GENEVA (Reuters) – Cuba and the United States accused each other of violations on Tuesday as the gloves came off on the second day of a new U.N. human rights forum intended to rise above finger-pointing.
Cuba's Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque accused the United States of running a "concentration camp" at its Guantanamo naval base on Cuba, where some 460 terror suspects are being held.
Perez said in a speech that his country would "speak out for the rights of American people" as the United States does not have a seat on the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council.
But his remarks drew a sharp rebuke from the U.S. observer delegation for what it called Cuba's "gratuitous and unfounded attacks" against the United States.
"The American people need no one else to speak for them, particularly officials of an autocratic government," U.S. political counselor Velia De Pirro said in a right of reply to the remarks from the communist country's representative.
The U.S. delegate noted that Cuba, like other states to win election to the new human rights body, had pledged to promote human rights both in its territory and elsewhere.
"Cuba, rather than explain how it intends to comply with its pledge, chose instead to engage in gratuitous and unfounded attacks against the United States," De Pirro said.
The new Geneva forum, which replaces the widely discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission, opened its first session on Monday amid calls by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and others to avoid the finger-pointing and political point-scoring of old.
The United States chose not to stand for election to the U.N. watchdog, saying that not enough had been done to keep out states known to abuse human rights.
Much of the initial two-week session will be spent planning future work. Unlike the commission, which met annually, the council will meet at least three times a year.
China's Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi told the council to avoid the "political confrontation that led to the credibility crisis of the Commission on Human Rights."
It also needed to give more weight to economic, social and cultural rights because for many people in the developing world their rights were "curtailed by poverty, disease and environmental degradation," he said.
Akiko Yamanaka, Japan's vice minister for foreign affairs, said that the Council's credibility would hinge on whether it could pave the way for resolving grave human rights violations.
Serious violations include North Korea, which has admitted that it abducted Japanese citizens, she said.
"This abduction issue not only remains unresolved for Japan, but also has an international dimension which extends to multiple countries," Yamanaka said.
North Korea's human rights delegate Choe Myong Nam took the floor to say that the abduction issue had been fully resolved, but Japan continued to raise it as part of a "cunning plot".