Jewish World Review June 13, 2002 / 3 Tamuz, 5762

Gihane Askar

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'Human rights' groups whine about naughty Amerika -- WASHINGTON (UPI) -- There is a growing concern by human rights advocates that international laws, including the Geneva Convention, are being ignored in the war against terrorism.

Human rights law, including those concerning the treatment of war prisoners, non-combatants and humanitarian access, must be upheld in recent conflicts, experts said yesterday at the National Press Club.

"Despite the current challenges and threats we face by unknown networks of terrorists, we must diligently and stridently protect the rights of even the lowest of persons," said Christian Blickenstorfer, Swiss ambassador to the United States.

Participants at the conference said states using the war against terrorism to justify violations of international laws are a new challenge for the protectors of the Geneva Convention, which regulate the treatment of the wounded, of prisoners and the sick. It also regulates the types of weapons allowed and the protection and aid given to civilians during wartime.

"We are observing today a very peculiar process of, basically, a la carte justice that the Bush administration has been pretty explicitly announcing," said Ken Hurwitz, senior associate for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

Among the recent events that increased human rights concerns is the case of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen suspected of planning a "dirty bomb" against the United States, he said.

"It is difficult, unfortunately, to really have a very clear position of what should be done," Hurwitz said.

He said that there has been no explanation provided about the circumstances of Padilla's arrest nor details about the evidence against him. Hurwitz also said that the case does not seem to involve an "imminent danger" because officials themselves have said that there were no concrete steps toward creating any dirty bomb. A so-called dirty bomb uses conventional explosives to spread radioactive material.

"I just hope we will be insisting on more information from the government," Hurwitz said.

Offering a different point of view was an expert in military law. "My view is that we are at war, "said Maj. Gen. John D. Altenburg, former deputy judge advocate general of the Army. "If you agree that we are at war that changes everything. That changes the analyses. That changes the due process consideration."

Altenburg said that officials are trying to get information from Padilla to protect the nation and enhance the ability to win the war. "How long that phase lasts and what happens to him can evolve."

Padilla, designated as enemy combatant by U.S. officials, is in custody of the Defense Department and has not been allowed to see a lawyer.

Hurwitz said the United States is also accused of violating the Geneva Convention in its treatment of Al Qaida and Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"Most of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay were not in fact ... apprehended on the battlefield by the U.S. soldiers," Hurwitz said.

Urs Boegli, the North American representative of the International Committee for the Red Cross, said: "In Afghanistan and Guantanamo, the Geneva Convention are an issue. There has been a disagreement with the United States," he said, about what constitutes war status.

One reason that humanitarian law is a crucial part of the war effort, Hurwitz said, is because of the need to affirm to its own population and to the population of one's allies that the state stands by its principles.

"The experience of September has made it more and more concrete how impossible this war would be ... without the real cooperation amongst the world," Hurwitz said.

By casting aside humanitarian law, the United States risks squandering its credibility and moral authority as leader in the struggle for the rule of law worldwide, Hurwitz said.

Boegli said that the Geneva Convention are still relevant and adequate because there are still many conflicts in the world.

"They have stood the test of time," he said.

The Geneva Convention, Boegli said, were originally written for straightforward international wars "of which there are hardly any nowadays." But, he said, Article Three applies to all situations. That article prohibits violence to life, including murder, mutilation and torture, the taking of hostages, humiliating treatment, passing of sentence and execution without trial. It also guarantees the ICRC the right to offer aid. Boegli said the ICRC is actively involved in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

"They (the Geneva Convention rules) are extremely relevant," said Serge Duss, director of public policy and government relations at World Vision. They should be enforced through greater democratization in countries that are ruled by rebels, he said.

"As complex humanitarian emergencies have markedly increased, states have tried to control aid responses for self-interest," Duss said. "This is where two principles of international law collide: the rights of individuals who need help versus the rights of the state to do as it pleases."

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