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Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 00:41 GMT
Calls mount for Afghan fort inquiry
The Qala-e-Jhangi fort, near Mazar-e-Sharif
The revolt took three days to suppress
UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson has said she would support an international inquiry into the killing of hundreds of pro-Taleban prisoners in a northern Afghanistan fort.

It is a standard setting exercise... reminding all parties that the Geneva conventions apply

Mary Robinson
Speaking in a live webcast for BBC News Online, she said she was concerned about the revolt on Tuesday at the Qala-e-Jhangi fort, near Mazar-e-Sharif.

About 500 prisoners were killed when Northern Alliance troops, backed by US and British forces, suppressed the uprising.

"I am concerned about the prison revolt, we don't really know in detail what happened but we do know that a lot of people got killed," Mrs Robinson said.

Body of pro-Taleban prisoner
There were reportedly no survivors
The British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has ruled out an inquiry, as has the spokesman for the US-led "coalition against terrorism", but Mrs Robinson said the killings had to be investigated.

"It may well be that the best inquiry would be done by international human rights organisations... I think that might be the best solution," she said.

Amnesty call

Mrs Robinson said an investigation was needed to respond to what she described as the "very disturbing" reports from Mazar.

"It is a standard setting exercise...reminding all parties that Geneva conventions apply," she said.

"It would be important to go back over the full sequence, who was there, what happened," she added.

UN rights commissioner Mary Robinson talks to BBC News Online
Robinson: reminding people about rights

Amnesty has so far led calls for an inquiry into the deaths, specifically into what triggered the incident, which involved prisoners who had surrendered in the northern town of Kunduz.

The London-based group expressed disappointment at Britain's opposition to an inquiry into "what is apparently the single most bloody incident of the war, during which serious abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law may have been committed".

"[The rejection] raises questions about their commitment to the rule of law," Amnesty said in a statement.

But an Islamabad-based spokesman for the US-led coalition against terrorism said there was no evidence that unarmed prisoners were killed, nor that Northern Alliance forces had carried out mass executions anywhere else.

Kenton Keith described the incident as a battle against armed Taleban fighters who refused to surrender.

And in Washington, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refused to be drawn on whether the response to the prison revolt was proportionate.

"I wasn't there. I don't know the facts," Mr Rumsfeld told a news conference. But he stressed that it seemed clear that the Northern Alliance guards had every right to stop the Taleban fighters escaping and possibly killing others.

"It was conflict. It was war," he said.

Nevertheless, Mrs Robinson reiterated earlier calls that surrendering forces as well as all civilians should not be abused in any way.

"If there are contraventions of standards - prisoners or civilians - the leaders of forces should be disqualified from a future government and the worst perpetrators brought to justice," she said.

Afghanistan had long suffered from a "climate of no accountability", she said, stressing the need to set standards in the conflict.


Mr Straw said the best way to improve human rights across Afghanistan was to encourage the establishment of a broad-based, multi-ethnic government.

The idea that at this moment you can have a judicial inquiry in the difficult circumstances of Mazar-e-Sharif is frankly not on

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Progress towards that was now happening with the talks between rival factions in Bonn, he went on.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said it is too early to know exactly what happened at the fort, although he said the UK had made it clear they believed prisoners should be properly treated.

Local alliance commander General Rashid Dostum has denied allegations that the uprising was triggered by ill-treatment of prisoners.

He said it began when a group of prisoners threw a grenade at a general he had sent to assure them they would be well treated.

The prisoners had then looted an arms depot, he said, adding that three of his best generals were killed in the uprising.

BBC correspondents who visited the scene the day after the fighting ended saw scores of corpses strewn around, including 40 in one area smaller than a football pitch.

Mary Robinson, UN Commissioner for Human Rights
"We must set standards now"
The BBC's Michael Williams
looks at the prospects of a lasting peace with justice
See also:

30 Nov 01 | South Asia
Prominent al-Qaeda member captured
30 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Prison revolt inquiry ruled out by Straw
29 Nov 01 | Americas
US military gears up for endgame
29 Nov 01 | South Asia
Fort revolt: What really happened?
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Taleban prison revolt
28 Nov 01 | South Asia
Timeline: Fort revolt
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