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UN Concerned About Prisoners in Afghanistan - 2002-01-30

The U.N. human rights investigator for Afghanistan says aid must arrive quickly if law and order is to be restored to the country. The U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, the investigator is concerned about the treatment of thousands of prisoners in Afghan jails.

The U.N. human rights investigator, Kamal Hossain, traveled to Afghanistan earlier this month. He says the interim government has been making progress.

He expressed hope that the administration of Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai will work towards creating a broad-based, multi-ethnic government to restore Afghanistan to all of its people.

But Mr. Hossain says attempts to reconstruct Afghanistan and restore rights to its citizens will only succeed if international pledges of financial and security assistance are met. "The biggest threat to human rights is from the acute scarcity of resources," he said. "There is a very, very great need of resources in order to replace the rule of the gun by the rule of law."

Mr. Hossain argues that all armed groups operating in Afghanistan must be brought under the discipline and control of the Kabul administration. He says that an effective police force and prison system must be developed to provide the law and order the country badly needs after two decades of conflict.

The U.N. official says he told the interim government that he is concerned about prison conditions. He says he will soon be visiting Afghanistan's largest prison, which houses as many as 4,000 inmates in the northern town of Sheberghan. "Sheberghan is clearly heavily overcrowded," he said. "That is the one sort of prison in the north where most of the prisoners seem to have been directed. I expressed concern about that and they [the interim government] accepted the concern was legitimate. The latest report I have is outbreak of disease, dysentery leading to deaths of prisoners to disease."

Mr. Hossain says the status of Taleban and al-Qaida fighters detained at a U.S. naval base in Cuba should be determined by a "competent tribunal." He says legal issues about Afghan detainees should be decided by international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions.