TOPICS : Wrong use of UN human rights group

Ian Gibson

Kofi Annan has told the UN Human Rights Commission it needs reform. Its loss of credibility, he warned, was harming the UN. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have argued that the manipulation of the commission by member states for political purposes is damaging its ability to serve the millions who suffer abuses. There is no more striking example of this than the way in which the US annually uses the commission as a platform to attack Cuba — and then uses its condemnation to justify the continuing blockade of the country. This year more than 4,500 intellectuals, including Mikhail Gorbachev and five Nobel prize winners, have signed a letter calling on member states to reject Washington’s resolution on Cuba.

This is not to suggest that Cuba is a paragon of virtue. There are significant human rights problems in Cuba and it would be ridiculous to pretend otherwise. The question is whether concerns about Cuban human rights merit the treatment they receive at the commission - and whether the US has any moral authority to impose its will. Cuba is the only country in the world subjected annually to a resolution condemning its human rights record. Despite the fact that Cuba’s record is exemplary compared with, say, US allies such as Colombia or Saudi Arabia, these countries are not subject to US-sponsored condemnation. So biased is the tactic that in order to get the resolution passed, the US ritually resorts to economic blackmail. By threatening to withdraw aid, by offering loans, or by bullying, the US bends countries to its will. Even so, last year the resolution only squeaked through by one vote. To its shame, Britain has been one of only five other countries that has always co-sponsored the US resolution and is accused by Cuba of using blackmail to help its ally. In 2001, there was evidence that Britain had threatened to withdraw support for an anti-Aids project in Kenya if it failed to abstain on the vote.

Such tactics turn the commission into a stick with which rich countries beat developing nations while avoiding being held to account for their own abuses. This year, the issue has become even more serious in the wake of revelations about the US treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo, and by Britain in Belmarsh jail in London. While the EU is expected to support the US condemnation of Cuba, there is widespread cynicism about the chances of a similar resolution on the US treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo. Last year, after it became obvious that the US had browbeaten enough countries, the Cuban government

withdrew its resolution on Guantanamo. The same thing is expected to happen this year. So while the commission will most likely condemn Cuba, it will not even debate the situation in the US prison on the same island, where torture has been extensively documented, or Abu Ghraib, where it has been photographed. The disproportionate and vindictive treatment of Cuba must be stopped. And the way in which the rich countries manipulate the commission needs to be addressed. The US will use another ill-gotten resolution to defend its continuing blockade, itself condemned by the UN as illegal. It is this greater crime that is being obscured. —The Guardian