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Consider humanitarian aspect, U.S. told

By B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD, SEPT. 25. Pressure continues to mount on the United States to weigh carefully the humanitarian consequences of any military action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

In a press statement issued here, the U.S.-based Refugees International sought to remind the American Government that given the fragility of life in Afghanistan, any military action is bound to hurt the general public.

While conceding that the United States has a right to respond to the September 11 suicide attacks against it by striking at terrorist networks and the states that support them, the organisation said any response would have to be a measured one.

``Given the fragility of life in Afghanistan, any military operation there is bound to hurt the general public,'' the NGO stated. The U.S. should maintain the moral high ground, and, in planning any armed intervention, take steps ``to minimise the danger to people already tottering on the edge of famine, and to repair humanitarian damage as soon as possible,'' it said.

The call by Refugees International comes close on the heels of a similar appeal by the human rights organisation, Amnesty International, which called on the U.S. President, Mr. George W. Bush ``to uphold the highest international human rights standards in his administration's response to the horrific acts of September 11''.

Amnesty's secretary-general, Ms. Irene Khan, reiterated her organisation's condemnation of the attacks, and urged the U.S. ``to take every necessary human rights precaution in the pursuit of justice, rather than revenge, for the victims of this terrible crime''.

She urged Mr. Bush to ensure ``that anger does not give way to retaliatory injustices'', and welcomed his remarks in support of Muslim American and other communities rendered vulnerable by the public backlash in reaction to the terrorist attacks.

Amnesty called on the Bush administration and the U.N. Security Council to use all appropriate means to bring those responsible to justice ``within the framework of a fair and accountable criminal justice system, and with full respect for international standards, for a fair trial''.

It also urged the administration to ``fully explore every measure possible to bring the perpetrators to justice before resorting to armed intervention''.

The U.N. Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, on Monday, called for the new coalition against terrorism to be built through the United Nations in order give it long-term legitimacy. He added that the response to the U.S. attacks ``must be one that strengthened international peace and security by cementing ties among nations, rather than subjecting them to new strains''.

In another development, the Human Rights Watch has urged the Bush administration to signal to its allies not to use the fight against terrorism as a cover for their own domestic campaigns against political opponents.

In a letter addressed to the U.S. Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell, a copy of which was released here, the organisation said, in recent days, a number of Governments around the world have taken advantage of the attacks of September 11 to justify internal crackdowns against those they deem to be terrorists and separatists.

Russia has compared the U.S. war on terrorism to its own brutal campaign against Chechen rebels. China has requested support for its repressive policies in Tibet and the Muslim region of Xinjiang. Egypt has lashed out against outside criticism of its human rights record, saying that the world should now adopt its fight against terrorism as a model.

``If an American-led counter-terrorism effort becomes associated with attacks on peaceful dissent and religious expression, it will undermine everything the United States is trying to achieve,'' said Mr. Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch.

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