By Lisa Schlein
Geneva, 25 March - In a major speech at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, the U.S. representative said several countries should be named as gross violators of human rights. The list of 17 countries includes Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe, North Korea and China.
The head of the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, Richard Williamson, singled out Cuba as a country where, he said, human rights abuses have worsened dramatically.
"In March 2003, 75 peaceful dissidents were sentenced to prison terms averaging 20 years for trying to exercise their fundamental rights. In Cuba, the discrimination continues," he noted. "The judiciary is not independent. There is repression. There is not freedom of the press or expression. Furthermore, inhumane prison conditions are common."
A Cuban representative replied by criticizing what he called the degrading treatment of hundreds of suspected terrorists held by the United States in Guantanamo, a corner of Cuba held by the United States. He accused the United States of distorting the situation in his country. However, in an independent report submitted to the Commission, a special U.N. investigator described as dismal the conditions under which imprisoned dissidents in Cuba are kept.
Ambassador Williamson also discussed what he called the worsening human rights record in Iran, where, he said, dissidents are harassed, prosecuted and threatened with jail. He criticized the ongoing violence and human rights abuses in the Russian republic of Chechnya, and the campaign of repression and intimidation against government opponents in Zimbabwe. He also said he is disappointed at the lack of improvement in China's human rights record.
"Regrettably, we saw backsliding on key human rights issues," he said. "Arrests increased of democracy activists. The Chinese government record in Tibet remains poor."
In response, China's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Sha Zukang, criticized what he said is a bad U.S. record on racial discrimination, police brutality and mistreatment of detainees.
"If the U.S. is really honest and concerned about human rights, then I will be very happy one day if the United States can table a resolution to name and shame yourself," he said. "We will suggest to the United States to buy a mirror and look at yourself in it. China is a poor developing country. If you do not have a mirror, we can buy one for you."
The United States has introduced resolutions at the Human Rights Commission condemning China's human rights record almost every year since 1989, when China cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. Last year, it did not sponsor such a resolution. But Washington has said it would do so again this year. None of the proposed resolutions has been approved. And observers believe China once again will avoid U.N. condemnation.