U.N. panel condemns Cuba for rights abuses
Resolution a diplomatic victory for U.S.
BY PABLO ALFONSO
El Nuevo Herald
GENEVA -- The U.N. Commission on Human Rights voted 22-20 Wednesday
in support of a U.S.-backed resolution that condemned Havana's
treatment of dissidents and expressed strong concerns for the ongoing repression of members of the opposition inside the country.
The U.S. victory in the diplomatic tussle with Cuba -- which has
become a nearly annual ritual -- was tempered by a failure to win international
condemnation of China's human rights record after the 53-nation body, in a 23-17 vote, passed a Chinese motion blocking consideration of the
The commission also voted 50-1 to censure Israel for allowing
Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, with only the United
taking Israel's side.
The Czech-sponsored resolution against Cuba marked the ninth time
since 1991 that the human rights panel has criticized Fidel Castro's
government for its human rights abuses, with 1998 being the only year Cuba managed to thwart the U.S.-led effort.
The condemnation conveys no penalty for Cuba, but the U.N. action is considered an embarrassment.
Last year's vote denouncing Cuban rights abuses was 21-18, with 14 abstentions. This year 10 countries abstained.
The resolution expressed concern over "the continued violation
of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba'' and urged the Cuban
government "to fulfill its commitment to democracy and respect for human rights,'' which it assumed in previous Ibero-American conferences.
At the same time, the resolution asked the Castro government "to
establish a dialogue with the political opposition, as several groups [on
island] have requested.''
U.S. LED PUSH
In Washington, a senior administration official told The Herald
that U.S. officials, from ambassadors to the secretary of state and the
lobbied hard for the Cuba resolution "even though the deck was stacked against us.''
He said that the addition of several new members to the commission
with anti-American positions -- Algeria, Libya and Vietnam -- made
passage more difficult.
"There was a real pressure strategy, from the president to the
embassies, in talking with other countries,'' said the official, who spoke
condition of anonymity.
The resolution passed by a narrow margin because several African
nations voted for it, and a number of Latin American countries that deal
Cuba and the United States abstained -- Mexico, Brazil, Peru and Colombia.
"Its a great relief that after so many years of this tyranny and
so many documented cases of human rights violations in Cuba, the international
community has acknowledged the reality of it,'' said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Miami Republican who had lobbied hard for the resolution in
Joe Garcia, executive director for the Cuban American National Foundation, also expressed satisfaction.
"It is wonderful to be quite honest. It was a victory for those who suffer and a defeat of special interests that have helped enslave Cuba for 42 years.''
The sponsorship of the resolution by the Czech Republic for the
second consecutive year follows an earlier diplomatic incident this year
in which two prominent Czechs,
including a parliamentarian, were held for several days in Cuba for contacting members of the Cuban opposition.
Czech Deputy Foreign Minister, Martin Palous, who headed the Czech
delegation, said his government does not seek ``political achievements''
but rather to demonstrate
its "solidarity with the Cubans who struggle for democracy.''
The Cuban delegate, Carlos Amat, accused the Czechs of being in the service of the United States, which Amat described as the author of the anti-Cuba resolution.
Amat described the resolution as "unjust, politicized and selective.''
The Cuban delegate said the U.S. government "and its allies in the terrorist Miami Mafia work tirelessly to overthrow the Cuban revolution and, to that end, try to activate [Cuba's] domestic opposition.''
On China, it was the 10th time a Western government has tried -- and failed -- to pass a resolution condemning Beijing at the annual meeting.
Each time, full debate has been blocked by a Chinese motion calling for "no action.''
China amassed support among African countries for Wednesday's "no action'' vote, which required only a simple majority of ballots cast to pass.
The vote came despite the entreaties of U.S. delegation head Shirin
Tahir-Kheli, who said "the essential principle of universal human rights
is that they apply to every
country at every moment.''
Chinese Ambassador Qiao Zonghuai said the proposal had "slanderous accusations.''
Herald staff writer Frank Davies contributed to this report.
IN FAVOR: Argentina, Belgium, Cameroon, Canada, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Madagascar, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of [South] Korea, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay.
AGAINST: Algeria, Burundi, China, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Liberia, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Swaziland, Syria, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia.
ABSTAINING: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, Mauritius, Mexico, Niger, Peru, Senegal, Thailand.
ABSENT: Democratic Republic of Congo.