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UN human rights commission condemns israel

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Posted on Thu, Apr. 14, 2005
U.N. rights commission condemns countries

Associated Press

GENEVA - The U.N. Human Rights Commission on Thursday condemned Israel's settlement of "occupied Palestinian territory" including the West Bank and Gaza Strip and demanded the government reverse the policy.

The 53-member U.N. watchdog also criticized Cuban rights abuses and requested the global body monitor the communist country. The commission was also expected to vote on resolutions condemning abuses in Belarus and Sudan.

The resolution on Israel, passed by a 39-2 vote with 12 abstentions, said the government should "prevent any new installation of settlers in the occupied territories." It called for Israel to guarantee the safety of Palestinian civilians. Australia and the United States cast the two votes against.

Censure by the commission brings no penalties but spotlights a government's record, and delegations lobby hard to avoid it.

Israel's Ambassador Itzhak Levanon said the one-sided resolution brought shame on the United Nations, noting that Israeli plans to withdraw from Gaza and the northern West Bank in a few months.

"If there is a dismantlement of settlements on the ground that will begin in a matter of weeks, what is the relevance of such a resolution?" Levanon said. "The adoption of this resolution is in fact a one-sided judgment on outstanding issues."

Mohammad Abu-Koash, the Palestinian ambassador, said that listening to Levanon, one could imagine that "Palestinians are the occupiers and the Israelis are the occupied."

Former U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, head of the U.S. delegation, said it was unfair to single out Israel.

Since capturing the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war, Israel has built numerous settlements the territories where Palestinians hope to form a future state. As part of the internationally backed "road map" peace plan, Israel is to freeze construction in settlements.

The commission also passed a resolution condemning the use of force by Israel against Palestinian civilians by a 29-10 vote. A third resolution calling on Israel to respect the human rights of Syrian citizens in the occupied Golan Heights was also adopted by a 32-2 vote.

The U.S.-sponsored resolution on Cuba, passed by a 21-17 vote, simply requested the commission renew resolutions from previous years condemning Cuba's rights record. The resolution also renewed top U.N. investigator Christine Chanet's mandate to report to the commission on the country's human rights situation.

"We have introduced this resolution because Cuba has not cooperated with the special procedures, it has not allowed a visit by the personal representative of the high commissioner and because the situation there has not improved," said Lino Piedra, a member of the U.S. delegation.

In Chanet's report to the commission presented last month, she noted the Cuban government's release of 18 political prisoners last year was a positive step, but did "not signify the end of the repression" because other political detainees were still behind bars.

"The Cuban government has failed to take the steps that would guarantee its own people the most basic human rights," Piedra said. "Instead, it has persisted in imposing a repressive and totalitarian state that deprives the Cuban people of the right to express dissent without risk of incurring a decades-long prison sentence, and moreover deprives them of a voice in any kind of possible political and economic reform."

Chanet, a French legal expert, urged Havana to improve its treatment of political prisoners and said Cuba should stop penalizing journalists, academics and activists for acts of free expression.

Cuba has never allowed a U.N. human rights envoy to visit the island, claiming such visits could infringe on its sovereignty. Chanet prepared her report based on meetings with campaigners, human-rights investigators and other governments.

But Cuba rejected the allegations, saying it was a small country defending "the noblest ideas and feelings."

"The government of George W. Bush has turned Guantanamo into an international torture center and Abu Ghraib into a living hell," Cuban representative Juan Antonio Fernandez told delegations. "The United States does not have the slightest moral justification to comment on the human rights in any country in the world."

Fernandez said Washington had been unable to find another country to propose the resolution, and so had to sponsor it itself. The United States has taken a back seat on the Cuban resolution in recent years, letting other countries take the lead.

The resolution on Sudan is likely to be the most contentious, as African countries such as Libya, Zimbabwe and Sudan itself may put forward a "no-action" motion, said Loubna Freih, Geneva director of Human Rights Watch.

Last year, the commission stopped short of formal condemnation of Sudan, which is accused of responding to a rebel movement in the vast western region with a campaign that has included wide-scale abuses against civilians. The two-year conflict in Darfur has left some 180,000 people dead and more than 2 million people displaced.

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