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Review decree, U.N. officials tell Taliban

NEW DELHI, MAY 24. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ms. Mary Robinson and the UNESCO Director-General, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, today expressed outrage over reports of a Taliban edict that non-Muslims in Afghanistan should wear a distinctive sign on their clothes.

In a joint statement, Ms. Robinson and Mr. Matsuura called upon the Taliban `urgently to reconsider their position, which is another serious step backwards for a people already enduring extreme hardship in terms of deprival of basic rights such as education'.

They called on all nations `able to exert any influence whatsoever on the authorities in Kabul to ensure that they see the error of their ways before long'.

The two said the edict `harks back to the darkest periods of human history'. They said similar practices in the past - `from Nazi Germany in the 1930s to Rwanda in the early 1990s' - had led to `the most horrible crimes'. The edict `brings home in the most forceful way the urgent need to address bias and discrimination, which are at the root of major human rights violations', they added.

`Prescribing how certain groups of people should dress or otherwise singling them out so that they can be easily identifiable is at best discriminatory', they said. The stated aim of the edict - protection of minority groups - could be achieved by strict observance of internationally recognised human rights principles, they added.

Meanwhile the Bush administration has conveyed to the Taliban regime its strong condemnation of the militia's edict.

``We have been in touch (with Taliban authorities) to let them know of our views... and the fact that we would find reprehensible and offensive the idea of forcing certain social or religious groups to wear distinctive clothing or identifying marks to stigmatise and isolate those groups'', State Department spokesman, Mr. Philip Reeker said in Washington yesterday.Reiterating State Department spokesman, Mr. Richard Boucher's criticism of the Taliban militia yesterday, Mr. Reeker said, ``it (the dress code)... would add to the long list of outrageous oppressions inflicted by the Taliban authorities upon the long suffering people of Afghanistan''.

The U.S. Congress has joined the global outrage over the Taliban edict. ``This resurfacing of tactics used against Jews in Nazi Germany reminds all of us that we must remain vigilant when it comes to defending human rights,'' said the Democratic representative, Mr. Eliot Engel.

Meanwhile, 56 House Democrats and Republicans, led by Democratic Representative, Mr. Jan Schakowsky, sent the U.S. President, Mr. George W. Bush a letter urging him to take the lead to convince the Taliban to reverse course.

``As the leader of the free world, our nation has a solemn obligation to lead in opposition to such dangerous plans. We urge you to immediately fulfil that obligation,'' the lawmakers wrote.

China, however, has adopted a soft approach on the issue only urging the militia to respond to the concerns of the international community.``I have taken note of the relevant report,'' the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mr. Zhu Bangzao told reporters in Beijing when asked to comment on the Taliban's edict.

``It is also our hope that Taliban will attach importance to concerns of the international community and cooperate so as to play a constructive role in finding a peaceful resolution of the Afghanistan issue at an early date,'' he said.

In a statement in Berlin the German Foreign Minister, Mr. Joschka Fischer said ``this measure is a very serious discrimination and totally unjustifiable for a religious minority. What was revealed by the blind destruction of the statues of Buddha applies mercilessly against humans.''

Mr. Fischer called on the international community to ``react severely to this flagrant violation of universal human rights''.


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