APRIL 23, 1999
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, April 23 (Reuters) - The United Nations Commission on Human Rights on Friday expressed concern about ``continued repression'' in Cuba and called for the release of all prisoners jailed for religious and political beliefs.
The resolution, adopted by a one-vote margin, put Cuba firmly back on the agenda of the 53-member body, although it did not reappoint a special investigator for the country.
A year ago, the Commission rejected a U.S. resolution on Cuba, ending seven years of U.S.-led censure of the communist government of Fidel Castro.
``We hope that the Cuban government will accept this resolution as a wake-up call to begin protecting human rights and preparing for a transition to democracy,'' Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Harold Hongju Koh said in a statement.
Twenty-one countries voted in favour and 20 -- including China and Russia -- were against. There were 12 abstentions.
The text, tabled by the Czech Republic and Poland, won backing from Western countries including the United States, Britain, France and Germany.
Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous, introducing the text, expressed concern about violations in Cuba which he said had ``dangerously intensified in recent months.''
The Czech Republic and Poland, as countries who experienced ``the same totalitarian system as the one now practised in Cuba,'' had strong reasons to take a stand, he added.
Latin American countries were split, with Argentina and Chile voting in favour, while Mexico and Peru voted against.
The text expresses concern about ``repression and detention'' of dissidents, including four convicted last month of inciting sedition and given jail terms of between 3-1/2 and five years.
Before the vote, Cuba denounced the resolution and accused the United States of having recruited ``two docile military allies to do its dirty work.''
``They are strawmen of the worst type,'' said Havana's chief delegate, Maria de los Angeles Florez Prida. ``This condemnation will never be accepted because it is unjust and partial.''
``We call on member states to oppose this shameless manoeuvre. Today it is Cuba, tomorrow any country could be the victim of manipulation,'' Florez Prida said. China's envoy took the floor to defend Cuba and denounce the Czech-Polish text as interference in Cuba's internal affairs.
``The country which should be considered is the United States, not Cuba,'' he added.
China's own human rights record was due to be voted on later at the body which resumes its session at 1300 GMT.
The Commission also voted against a Russian resolution expressing concern at destruction caused by NATO missile strikes and bombings in Yugoslavia, Moscow's traditional ally.
The U.N. forum easily rejected the text, which was being debated hours after NATO blasted television studios in Belgrade.
Eleven states voted in favour of the resolution, including Russia and China, while 24 states including the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, voted against it. Eighteen member states, mainly African, abstained from voting.
The text failed to mention the Serb province of Kosovo while reaffirming the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia.
The forum, which ends its annual six-week session in Geneva on April 30, was due to vote on some 60 texts on Friday.
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited