- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Cuba’s rise to the so-called action panel of the U.N. Human Rights Commission does not besmirch the U.N. body much. After all, the panel has long been discredited by the serial human-rights violators that stand among its 53 members. Cuba’s appointment does reflect poorly, though, on Latin American leadership and U.S. diplomacy.

Eleven Latin American countries on the U.N. Human Rights Commission (Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Peru) chose Cuba as their regional representative.

This occurred despite the fact that six of those countries — Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Peru — voted last year to condemn Cuba for its human-rights abuses.

Cuba is certainly in noteworthy company. Also appointed to the panel were Zimbabwe, representing Africa, and China, representing Asia. Serving on the action panel will allow those countries to help evaluate and decide which human-rights abuse complaints the U.N. commission will investigate at this year’s session, which begins in March.

Cuba’s appointment to the action panel has been strongly criticized by the executive director of Americas division of Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco. “It’s shameful that anyone would support Cuba to play any relevant role in the human rights machinery,” he said. The group has long advocated, reasonably enough, that the U.N. Human Rights Commission must be reformed. Human Rights Watch also has said that only members that meet certain standards should be allowed to serve on the body.

Latin American leaders do have credibility to lose. The region has made important, if not always linear, progress in establishing democracy and the institutions that support it. The region’s support of the Cuba appointment to the action panel simply cannot be justified. U.S. officials should have done more to head off the appointment.

U.S. and Latin American leaders should take this opportunity for some reflection, and ponder just what kind of governance and standards they support. Just two years ago, Fidel Castro threw 75 democratic activists in jail, with sentences of up to 28 years, for “crimes” that included publishing articles abroad and loaning out banned books. Cuba has been condemned by the U.N. Human Rights Commission 11 times in the past 12 years and has never allowed a U.N. monitor on the island.

Cuba’s rise to the panel represents a political paradox. Do Latin American leaders really want to be represented by the region’s only non-democratic leader?

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