UN's Human Rights Chief: US
Detainees Held In Cuba Are POWs


GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. human rights chief Mary Robinson said Wednesday the 50 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters being held at a U.S. Navy base in Cuba were prisoners of war and entitled to the protection of international law.
Robinson said most legal experts disagreed with Washington's view that the fighters were "illegal combatants" and therefore not protected by the Geneva Conventions on prisoners rights.
"The situation is complex (but) ... the overwhelming view of legal opinion is that they were combatants in an international armed conflict," the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told reporters.
"Their status is defined and protected by the Geneva conventions of 1949 -- they are prisoners of war," she said.
Robinson added that if there was any doubt about their status, the Geneva protocols -- which the United States has signed -- called for the question to be decided by a tribunal.
Human rights groups have already expressed outrage at the fact that prisoners were shackled, handcuffed and blindfolded for the flight from Afghanistan to the camp at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay, where they are locked up in outdoor cages.
Robinson, a former President of Ireland, expressed concern about the conditions under which the detainees were being held.
"We are very concerned and are seeking to ascertain more information," Robinson said.
Although Washington says the prisoners -- the first of several hundred captives due to be flown out of Afghanistan -- are not entitled to the full protection of the Geneva protocols, it says that they are being treated humanely.
Robinson repeated that the September 11 attacks in the United States were a crime against humanity and that the perpetrators must be brought to justice, but said it was essential that existing international human rights norms and standards be respected.
The detainees were captured in a U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan that swept from power the hard-line Taliban rulers as punishment for harboring al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, accused by Washington of masterminding the September 11 attacks.
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