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U.N. council halts permanent probes of Cuba, Belarus

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THE WASHINGTON TIMES NEW YORK — The U.N. Human Rights Council yesterday ended permanent investigations of Cuba and Belarus as terms expired for nearly one-third of its 47 member nations.

The action came during a 14-hour meeting setting out procedures for the new council, which was formed a year ago to replace the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission.

The council's charter preserves the watchdog's right to appoint special investigators, known as rapporteurs, for countries with poor human rights records.

But delegates yesterday voted to eliminate those investigators for Cuba and Belarus, a move opposed by the United States. Neither had allowed the U.N. rapporteur to visit their countries.

"I would like to propose we accept this text as a compromise," the council's chairman, Mexican Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, said to applause from exhausted delegates, Reuters news agency reported last night.

The compromise allows the Geneva-based council to censure human rights abusers with a simple majority of member nations. The so-called "name and shame" tactic can be employed by the council year after year.

China had sought, unsuccessfully, to require a two-thirds majority to censure a country.

The council kept nine nations on the list for continued scrutiny, including North Korea, Cambodia and Sudan, and it agreed to continue monitoring the Palestinian territories.

Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said his group was reasonably pleased with the outcome.

"Overall it's not ideal, but it's much better than we feared and it's certainly something we can live with," he said of the compromise.

He said that the council retains the power to condemn governments by name with a majority vote, and said that the worst offenders would probably not be able to hide behind one another.

The council spent most of its first year, which ended yesterday, discussing rules and procedures.

It was designed to reduce the number of openly repressive governments represented, such as Zimbabwe and Libya.

Governments campaigning for membership were encouraged to submit pledges of fairness and probity.

Nearly half of the council's members have drawn scrutiny from Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and other international rights groups.

Cuba has a rich history of jailing political dissidents, squashing free press and controlling the economy.

Despite the mysterious year-long illness afflicting its leader, Fidel Castro, the situation in Cuba has remained largely unchanged.

The recuperating Mr. Castro wrote in a front-page editorial published throughout the island yesterday:

"Cuba will continue developing and perfecting the combative capacity of its people, including our modest but active and efficient arms industry, against any invader that it comes across, no matter what weapons they have."

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