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U.N. watchdog criticizes Cuba, North Korea

The 53-nation U.N. Human Rights Commission passed resolutions Thursday criticizing conditions in Cuba and North Korea. The body voted 22 to 21 for a resolution that “deplored” Cuba’s jailing of 75 dissidents.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The top United Nations human rights watchdog passed resolutions Thursday criticizing conditions in Cuba and North Korea, but Russia and China avoided censure.

The 53-nation U.N. Human Rights Commission voted 22 to 21 for a Honduras-proposed resolution that “deplored” Cuba’s jailing 75 dissidents arrested on March 18, 2003.

Moments later, a member of the Cuban delegation attacked an anti-Castro activist outside the meeting, knocking him to the ground after he approached a group of Cubans.

“All of a sudden, I passed out,” Frank Calzon said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. He said he was unconscious for a minute or two.

Calzon said he didn’t see who struck him. But he said a witness reported to him later that the attacker hit him from behind with clasped hands.

Cuban Ambassador Jorge Mora Godoy, who didn’t see the incident, blamed Calzon.

“There was a provocation from Frank Calzon against one woman in the Cuban delegation, and he received the due response from our Cuban delegation,” Mora Godoy told the AP.

Tit for tat
Cuba said the resolution against it was the work of the United States. Shortly after the vote, the Cuban delegation said it had filed a resolution claiming widespread human rights abuses by the United States against prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

The Honduran resolution criticizing Cuba called for the commission’s experts on torture, judicial independence and arbitrary detention to investigate the situation. Richard Williamson, head of the U.S. delegation, said his only disappointment was that the vote was so close.

“The fact is no one can argue repression doesn’t happen in Cuba,” Williamson said. “It’s an island prison. It’s good to have a resolution putting some pressure on that regime.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the resolution “sends a strong message to courageous Cubans who struggle daily to defend their human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as to the repressive Castro regime.”

Mexico defends vote for resolution
Despite longtime ties with Cuba, Mexico also voted for the resolution. Mexican President Vicente Fox said later that it was a “vote in favor of a cause, not against a nation.” He added that Mexico had acted “in keeping with our principles” to defend human rights.

Also Thursday the commission voted 29-8 to condemn North Korea for its precarious humanitarian situation and for systematic and widespread rights violations.

The motion, brought by the European Union and the United States, cited violations including torture, forced abortions and infanticide, as well as harsh restrictions on freedom of expression and foreign travel and severe punishments meted out to those who try to flee the country.

Resolutions also were passed criticizing the rights records of Belarus and Turkmenistan.

However, the commission threw out an EU resolution condemning Russia for its record in war-plagued Chechnya. Russia mustered support from Cuba, Brazil, India, China and African countries to defeat the motion 23-12.

China also ducked censure when it used a procedural “no-action” motion to block discussion of a U.S.-sponsored resolution criticizing its rights record.

China rejects unfavorable focus
Chinese Ambassador Sha Zukang said there was no good reason to single out his country. It was the 11th time that China had prevented discussion of such a resolution at the commission’s annual meeting.

“China is neither heaven nor hell. It is just in the process of building a society with decent living standards,” he said.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Kong Quan, said Friday in Beijing that Washington should “abandon confrontation” over human rights.

He was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying “the United States isolated itself” by submitting the resolution.

A similar no-action motion also blocked discussion of an EU resolution criticizing the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe has stepped up measures against dissent, arresting opposition and labor leaders and cracking down on the independent press.

The commission’s six-week session continues until April 23. Voting on the Guantanamo Bay resolution as well as on a Mexican resolution on human rights and counterterrorism are due to take place next Thursday.