UN Must Condemn Cuba For Beating OF NGO Representative

New York

The beating by Cuban officials of a member of a nongovernmental organization at the United Nations in Geneva should be considered a criminal act for which the Cuban government must be censured, Freedom House said today.

After the United Nations Commission on Human Rights narrowly passed a resolution today critical of Cuba, members of Cuba's governmental delegation attacked Frank Calzon, executive director of the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba.

The attack took place inside the United Nations building in Geneva.

Witnesses said a Cuban delegate punched Mr. Calzon, knocking him unconscious. UN guards reportedly protected him from further assault by additional members of the Cuban delegation. The attack occurred shortly after the Commission passed a resolution critical of Cuba's human rights record.

Calzon directed Freedom House's Cuba programs for over ten years.

Members of the Cuban delegation have also intimidated and threatened Freedom House representatives at recent meetings of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

"This type of behavior is not just a breach of diplomatic protocol, but is itself a human rights violation," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "A brutal attack inside the very building where the Commission on Human Rights meets only underscores the deep crisis the Commission finds itself in today," she said.

Countries like Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China, and Zimbabwe, enjoy membership on the Commission. They and other repressive regimes lobby aggressively to prevent passage of condemnatory resolutions.

"The climate of immunity and impunity that today prevails at the Human Rights Commission must end," said Ms. Windsor. "The United Nations must make it abundantly clear to all delegations that intimidating and physically assaulting anyone on or off UN grounds is unacceptable and punishable, despite Cuba's claims of diplomatic immunity. The credibility of the Commission and of the UN is on the line," she said.

The 53-member Commission passed the resolution on Cuba by a vote of 22-21, with 10 abstentions. While critical of Cuba's treatment of dissidents, the resolution does not call for the release of 75 peaceful reform advocates, jailed by the Cuban government one year ago, some for up to 28 years.

"It appears that the only way to pass a resolution against Cuba was to phrase it in mild and vague language," said Ms. Windsor. "That a relatively weak resolution passed by only one vote is an additional item of concern."

A Freedom House delegation recently returned from Geneva, where it presented its annual list of the "Most Repressive Societies" to the Commission on April 2. Five of the fifteen countries are members of the Commission.

The report, titled "The Worst of the Worst: The World's Most Repressive Societies, 2004," includes detailed summations of the dire human rights situations in Burma, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. Chechnya, Tibet, and Western Sahara are included as territories under Russian, Chinese, and Moroccan jurisdiction respectively.

The report is excerpted from Freedom House's annual global survey, Freedom in the World 2004. The countries deemed the most repressive earn some of the worst numerical ratings according to the survey's methodology.

Significantly, five of the fifteen most repressive governments -- those of China, Cuba, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan -- are members of the Commission on Human Rights, representing nearly 10 percent of the total membership.

"The influence of this group of states on the Commission's proceedings highlights the urgent need for the democratic member states of the UN body to finally band together and create a permanent democracy caucus that would work as an effective counter-bloc," said Ms. Windsor.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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