Iraq: UN human rights body calls on US, UK to grant detainees legal rights

5 May 2004

Voicing "serious concern" following reports of torture of Iraqi detainees by United States and British military officers, a United Nations human rights group today called on the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the Iraqi Governing Council to respect international human rights law and grant them access to courts.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Commission on Human Rights urged both bodies to allow the clarification of the legal status of each detainee and apply the rules and norms enshrined in Articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 9 and 14 of the civil and political rights Covenant.

"The Working Group's Chairperson-Rapporteur is seriously disturbed by the fact that these persons have not been granted access to a court to be able to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, as required by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 9)," Rapporteur Leïla Zerrougui, said in a statement.

The other articles outlaw arbitrary arrest and detention, guarantee a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal and enshrine, among other principles, the rights to be presumed innocent until proved guilty and to be tried without undue delay.

According to information received by the Working Group, the majority of detainees have been arrested during public demonstrations, at check points and in house raids, and are considered "security detainees" or "suspected of anti-Coalition activities."

Ms. Zerrougui's statement was the latest in a chorus of concern voiced by UN officials after the United States media aired reports last week about alleged atrocities occurring at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

On Sunday Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the United States and the United Kingdom must "take a strong and firm stand to ensure that those kinds of activities are not repeated, because it does do damage, as you can see from reactions in the region."