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UN official says US-held Taliban, Al Qaida suspects deserve legal protection

UN official says US-held Taliban, Al Qaida suspects deserve legal protection

Mary Robinson
The top United Nations human rights official today underscored that international legal protections apply to suspected terrorists being held by the United States.

In a statement released in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, referred to recent reports concerning the transfer of dozens of Taliban and Al Qaida prisoners from Afghanistan to the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “The reports include allegations about the manner in which the prisoners were transported and the conditions in which they are being detained,” she said.

The High Commissioner noted that detailed information on those specific allegations was not yet available. “I am aware that there are a number of legal issues and these are under active consideration by the US authorities,” she said, adding, “I am also aware that the International Committee of the Red Cross will have access to the prisoners and that there will be consular access.”

At the same time, Mrs. Robinson recalled that international legal obligations should be respected, pointing out that the detained suspects were entitled to the protection of international human rights law and humanitarian law.

The legal status of the detainees, and their entitlement to prisoner-of-war status, if disputed, must be determined by a competent tribunal, in accordance with the provisions of the Third Geneva Convention, she said.

The High Commissioner also emphasized that the detainees “must at all times be treated humanely,” consistent with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Geneva Conventions, and that any possible trials “should be guided by the principles of fair trial, including the presumption of innocence” provided for in those instruments.

Earlier, during a press conference, Mrs. Robinson stated that, at a time of difficulty, human rights and international humanitarian standards must be clearly upheld and observed. She added that although in some respect some people felt that the rules were changing, “the rules are not changing, the rules are more important than ever.”