ICRC wants more access to detainees in Syria, Bahrain: chief

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The head of the International Committee for the Red Cross on Thursday criticised both Syria and Bahrain for denying the rights group access to people detained during crackdowns on political demonstrations.

"It is true that we are the only international humanitarian organisation accepted to work in Syria," Jakob Kellenberger, the ICRC chief told journalists while presenting the group's annual report.

"But I have to tell you (...) what we can do so far is really very modest," he said.

Kellenberger said his staff have been denied access to several cities where people have been detained while demonstrating against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"In our note to the government on the 27th of March we had also asked for access to those detained. We have so far received no access ... and I do not hide from you that I am extremely worried about that from what I hear and know," Kellenberger said.

ICRC staff have been given some access to prisoners in Daraa, Kellenberger added.

Some UN Security Council members are currently working on a draft resolution that says the brutality levelled against Syrian protestors amounts to a war crime.

Kellenberger also said that Bahrain has so far not honoured requests by the ICRC to visit detainees arrested during its heavy-handed crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

At a meeting in Geneva, Kellenberger said he told a Bahrainian cabinet minister that the ICRC "wanted to visit detainees" but, he said, "for the time being we have not been given this access."

Bahraini authorities came under strong criticism from international human rights organisations for their brutal suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations that lasted for a month in the capital Manama.

Bahraini authorities said 24 people died during the crackdown, including four who died in detention.

Kellenberger said the ICRC has sent a "verbal note" to Bharain's government "referring to human rights law that was applicable" to the treatment of detainees.

In 2010, ICRC staff visited around half a million people held in 71 countries, including in local and national prisons, as well as detention centres linked to international tribunals, according to the group's annual report published Thursday.

© 2011 AFP

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