- GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. human
rights chief Mary Robinson said Wednesday the 50 Taliban and al Qaeda
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
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
- "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 --
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
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
human rights norms and standards be respected.
- The detainees were captured in a U.S.-led military
in Afghanistan that swept from power the hard-line Taliban rulers as
for harboring al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, accused by Washington of
masterminding the September 11 attacks.
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