Global Policy Forum

Cuba Withdraws Guantanamo Resolution


By Jonathan Fowler

Mercury News
April 22, 2004

Cuba avoided a showdown with the United States on Thursday by withdrawing a resolution from the top U.N. human rights body that called for an investigation into the treatment of prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The resolution alleged widespread abuses at Guantanamo, where few of the more 600 terrorism suspects being held by U.S. authorities have been charged with crimes or given access to lawyers. But Cuban Ambassador Jorge Mora Godoy told the 53-nation commission he would not ask for a vote on the resolution because U.S. "threats and blackmail" had ensured its failure.

"Tangible is the fear of Western countries and some in Latin America to stand up with dignity to the fascist practices of the U.S. administration lest they receive reprimands and retaliations," he said. U.S. officials in Geneva declined to comment on Mora Godoy's allegations that they had bullied countries into voting against the resolution.

Before the start of the meeting, U.S. Ambassador Richard Williamson told reporters: "The United States has authority under the law of armed conflict to detain enemy combatants for the duration of hostilities. ... It's not a human rights issue."

The Cuban resolution called for an investigation by the commission's experts on torture, judicial independence and arbitrary detention. It was introduced April 15, immediately after the U.N. rights watchdog voted 22-21, with 10 abstentions, to call on the communist country to "refrain from adopting measures which could jeopardize the fundamental rights, the freedom of expression and the right to due process of its citizens."

"Those who accused Cuba and other Third World countries yesterday are today's accused," Mora Godoy said Thursday. "Their authority and prestige are already beyond salvation." The Guantanamo resolution had been expected to ignite fierce debate at the commission, which ends its annual six-week session Friday. But Mora Godoy and German Ambassador Michael Steiner, who thanked Cuba for withdrawing the resolution, were the only delegates to address Thursday's meeting.

Germany had been expected to use a "no action" procedural move to block debate on the resolution - a tactic regularly employed by developing countries, such as Cuba, to stop the commission from condemning their human rights records. In 2002, the United States began sending terrorism suspects to Guantanamo, a base on the eastern end of Cuba that America leases under an agreement predating Cuba's 1959 communist revolution. Most of those imprisoned in Guantanamo have been picked up in Afghanistan and Pakistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

U.S. human rights groups have also protested the detentions, and the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether federal judges should be permitted to hear complaints from the Guantanamo prisoners.

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