Rights remain sacrosanct

THIS may be the best news to come out of the United States in months and years. In a major policy shift, the White House has announced that all US military detainees, including those held at the Guantanamo Bay, will get their rights in accordance with the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.

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Published: Thu 13 Jul 2006, 2:16 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:09 PM

Everyone who believes in human rights, justice and the rule of law would welcome the historic move. Coming as it does after repeated appeals by human rights groups and the US media and politicians in recent times imploring the Bush administration to respect the basic rights of the Guantanamo Bay detainees and other terror suspects in US custody, the decision is a victory of human rights groups. Indeed, it is the respect for civil liberties and the rule of law that distinguishes a democracy from a police state.

The White House’s acknowledgement that Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to the Bay detainees and other suspects is the first ever recognition of the fact that human rights cannot be undermined or violated even during the so-called war on terror or under other extraordinary circumstances, for that matter. Clearly, this had become possible only after the US Supreme Court ruled last month that military tribunals cannot try the Bay detainees.

Following Tuesday’s announcement, some administration officials have argued that this only reiterates the US policy and that America has always been committed to Geneva Conventions as the founding member of the United Nations. Which is true. But equally true is the fact that a presidential order of Feb 7, 2002 declared that Geneva Conventions did not apply to ‘enemy combatants’ at the Bay. That order has been a major source of concern for human rights groups.

Which is why Tuesday’s White House announcement should be seen as a critical course correction by the Bush administration — most important since the September 11 strikes. And there are bound to be huge global ramifications of the move. More to the point, it would go a long way in restoring the battered image of America and the international community’s faith in the reigning superpower.

The US decision, let us hope, will not only make a positive difference to all those held in its custody but also change the world’s approach to the ongoing war on terror. Human rights must remain sacrosanct and the rule of law must prevail under all circumstances.

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