- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

Cuba, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia have been elected to a five-member panel that will decide which complaints are heard by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights at its annual meeting in Geneva this spring.

U.S. and U.N. officials said the Working Group on Situations, which also includes Hungary and the Netherlands, will meet next month to review more than 80 complaints against dozens of countries — including the United States.

The presence in the group of what the West considers to be three of the world’s worst human rights abusers has angered the Bush administration, but officials said there was little that they could have done to prevent it.

“The members of the group are elected by their respective regions, and in Cuba’s case, for example, there were no other candidates from Latin America,” a U.S. diplomat said.

“Cuba is trying to turn this into a great victory and is using it to yield more influence,” the diplomat said.

Zimbabwe, he added, “clearly anticipates cases against it, so it wants to have the ability to influence decisions.”

Condoleezza Rice, who was sworn in Wednesday as secretary of state, labeled Cuba and Zimbabwe — along with Iran, North Korea, Burma and Belarus — “outposts of tyranny” during her Senate confirmation hearing last week.

Countries on the working group must be chosen from among the members of the 53-nation Commission on Human Rights, whose members also are elected by geographic regions to overlapping three-year terms.

“Having some of those countries there is not acceptable, but these are the rules,” the U.S. diplomat said. “That’s why the United States has been very consistent in calling for reform” of the commission and other U.N. bodies.

The commission’s budget comes out the overall U.N. budget, of which the United States contributes about 22 percent, said an official at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York.

Although each of the five regions — Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America — has five to 12 representatives on the commission, there are subcommissions and working groups to be staffed, so the competition is usually underwhelming, officials said.

The United States, which is included in the Western European group, has never been on the Working Group on Situations, although it is a member of the commission, the U.S. diplomat said, because “there are more important activities that require U.S. attention.”

At the same time, Washington has been able to have all previous complaints against it dismissed, he said.

When the group meets for a week on Feb. 7, it will review human rights complaints against governments that were filed during the past year, U.S. and U.N. officials said.

“They work in confidence and in closed sessions,” said Jose Diaz, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, whose office is separate from the Commission on Human Rights but works closely with it.

Every country that has a case against it is informed in advance and submits a response, officials said.

Members of the Commission on Human Rights include other countries with poor human rights records, such as China, Pakistan, Russia and Sudan, which was re-elected for another three-year term last summer despite accusations of massive abuses in the Darfur region.

Betsy Pisik in New York contributed to this article.

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