U.N.
official who has publicly urged the United States and Britain to
investigate the killings of hundreds of Taliban prisoners in Mazar-
i-Sharif, Afghanistan, late last year.
Last month, she signed a joint statement with the Council of
Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE) cautioning governments, including the United States,
against violating civil and human rights in their rush to fight
terrorism. She spoke out against new restrictions on civil
liberties - including detention without trial and wire-tapping -
in the United States, Canada and Britain.
Her stance appears to have rankled U.S. Ambassador John
"As far as what we do to respond to these terrorist attacks,"
Negroponte said after the joint statement was released, "I just am
totally convinced that whatever we do is going to be completely
consistent with our political and historical values."
"I don't have any concern in that regard, and I don't think Mary
Robinson should have any concern either," Negroponte added.
Copyright © 2002 IPS-Inter Press Service