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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 16:41 GMT
UN speaks out on Afghan detainees
Camp X-Ray detainee wears a mask to prevent spread of TB infection
The US has received international criticism
The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson, has expressed concern for those taken prisoner by US forces during the military campaign in Afghanistan.

"What I'm pointing to is the situation of those held in Afghanistan itself, those held on any ship offshore and those transferred to Guantanamo Bay," Mrs Robinson told the AFP news agency.

UN human rights chief Mary Robinson
Robinson: Analysing President Bush's statements
She said her organisation agreed with the the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that the captured Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters being held at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be declared prisoners of war and be protected under the Genevan Conventions.

She said the UN was particularly concerned about the future of the civilian population in Afghanistan and in "embedding a culture of human rights" in the country.

The former Irish president said she would visit Afghanistan early next month to mark International Women's Day in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Disputed status

Having held most of the captives without reference to international law for several months, US President George W Bush announced a week ago that the 1949 Geneva Conventions would apply to Taleban fighters held at Guantanamo Bay.

However, al-Qaeda suspects would continue to be held under in accordance with the Americans' own defination of their status as "illegal combatants".

But President Bush insisted that neither group would be accorded prisoner of war status.

"I am having the statement issued by President Bush and the press statement issued by his press person analysed fully in the light of what we believe to be the legal position and I will follow up on that in a appropriate way," Mrs Robinson said.

International criticism

Mrs Robinson added that said she did not expect to send a UNCHR representative to Guantanamo Bay, although the UN Working Group on Aribitrary Detention had expressed an interest in visiting.

Mrs Robinson's comments to AFP were published hours after another 34 al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects arrived at Camp X-Ray, bringing the total number of inmate to 254 people.

None of the inmates has been charged with any criminal offence yet. Their treatment has provoked international criticism and accusations of human rights abuses, although the US says they are being treated humanely.

See also:

10 Feb 02 | Americas
War captives baffle US interrogators
22 Jan 02 | Americas
Geneva Convention to cover Taleban
22 Jan 02 | Americas
Judge's 'doubts' over Cuba prisoners
22 Jan 02 | Americas
Analysis: US court challenge
16 Jan 02 | Americas
US Taleban suspect 'refused lawyer'
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