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UN Human Rights Monitor in Afghanistan Loses Mandate, Claims US Pressure

A university law professor says his position as an independent U.N. human rights investigator in Afghanistan was abolished under diplomatic pressure from Washington. The United States denies the charge, saying the human rights situation in Afghanistan has sufficiently improved to the point that a special monitor is no longer needed.

Charif Bassiouni says his job as a U.N. independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan was not renewed late last month because of his attempts to look into alleged rights abuses by U.S. forces.

Mr. Bassiouni, a professor of law at DePaul University in Chicago, had expected a routine two-year renewal by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights when his mandate expired last month. But, talking from his Chicago office, Mr. Bassiouni, who had previously served as chairman of the U.N. Security Council's commission investigating war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, says he was warned that there was diplomatic pressure not to extend his Afghan mandate.

"Then I was told, you know, beware, the United States is lobbying very actively in Geneva not to have the mandate renewed under the assumption that apparently all is well now in Afghanistan and Afghanistan doesn't need a human rights monitor," he said.

The move came only days after he submitted a new report critical not only of Afghan governmental lapses on human rights, but also of abuses by U.S. troops. In his report, he accused U.S. forces of actions amounting to torture at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, near Kandahar, and at makeshift detention centers at firebases scattered around the country.

Mr. Bassiouni says that as a U.N. human rights monitor, he tried to gain access to the detention centers, but was repeatedly rebuffed. Still, Mr. Bassiouni says he was surprised when he was informed that his mandate was not renewed.

"I didn't think this was causing the United States government much concern, frankly, because I had raised this issue with my first report before the General Assembly in October of 2004, and the U.S. even praised my report, even though it was critical of the U.S. for not allowing me access in light of these allegations," he added.

The United States denies that Mr. Bassiouni was forced out by U.S. pressure. Kurtis Cooper, a State Department spokesman, says a special human rights monitor is no longer necessary.

"The consensus view of the member states of the [UN Human Rights] commission is that more than three years after the fall of the Taleban regime, the human rights situation in Afghanistan had evolved to a point that human rights could now be monitored under ordinary procedures by the staff of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights," said Mr. Cooper.

Mr. Bassiouni disputes that view, saying the human rights situation in Afghanistan is still extremely shaky, and that the U.N. High Commission staff is not equipped to deal with it.

"The ordinary, if you will, human rights issues of prisons, of treatment of people, of treatment of women, kidnapping children, need an advocate. And while President Karzai is very supportive, and the government professes top be supportive, the reality is that in light of the many problems the country faces, and particularly the security issue, the human rights situation tends to fall back in the list of priorities," noted Mr. Bassiouri

Mr. Cooper would not comment directly on Mr. Bassiouni's allegations of abuses by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.