April 19, 2000
U.N. panel denounces
Commission calls for island to allow entry of investigators
By Juan O. Tamayo . email@example.com. Published Wednesday, April 19, 2000, in the Miami Herald
In an embarrassing defeat for Cuba, the U.N. Human Rights Commission voted Tuesday at its annual meeting in Geneva to condemn Havana's repression of dissidents and urged it to allow commission investigators into the island.
The margin of the 21-18 vote, with 14 abstentions, was wider than anticipated because of support from Canada and vote switches by El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, diplomats in Geneva said. A similar resolution was approved last year 21-20.
Although the vote carries no tangible sanctions, it shames Cuba by again singling it out as a country with especially worrisome abuses. It was the eighth time since 1991 that the respected U.N. panel condemned Havana.
The ballot was on a resolution sponsored by the Czech and Polish governments and backed by Washington that criticized Cuba's treatment of opponents and asked that it allow visits by U.N. human rights investigators.
In Cuba, a crowd estimated at 100,000 marched in protest on Tuesday outside the Czech Embassy in Havana even before the vote in Geneva, summoned by government announcements branding Prague officials as ``miserable lackeys of Washington.
Havana's ambassador in Geneva, Carlos Amat, complained that Washington had ``hidden behind the once-Communist Czech and Polish governments in order to more easily push ``its notorious campaign to destroy Cuba.
But diplomats in Geneva celebrated the vote Tuesday as a sign that a majority of the world supports the Cuban political figures, human rights activists and independent journalists who oppose President Fidel Castro.
``These courageous individuals have done nothing wrong, nor have they encouraged violence. Their only crime has been to express their belief in the freedom and dignity of all individuals, Harold Koh, U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said after the ballot.
Czech diplomats in Geneva said they and their backers turned back a last-minute effort by some Western nations to add wording to the resolution blaming the U.S. embargo against Cuba for part of Havana's repression.
``These countries are beginning to separate the anti-embargo rhetoric of the Cuban government and focus on the lack of opening for dissident movements, said Lula Rodriguez, deputy assistant U.S. secretary of state for public affairs
``We're very gratified by the increasing momentum toward an objective examination of the human rights situation in Cuba, Rodriguez said. ``Castro can no longer bamboozle other countries.
Privately, diplomats in Geneva credited the vote to a series of largely unconnected factors that added up to defeat for Cuba.
El Salvador and Guatemala, which abstained in 1999, switched to votes against Cuba this time under new right-of-center presidents elected last year.
Mexico, which supported Cuba last year, switched back to the abstentions it had recorded in all the previous votes as part of its policy of not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.
Ecuador's recently installed government moved from a vote to condemn Cuba last year to an abstention this time, and Colombia and Brazil remained in the abstention column.
Venezuela and Peru were the only Latin American nations to join Cuba in voting against the resolution. All European nations backed the resolution with the exception of Russia, which voted against.
Vice President Al Gore called a few foreign leaders to stress the resolution's importance, and Czech President Vaclav Havel wrote to the presidents of Mexico and Brazil for the same reason, diplomats said.
Canada was especially active in lobbying other nations for an anti-Cuba vote, diplomats said, apparently frustrated with a string of recent small but irksome diplomatic and commercial disputes with Havana.
Argentina and Chile, which had initially signaled they might change their votes from the condemn column to abstentions because of domestic political pressures, wound up voting for the Czech-Polish resolution.
The resolution expresses the panel's concern over political repression in Cuba, urges the release of all political prisoners and calls on Havana to open conciliatory contacts with its critics.
It will be up to Cuba to allow into the island the panel's ``special rapporteurs -- respected investigators assigned to specific issues such as freedom of expression, prison conditions and torture.
Havana denied entry permits throughout the 1990s to a special rapporteur appointed to investigate Cuba's alleged abuses.
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald
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