June 26, 2004
By Europe correspondent Fran Kelly and Reuters
Leading United Nations human rights experts are demanding access to terrorism suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay and other US detention centres.
In a rare joint statement, the 31 human rights experts condemn terrorism in all forms but express concerns about some of the measures taken in the name of the fight against terrorism. Although it does not single out the United States for criticism, the statement says a team of UN representatives should visit inmates held on suspicion of terrorism offences in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay - all US military operations.
The experts say their joint demand is motivated by a number of recent alarming developments in the detention and treatment of prisoners at specific locations - a reference to the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad where US soldiers were photographed abusing Iraqi detainees. The human rights experts are calling for access to the prison inmates as soon as possible.
The US military is facing a backlash across the Arab world for its abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Last month, it launched an investigation into its treatment of detainees in Afghanistan, which was the first stop in US President George W Bush's war on terrorism.
The UN statement says a panel of UN rapporteurs spanning areas such as torture and arbitrary detention should visit inmates held for suspected terrorism offences in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. "This is a collective step in the hope that it will have more effect," said Theo van Boven, UN special rapporteur on torture.
Mr Van Boven says a 1987 Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States, is clear. "The prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment is an absolute one," he said. "It may not be derogated from in any circumstances." Mr Bush said this week that he had never ordered and would never order detainees to be tortured. Reed Brody, counsel at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said: "If the Bush administration is serious about its rejection of torture, it needs to let UN inspectors in."
The call coincides with a speech by the UK's Attorney-General, Lord Peter Goldsmith, which criticised the US's planned military tribunals for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Lord Goldsmith says Britain rejects the proposed tribunals on the grounds that they do not offer a fair trial in accordance with international standards. He says the arrangements will not ensure a fair trial and are unacceptable. British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon says while the Government will raise its concerns about the four British detainees, there is a limit to Britain's influence. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has personally asked US President George W Bush to hand over the four remaining British nationals being held at Guantanamo Bay, according to a British newspaper report.
© 2004 Australian Broadcasting Corporation