ICRC tells warring sides to spare Afghan civilians
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, April 14 (Reuters) – The International Committee of the Red Cross has urged the Afghan military, foreign troops and Taliban insurgents to spare civilians during combat, the organisation’s global chief said on Monday.
Jakob Kellenberger also said suspected Taliban prisoners held by the U.S. military at Bagram were concerned about their fate and pressed the Afghan government for judicial guarantees and better treatment for the inmates it holds at Pul-i-Charkhi jail.
Former detainees have complained of being ill-treated and tortured and many are kept without trial at the Afghan jail on the eastern outskirts of Kabul.
Kellenberger said the ICRC wanted to have access to more prisons and spoke about the concerns of inmates held by the U.S. military at Bagram air base north of Kabul, the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
“When I talked to those detainess in Bagram, what comes really clearly out as a main concern, frankly, it is always a question of they do not know why they are there,” he said.
“Second point which is of terrible concern to them is they do not know what the future brings — how long will they be there and (under) which conditions they will be released.”
During his week-long trip to Afghanistan, Kellenberger spoke to a number of detainees at Pul-i-Charkhi and at Bagram. He also met President Hamid Karzai, commanders for the U.S.-led coalition force and NATO, as well as Taliban insurgents.
Wrapping up his visit, Kellenberger said his discussions with all sides mainly involved protection of Afghan civilians and international humanitarian laws during the war.
“I was very much insisting … on the protection of civilians and said ‘there must be … a distinction between civilians and those who are participating directly in combat’,” he told a news conference at ICRC’s headquarters in Kabul.
More than 20,000 people, thousands of them civilians, have been killed in Afghanistan since U.S.-led troops invaded the country in 2001 and toppled the Taliban government, according to estimates compiled by various foreign and Afghan sources.
Kellenberger said ICRC was documenting possible violations of humanitarian laws by all sides involved in the Afghan conflict, had made certain recommendations, but refused to make them public because of the organisation’s mandate.
He said he had urged the Taliban to guarantee the security of aid workers in areas where the militants were active and that the Taliban’s reply had been positive. (Editing by David Fogarty)