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US Welcomes UN Criticism of Cuba's Human Rights Record - 2003-04-17

The Bush administration is welcoming adoption of a resolution on Cuba by the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, even though the 53 nation forum voted down a Costa Rican amendment that would have specially condemned Cuba's recent crackdown on dissidents.

The United States had described this month's sentencing of some 80 Cuban dissidents to long prison terms as the most significant act of repression in the hemisphere in decades.

But the U.N. commission voted down a U.S.-supported Costa Rican amendment condemning the crackdown, approving instead a resolution calling on Cuba to accept a U.N. special investigator to examine the human rights situation on the island.

Nonetheless the State Department said it was very pleased by the resolution, which spokesman Richard Boucher said sent a strong message of support to Cubans who struggle daily to defend their human rights.

He also said it sent a strong message to what he termed the "repressive regime" of Fidel Castro that the international community is attentive to the human rights situation in Cuba, despite what he suggested were hopes by Havana authorities that the world would be distracted by the war in Iraq.

Under persistent questioning from reporters, Mr. Boucher rejected the notion the outcome amounted to a setback for the Bush administration, which had repeatedly and vigorously condemned the jailing of the Cuban activists.

"I don't understand how you can try to get me to say that a victory in terms of passing a resolution on Cuba that says something about the human rights situation, that says the world is paying attention, is somehow a defeat," he said. "It's not. It's passing a resolution that says the world is concerned about the human rights situation in Cuba. That's what we wanted. That's what we got."

Spokesman Boucher declined comment on a New York Times report Thursday that the United States is considering a series of punitive measures of its own to punish the Cuban government for the crackdown, saying only that the administration "is always looking at steps that might be taken."

A senior official who spoke to reporters here said the administration had low expectations for the U.N. commission, given that it is chaired by Libya and includes nearly 20 other countries whose human rights records are described as poor by the State Department.

He said U.S. officials had not pinned their hopes on the "integrity and fortitude" of the panel, and were pleasantly surprised that the Cuba measure carried by a four vote margin.

On other actions by the commission, Mr. Boucher welcomed the approval of U.S. supported resolutions critical of human rights violations in Belarus, Turkmenistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the same time, he expressed disappointment over the defeat of resolutions expressing concern about rights violations in Chechnya and Sudan, and regretted the approval of a so-called "no-action motion" on Zimbabwe.

He said the no-action motion has the effect of denying the commission's right to discuss what he called the "egregious" human rights situation in Zimbabwe, and said the United States will continue to press the government of President Robert Mugabe to end rights abuses.

Mr. Boucher said the United States is disappointed that influential members of the Africa group on the commission helped block the Sudan resolution, which was turned down by a 26-to-24 vote. He called it a "clear failure" by the commission to "maintain a spotlight on the suffering imposed upon the Sudanese people."