Friday, November 24, 2006

Cuba joins Iran to shame Canada at UN

Cuba joins Iran to shame Canada at UN

Steven Edwards
CanWest News Service

Friday, November 24, 2006

UNITED NATIONS - Some of the most popular holiday destinations for
Canadians have spurned helping Ottawa fight off Iran's bid to taint
Canada's human rights record.

In a showdown at the United Nations, Cuba joined Iran and four other
countries supporting Tehran's call for the world body to censure Canada
over its treatment of aboriginal Canadians and immigrants.

Various other countries popular with Canadian tourists stopped short of
speaking up for Canada by abstaining. Among them were China, Thailand,
Singapore, Barbados, Costa Rica, and South Africa.

The backbone of support for Canada came from Western democracies, and
the European Union, Australia and New Zealand went on record saying
Iran's anti-Canadian draft had been political retaliation for Canada's
leadership Tuesday in seeing Iran's human rights record condemned.

Human rights resolutions at the world body are meant to
''name-and-shame'' countries that abuse their citizens, but whether they
pass, they often reveal allegiances on the international stage.

Against the backdrop of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, Canada has
provided considerable political and economic support to Cuba over the
years, despite the island state's own internationally documented lapses
in respecting human rights.

Canadian tourists have also made Cuba one of their top five
destinations, and Statistics Canada figures show some 517,900 visited
last year, spending more than $457 million.

''That's almost a quarter of all the tourists Cuba received last year,''
said Maria Werlau, a Cuban exile who runs the human rights Free Society
Project from New Jersey, and has written on the importance of tourism to

''For Cuba to take this stance on a measure even they know is
politically motivated is a cheap shot, and Canadians need to be informed
about how Fidel Castro's government is repaying them for their indirect
support of his regime.''

Cuban officials couldn't be reached for comment but the Cuban UN
mission's Jorge Cumberbatch, addressing the world body last month on
Canada's draft against Iran, suggested Ottawa was doing Washington's

''Canada has become an accomplice in the war of adventures of its
imperial neighbour,'' he said.

Despite the accusation, Canada this month voted in favour of a UN
resolution calling on the U.S. to end its embargo against Cuba. This
year marks the fourth consecutive year, meanwhile, that Canada has
introduced and seen passed a resolution condemning Iran's human rights

By contrast, Cuba and Iran have been growing closer for some time, and
on a visit to Tehran, Castro reportedly said the two countries can
''bring America to its knees.''

The Iranian draft expressed a series of ''grave'' and ''particular''
concerns about the economic well being and treatment of aboriginal
peoples and immigrants in Canada.

It also ''deplores the worrying situation of female prisoners'' in
Canada - a clause some experts believe the Iranians inserted in
retaliation for Canadian condemnation of the 2003 torture and murder in
a Tehran jail of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi.

''There are many human rights advocates in Canada, including aboriginal
leaders; they can freely speak up; they are not in jail for having
expressed their opinions or claimed their rights,'' John McNee, Canada's
ambassador to the UN, said as he defended Canada's record just ahead of
the vote Wednesday.

China's representative said he hoped Ottawa would ''improve its human
rights situation.'' Almost 161,000 Canadians visited China last year,
depositing more than $304 million.

Abstaining without comment were Thailand, visited last year by 87,000
Canadians, who spent $140 million; and Singapore, visited by 66,400, who
spent more than $41 million.

Other Canadian tourist destinations that abstained were Antigua and
Barbuda, Belize, Ecuador, Kenya, Malaysia, Philippines, and Trinidad and

The resolution was rejected 107-6, with 49 abstentions - but even some
countries that supported Canada said they were doing so only because
they would rather see no ''country-specific'' resolutions at all.

Uzbekistan and Venezuela were among this group - two countries that
themselves face accusations of human rights abuses.

Besides Cuba, Iran got backing for its anti-Canadian draft from North
Korea, Syria, Myanmar, and Belarus.

CanWest News Service

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