Cuba reelected to UN rights panel
US leaves meeting in protest over nod to 'worst violator'
UNITED NATIONS -- The United States walked out of a United Nations meeting yesterday to protest Cuba's election to the UN Human Rights Commission for another three-year term.
''It was an outrage for us because we view Cuba as the worst violator of human rights in this hemisphere,'' said Sichan Siv, the US ambassador to the UN Economic and Social Council, which elected 24 new members to the top UN human rights watchdog.
The election occurred four days after the 53-member Human Rights Commission ended its annual six-week session in Geneva. Critics said that meeting was dominated by political horsetrading and did little for the victims of human rights abuses.
Commission members narrowly passed a resolution calling on Cuba to accept a visit by a human rights investigator, but did not approve an amendment criticizing the country's recent crackdown on the opposition -- leading to Cuban assertions of a ''moral victory.''
Members also used a procedural move to block the discussion of alleged human rights violations in Zimbabwe, ended scrutiny of Sudan, and rejected a resolution condemning Russia's record in Chechnya.
In the vote yesterday, Russia was also reelected to a three-year term on the commission.
Saudi Arabia and several African countries with poor human rights records also gained seats on the commission.
''Cuba and Russia each have very serious human rights problems and have failed to cooperate with the commission despite many resolutions against them,'' said Joanna Weschler, a UN representative for Human Rights Watch. ''It's outrageous that they should be rewarded for this performance with another term on the commission.''
Under UN rules, regional groups decide who fills seats on UN bodies.
Latin America chose Cuba, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru for six open seats, meaning that no vote was necessary in the Economic and Social Commission.
Siv said he walked out of the Economic and Social Council chamber as Cuba's election was announced -- and again about 1 1/2 hours later when the Cuban representative got up to speak.
Siv said Cuba's election was discouraging because while the UN Human Rights Commission met in Geneva, Cuba rounded up opposition leaders and sentenced dozens to jail, some for more than 20 years.
Fidel Castro's government also arrested and quickly executed three men who hijacked a ferry April 2. Cuban officials say four recent hijacking plots, among them the seizing of the ferry, were prompted in part by a lax attitude by American authorities toward hijackers who reach US shores.
''This is a country that for 40 years has not held an election,'' Siv said. ''It's a country that arrests people and puts them in jail at the whim of a dictator.''
Representative Mark Foley, Republican of Florida, said he would introduce a resolution in the House calling for the United Nations to reverse its decision.
''Whether it's Saddam Hussein or Fidel Castro, the UN has repeatedly protected tyrants, torturers, and murderers,'' Foley said. ''Allowing Cuba to stay on the Human Rights Commission is like honoring Saddam Hussein with the Nobel Peace Prize.''
In April 2002 the United States won back a seat on the commission that it had lost the previous year. Until that surprise defeat, the United States had been on the commission for 50 years.
Britain was reelected to the commission. Western nations had four candidates for three seats, and Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands defeated Portugal.
There was also a contested race in the Asian region, with one seat still undecided. Before the vote, North Korea, Cambodia, and Vietnam -- three countries with poor human rights records -- withdrew their candidacies.
The five countries elected were Bhutan, India, Nepal, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
Other countries elected on uncontested slates were Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mauritania, South Africa, and Hungary.