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UN Investigators Seek Right to Visit Guantanamo Prisoners - 2004-06-25


United Nations human rights investigators are calling for access to prisoners held by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. The request comes from the U.N. special investigators on torture.

The special investigators say they are "deeply concerned" about the treatment of prisoners held in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

They say a number of recent reports have seriously alarmed the international community, a reference to the international outcry over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. President Bush says the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners was the action of a few soldiers and that the U.S. government would never order detainees to be tortured.

The U.N. Special Investigator on Torture, Theo Van Boven, says the human rights experts will ask U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to forward to all relevant authorities their request for visits to prison facilities.

"Now this is a collective step, a collective demarche [course of action]," he said. "But we have also as individual rapporteurs, we have asked for permission to visit, but no answer has yet been forthcoming. So this is now a collective demarche in the hope that it will have more effect."

Mr. Van Boven says it is important that he and the other human rights experts be granted quick access to those who have been arrested for alleged terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere. Only then, he says, will it be possible to know whether international human rights standards are properly upheld.

He says the United States occupies a special position and can sometimes change behavior patterns of other countries.

"There is a tendency among many other countries, particularly those where the United States has an influence, that when they say if the United States can afford to do that, why should we then not follow suit," he said.

Mr. Van Boven acknowledges that there is a certain gray zone between torture and inhumane and degrading treatment, but he adds there is an absolute prohibition against both forms of treatment under the International Convention Against Torture. He says basic human rights standards apply equally to all countries.

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