'Rights abuser' Cuba put on U.N. action panelAdvocates scoffed at Cuba's inclusion on a U.N. action panel on human rights. The United Nations has condemned the island's rights record for five straight years.
Human rights activists were outraged Tuesday over Cuba's appointment to an elite ''action panel'' that will influence the work of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which has consistently condemned the communist nation's miserable record.
''It's shameful that anyone would support Cuba to play any relevant role in the human rights machinery,'' said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch in Washington, D.C.
''A government as recalcitrant as the Cuban government should not be rewarded with membership of any kind,'' Vivanco added. ``It clearly undermines the legitimacy or credibility of institutions that are supposed to be supervising and monitoring human rights.''
Cuba's inclusion to the newly created action panel was approved by the 11 Latin American nations that form part of the 53-member Commission on Human Rights. The designation means Cuban diplomats will not only have a say in alleged violations the commission will investigate, but also will be first to represent the region when the group has its initial gathering on Feb. 7.
''It's very unfortunate that the Latin America contingency could not come up with a slate which doesn't include one of the principal human rights abusers in the world and the worst human rights abuser in the hemisphere,'' said a U.S. State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Mexico will serve as coordinator of the group when the rights commission convenes in the spring, and the nine remaining Latin American nations -- Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru -- will take turns representing the region during subsequent gatherings.
Joining Cuba in the action panel's first session next month: Zimbabwe, representing African nations; Hungary, on behalf of Europe; and China, representing Asia.
The United Nations' human rights branch has condemned Cuba's human rights record for five straight years.
At last year's meeting in Geneva, the body narrowly passed a resolution urging Cuba to protect the ''fundamental rights'' of its people and accept a visit to the island by an inspector. Havana has long refused to accept such visits.
The resolution, approved by many Latin American nations, also strongly condemned the arrests of 75 Cuban dissidents jailed in 2003 and sentenced to up to 28 years in prison on charges of working with U.S. diplomats in Havana to undermine Cuba's communist system.
Similar resolutions on Cuba have been approved every year since 1992, except for 1998, at the commission's six-week spring meetings in Switzerland.