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Ö Thousands of people deliberately and systematically killed, including thousands of ethnic Hazara civilians killed by Taleban guards in Mazar-e Sharif in 1998

Ö Thousands of civilians taken prisoner, including large numbers of probable prisoners of conscience , with torture or ill-treatment of almost all detainees reported Ö Tens of thousands of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights being confined to their homes under Taleban edicts Ö Girls and boys suffering rape and sexual assault following abduction Ö Executions, floggings and amputations after unfair trials in Taleban courts Amnesty International is concerned at reports that the Home Secretary intends to take the unprecedented step of using exceptional powers to decide personally any asylum claims even though, during last weekÌs Opposition debate in Parliament, he said Afghanistan was one of four countries which Ïhas faced severe upheaval of one sort or another, and÷many of the applications from those countries are genuine and well-foundedÓ.

Statistics show that for the first six months of 1999 of 805 substantive decisions taken on asylum applications from Afghans, 800 were granted leave to remain. Between 1990-1998, 93% of those who applied for asylum from Afghanistan were allowed to remain in the United Kingdom.

Amnesty International UK Communications Director Mark Lattimer said:

ÏThe firm obligation on Jack Straw to follow international refugee law should not be breached simply because of domestic political or media pressure Ò and each case must be looked at on its merits: there must be no blanket assumptions when lives may be at riskÓ.

Background As a party to the United NationsÌ Refugee Convention (1951), the UK has an obligation to examine all applications for asylum. Only if an asylum-seeker can demonstrate a Ïwell founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinionÓ, should they be granted refugee status. There is a solemn duty on the UK to ensure that, through its actions, no-one is forcibly returned to any territory where their life or freedom may be in danger.

Amnesty International strongly condemns any act of hostage taking by armed political groups - including highjacking - as a human rights abuse. It urges that the perpetrators of such acts be brought to justice without undue delay in trials that conform to internationally established fair trial procedures. Prosecution of suspected hijackers is a matter entirely for the criminal and judicial authorities, in the first instance in this case, the Essex police.

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