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ICRC seeks access to Saddam soon

The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) is awaiting official notification from

Last Modified: 20 Dec 2003 06:07 GMT
Saddam (R) faces his long-time foe Ahmad Chalabi

The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) is awaiting official notification from Washington to visit captured Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Florian Westphal, a press officer at the ICRC, said the procedures for visiting Saddam will begin after the detaining power has informed the Geneva-based humanitarian organisation that they are holding a prisoner of war.

"To the best of my knowledge, that hasn't happened yet," he said.

But this was not unusual in "the first few days" of detention, said Westphal.

The ICRC is "waiting for notification and hopes these visits will begin as soon as possible," he said, stressing that such visits are stipulated under the Geneva Conventions.

Washington has said that Saddam is a prisoner of war and his  rights under the Geneva Conventions would be upheld.

"We expect the law is being followed and we expect to be visiting Saddam Hussein," he said. It was not clear when this would happen.

No difference

"Saddam is not different than any other POW," said Westphal.  "The idea behind the visit is to monitor the conditions in which they (prisoners) are being detained and how they are being treated," he said. 

Although the Bush administration has not specified Saddam's legal status, the ICRC believes he is being protected by the Third Geneva Convention.

The ICRC would speak to Saddam in private to ask about the conditions and treatment, said Westphal, without the presence of guards.

While Washington has not revealed where the ousted leader is being held, US officials say he is in Iraq. The mystery shrouding his location will not pose a problem for the ICRC's imminent visit, said Westphal, adding it was not the first time the humanitarian organisation had met detainees held under strict security.

So far, the humanitarian group has visited 38 captured Iraqis among Washington's list of 55 most wanted, he added, some of them several times.

Unclear status

The Bush administration has been careful to only say that Saddam is a prisoner of war and protected by the Geneva Conventions, although they have yet to take a final decision on his status.  "The way the Americans explain it, he is being protected by the Third Geneva Convention," said Westphal.

"For the ICRC it's simple - if he's not a POW than he's a civilian detainee, meaning he's protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention," he said.

None of Saddam's family has got 
in touch with the ICRC

Under the Third Geneva Convention, detainees are obliged only to give their full name, rank, date of birth, army or regimental serial number.

However, this does not prevent Saddam from being interrogated, said Westphal. The Third Geneva Convention also allows a prisoner to be moved from one country to another.

Communications

Meanwhile, Lebanese lawyer Bushra al-Khalil has submitted a letter to the ICRC to be sent to Saddam in which she offers to defend him.

However, the ICRC's mandate for conveying messages between detainees and their families is mainly to maintain contact between the two parties, said Westphal. One of the chief purposes was to reassure the family that the prisoner was alive.

Detaining authorities check the messages to ensure that they only contain news about the family.

If Saddam's family appoints a power of attorney and requests the letter be sent, then the ICRC can take it up with the detaining power, said Westphal. 

None of Saddam's family have contacted the ICRC to get in touch with him, said the press officer.

Bushra al-Khalil's letter to Saddam

Source:
Aljazeera
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