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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 18:08 GMT
UN concern for US Afghan captives
US guard patrols the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay
The prisoners are being held as 'unlawful combatants'
Complaints that the United States is mistreating Taleban and al-Qaeda prisoners have been taken up by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.

Mrs Robinson said in a statement she wanted the allegations thoroughly investigated, and reminded the United States of their international obligations towards prisoners of war as specified in the Geneva Convention.

Mary Robinson
Robinson reminded the US of its legal obligations
The US does not recognise the captives as prisoners of war, which would invoke the Geneva Convention, and is reserving the right to try them in military tribunals.

But Mrs Robinson said that if there was a dispute on whether the captives were prisoners of war, a competent tribunal should be set up, in accordance with the provisions in the Convention to decide their status.

International law

Mrs Robinson also reminded the US that they had ratified both the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and were therefore bound to observe international law which required all detainees to be treated humanely.

"It is appropriate to recall that there are international legal obligations that should be respected," Mrs Robinson said.


They are being treated vastly better than they treated anybody else

Donald Rumsfeld

"All persons detained in this context are entitled to the protection of international human rights law and humanitarian law," she added.

US President George W Bush has decided that only foreign nationals and not US citizens will be sent to military tribunals, so captured American Taleban member John Walker Lindh will be tried in a civilian court.

The 20-year-old Californian will be tried at the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, on charges of conspiring to kill American citizens abroad and aiding Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network.

Reassurances

About 80 prisoners are now being held at the US base in Guantanamo. Marines spokesman Riccoh Player said on Wednesday that 30 more had arrived there overnight.

Cuba map

Human rights groups and British parliamentarians have expressed concern at reports that prisoners were shackled and hooded as they were flown to the camp and that they are being held in cages exposed to the elements.

But British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he had been assured that three Britons being held among the suspects are being treated "humanely".

"We have been in discussion with the Americans, the Americans have assured us that these people are indeed being humanely treated," he said.

The UK had been told the captives were being given regular exercise and showers, as well as being allowed to respect their religious traditions.

Spartan conditions

Earlier US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the treatment of the prisoners insisting that they are being treated humanely.

"I do not feel the slightest concern at their treatment. They are being treated vastly better than they treated anybody else," said Mr Rumsfeld.

Human Rights Watch has described the detainees' temporary wire fence cells - which are partially open to the elements - as "a scandal".

Jeffrey Kofman, an American journalist who visited the base on Tuesday, said the facility was "very, very minimal".

The cells had concrete floors, wooden roofs and wire mesh walls. Prisoners had a foam mat to sleep on, two towels - one for washing, the other to use as a prayer mat - and some form of chamber pot, he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jim Fish
"The real test of the effect of all this scrutiny will be when the first trials begin"
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson
"The rules are more important than ever"
Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC
"America has devised this new category of 'unlawful combatants'"
 VOTE RESULTS
Are the Afghan prisoners being treated fairly?

Yes
 61.11% 

No
 38.88% 

32204 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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See also:

16 Jan 02 | Americas
US Taleban suspect faces civil trial
16 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Cuba Britons 'held humanely'
12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Harsh conditions for Afghan prisoners
04 Jan 02 | Americas
Castro 'does not oppose' US prison
28 Dec 01 | Americas
Destination Guantanamo Bay
14 Jan 02 | South Asia
Eyewitness: Inside an al-Qaeda camp
16 Jan 02 | UK Politics
UK presses to see Cuba captives
16 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australia wants Taleban Aussie back
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