Wednesday, June 9, 2010

U.N. torture sleuth says Cuba blocked visit

U.N. torture sleuth says Cuba blocked visit
Robert Evans
Wed Jun 9, 2010 1:04pm EDT

GENEVA (Reuters) - Cuba has told the United Nations special investigator
on torture that he cannot visit the island on a fact-finding mission
although an invitation was issued to him last year, the official said on

Austrian lawyer Manfred Nowak, known for his frank talking to both
developed and developing countries on the issue, said in a statement
Havana had told him it could not receive him before his mandate runs out
at the end of October this year.

"I regret that, in spite of its clear invitation, the government of Cuba
has not allowed me to objectively assess the situation of torture and
ill-treatment in the country by collecting first-hand evidence from all
available sources," he declared.

But in a response from its diplomatic mission in Geneva, Cuba said the
invitation remained in force, although it needed no assessment of the
rights situation in the country.

"There has not been one case of extra-judicial execution or of forced
disappearance in Cuba," a statement said. "Few countries can boast of
the results achieved in Cuba in the treatment of people in prison and
their full reinsertion into society."

Nowak said Cuba invited him in February 2009 to make a visit but since
then had failed to agree on a date.

Nowak has been six years in his post, formally titled special rapporteur
to the U.N.'s Geneva-based Human Rights Council, and has already made
clear he will step down when his mandate is over.

Diplomats at the council -- now holding a three-week session -- said
Havana was showing special sensitivity over its jailing of dissidents,
one of whom died in prison in February. Cuba says it has no political
prisoners and jails only criminals.

Earlier this year, Nowak told reporters he had been frustrated by the
lack of cooperation he had received in his investigations from many
governments -- including some, like communist-ruled Cuba, who are
members of the 47-nation council.

Another investigator, Australian lawyer Philip Alston, said last week
that the council -- where a developing country bloc that shields its
members from criticism holds a clear majority -- was ignoring killings
in countries like Iran and Sri Lanka.

Alston, who reports on extra-judicial executions and has just authored a
report strongly critical of U.S. unmanned rocket attacks on suspected
terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, said the council had a
single-minded focus on Israel.

Nowak, who also angered the former U.S. administration of George W. Bush
with criticism of conditions at the Guantanamo detention center on Cuba,
has also made no secret of his disillusion with the council itself.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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