GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations’ top human rights body voted narrowly on Thursday to rebuke Cuba over its rights record and urged the Communist country to accept a visit from a special U.N. investigator.
The Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights called on Cuba to guarantee freedom of expression and religion and to begin a dialogue with Cuban political groups and thinkers to develop democratic institutions and civil liberties.
It also deplored the heavy sentences handed down to 75 dissidents rounded up a year ago, but stopped short of demanding their immediate release.
The motion, one of the most politically charged of the commission’s six-week annual session, was proposed by Honduras and supported by the United States and the European Union.
As happened last year, it passed by just one vote—22 to 21, with 10 abstentions—with a number of Cuba’s Latin American neighbors joining the criticism of the government of the island’s Marxist ruler, Fidel Castro.
Both Washington and Havana had lobbied hard before the vote at the 53-member commission and a furious Cuba accused Honduras of acting on the instructions of the U.S. government.
“We are outraged at the shameful role of the Honduran government,” senior Cuban foreign ministry official Juan Antonio Fernandez told the commission.
The Cuban government has so far refused to allow the special U.N. investigator, French magistrate Christine Chanet, who was appointed last year, to travel to the island.
Chanet said in her first report in February that dozens of dissidents were being held in alarming conditions, isolation cells or facilities crammed with “common criminals.”
But Cuba accused the commission of “double standards” and said that instead of criticizing Havana it should be condemning Washington for running a “concentration” camp at the Guantanamo naval base on Cuban territory, where hundreds of suspected al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are being held.