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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Outrage as Cuba keeps UN seat
Supporters of dissidents outside court in Havana
Cuba rounded up and jailed 75 dissidents for up to 28 years

Cuba's uncontested re-election to the United Nations' Commission on Human Rights has sparked outrage among rights campaigners and in the United States.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the decision was "like putting Al Capone in charge of bank security".

Rights campaigners fear the Commission is becoming increasingly dominated by countries known to violate human rights.

In the last month, Cuba has rounded up and imprisoned 75 dissidents as well as executing three men who hijacked a ferry.

US representative Sichan Siv walked out of the UN Economic and Social Council - which was meeting to elect new members - in protest over Cuba.

It's almost a rule now... you get a seat on the commission and vote as a bloc against criticism
Joanna Weschler of Human Rights Watch

"This is a country that for 40 years has not held an election. It's a country that arrests people and puts them in jail at the whim of a dictator. That's why we were so outraged when the candidacies were endorsed..."

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 - so no vote was necessary and all six countries were elected uncontested.

No opposition

Joanna Weschler, of Human Rights Watch, said countries with poor human rights records are increasingly able to serve on the Commission by being proposed on a regional slate without opposition.

UN Human Rights Commission
It is composed of 53 states
It meets annually in March for six weeks
The chairmanship rotates yearly between the five regional groupings
It was created in 1946
The first chair was Eleanor Roosevelt
Anyone may bring a problem to the body, and thousands do each year

"You have a huge powerful and very well organised bloc that doesn't want any country criticised, opposes UN human rights monitoring and wants to weaken the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights," said Ms Weschler.

"It's almost a rule now. You get criticised by the commission or you might be, so you get a seat on the commission and you vote as a bloc against criticism."

Other member countries with human rights records similarly under fire are Democratic Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Libya is currently chairing the commission.

US representative Sichan Siv walked out of vote in protest over Cuba

Mr Fleischer said the commission "cannot expect to have Libya be its chair, to re-elect Cuba, and not to have people wonder if they really do stand for human rights or not".

The head of Cuba's delegation to the UN body, Jose Antonio Fernandez, told Cuban news agency Prensa Latina they were delighted to be re-elected.

"They won't be able to force us out," he said, adding that Cuba's critics would have to "endure our discourse for three more years".

A year ago, the US won back its seat on the commission after being ousted the previous year - the first time since helping to found it in 1947.

Cuba rejects call for UN envoy
18 Apr 03  |  Americas
UN challenges Cuba on rights
17 Apr 03  |  Americas
Cuba defends dissident trials
10 Apr 03  |  Americas
Cuba ferry hijackers executed
11 Apr 03  |  Americas
Country profile: Cuba
24 Apr 03  |  Country profiles

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