ICRC tackles US over prisoners

Detainees look out from their enclosure at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Keystone

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says the US has responded "positively" to concerns over the treatment of captured fighters held in Cuba.

This content was published on January 30, 2002 - 08:40

A team of four ICRC delegates, led by the Swiss, Urs Boegli, has just completed a fact-finding visit to the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay where more than 100 al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees are being held.

"The ICRC was quite satisfied with the way the US authorities have facilitated these visits," ICRC spokesman Darcy Christen told swissinfo. "Our delegates were able to see all the premises and to freely carry out private talks with the prisoners."

Christen said the ICRC had paid special attention to the practical treatment of the prisoners.

"I must say that so far, we have been able to raise our concerns in line with what is mentioned in the Geneva Convention," he added. "At this stage, this is rather positive."

The ICRC spokesman said visits to prisoners in Guantanamo would continue. The Geneva-based humanitarian organisation also intends to publish further reports on the detainees' situation.

Third Geneva Convention

Meanwhile the ICRC is still pressing for the detainees to be categorised as prisoners of war under the Third Geneva Convention.

The convention covers the rights of prisoners to adequate accommodation, clothing, food, hygiene and medicine, as well the freedom to practice customs and religions.

However, so far the US is refusing to bow to international pressure, preferring instead to describe the detainees as "illegal combatants".

"For us, these are captured combatants," said Christen. "We do consider that they enjoy the full protection of the Third Geneva Convention, at least until a competent court states whether or not they are entitled to the status of prisoners of war."

In an interview on Monday with the French-speaking newspaper, Le Temps, Paul Grossrieder, director-general of the ICRC, said the conflict in Afghanistan had led to what he described as a "grey area in international humanitarian law".

"This does indeed raise new challenges for international humanitarian law," said Christen. "It would be worthwhile seeing if there isn't any need for improvement of these rules, or the need to adapt them to current circumstances."

swissinfo

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