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updated 1/13/2004 7:16:07 PM ET 2004-01-14T00:16:07

U.S. military forces in Iraq "appear" to have committed war crimes by detaining relatives of suspected insurgents or wanted former officials, and demolishing their homes, the U.S.-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch has warned. 

Kenneth Roth, the organization's executive director, told U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a letter on Monday that the United States had reportedly demolished homes "on at least four recent occasions, in situations that did not meet the test of military necessity." 

It said the actions "rather appeared to be for the purpose of punishing or compelling the cooperation of the family in question." In two incidents, it added, "U.S. forces also reportedly detained close relatives of a person that the U.S. was attempting to apprehend. In these cases the individuals detained were themselves not suspected of responsibility for any wrongdoing." 

Geneva Conventions cited
According to Human Rights Watch, destroying civilian property as a reprisal or deterrent "amounts to collective punishment, which is prohibited by the 1949 Geneva Conventions." Detaining people in order to compel actions from the opposing side "amounts to hostage taking, which is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions: in other words, a war crime." 

Mr. Roth called on Mr. Rumsfeld to take "immediate and tangible steps to ensure that actions of U.S. forces in Iraq comply fully with the Geneva Conventions," and to release "without delay" people detained on the basis of their familial relation to wanted persons.

© The Financial Times Ltd 2010. "FT" and "Financial Times" are trademarks of the Financial Times.

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