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America 'abusing' mandate in Iraq

By Paul Tait, Baghdad
December 6, 2005

THE US military is abusing its United Nations mandate in Iraq by detaining thousands of people without due process of law, a senior UN official said.

The Iraqi Government, installed after the US invasion of 2003, is also guilty of major human rights abuses, including holding people without charge in secret jails "littered" across the country, John Pace, human rights chief for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), said.

Referring to accusations of corruption among Iraqi justice officials and police, Mr Pace said illegal detentions were fuelling rather than curbing revolt.

"There is no question that terrorism has to be addressed. But we are equally sure that the remedies being applied … are not the best way of eliminating terrorism," he said. "More terrorists are being created than are being eliminated."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also voiced concern about mass detentions without charge, which US commanders say are a legitimate response to security threats under UN Security Council Resolution 1546, their mandate for occupying Iraq.

But in some of the strongest UN comments to date, Mr Pace said in an interview on Sunday that the system, including the pattern, duration and conditions of detention, were "not consistent with what is foreseen in 1546" and complained of a "total breakdown" in individuals' rights.

Mr Pace said that, apart from prisoners serving court-ordered sentences in prisons run by the Justice Ministry, there were between 1600 and 2000 people being held in up to eight known facilities run by the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

But there were also others in unofficial facilities in former palaces "littered" around Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, as well as roughly 14,000 held in US military facilities such as Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.

"All except those held by the Ministry of Justice are, technically speaking, held against the law because the Ministry of Justice is the only authority that is empowered by law to detain, to hold anybody in prison," Mr Pace said.

"Essentially none of these people have any real recourse to protection and therefore we speak … of a total breakdown in the protection of the individual in this country.

"It's very rare to get judges ordering you to be released and effectively the police respecting that order.

"We have cases also where the judge who has ordered a group of people to be released, about 50-60 people, and the police, the Interior Ministry simply refuses," Mr Pace said.

■ A Frenchman working as a water treatment engineer in Baghdad was kidnapped from his home yesterday, an Iraqi police officer said.

A French embassy official said he was unaware of any incident. Police gave the man's name, transliterated from Arabic script, as Brent Blanche. They said witnesses said seven gunmen in two cars snatched the Frenchman.

REUTERS

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