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Cuba's Human Rights Record Under Scrutiny In Geneva

posted 1 May 2013, 12:04 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 1 May 2013, 12:05 ]

Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez says country 'deeply concerned' about rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay and defends the island's record on human rights; dissident says "low profile" repression continues in Cuba.

GENEVASWITZERLAND (REUTERS) - Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez spoke on Wednesday (May 1) at the United Nations Human Rights Council as Britain, Spain and France urgedCuba to allow freedom of expression and allow a visit by U.N. rights investigators.

Rodriguez accused the U.S. of making relentless attempts to get rid of theCommunist government and hit back at the U.S. for its human rights record, accusing it of "deaths and torture" at the military prison at the U.S. navy base at Guantanamo, south-eastern Cuba.

"We are deeply concerned about the legal limbo that supports the permanent and atrocious violation of human rights at the illegal (U.S.) Naval Base in Guantanamo," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said Cuba respected freedoms.

"Our country recognizes, respect and guarantees religious liberty without any discrimination whatsoever. In Cuba, there are around 400 religions and religious institutions. The rights to freedoms of opinion, expression, access to information and media are recognized for all of our citizens," he added.

Meanwhile, leading Cuban dissident Elizardo Sanchez, said the human rights situation in Cuba had not improved, despite a recent relaxation on travel restrictions.

Sanchez is president of the Havana-based independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights.

"We actually did a report of five pages but always knowing that the government will not respond positively. At some point, they will respond in a positive manner when an inevitable situation happens in Cuba which would be a change in the regime,"Sanchez said.

He added that the government has not stopped arbitrary detentions, opting only to change its techniques.

"For something like 10 years, political repression was based on very long prison sentences. Now they use a type of 'low-profile' repression," Sanchez said.

Sanchez is also expected to visit the European Parliament in Brussels and will also visit Spain and Britain.

Sanchez said the government continued to exert strict control on dissidents inCuba.

Sanchez told reporters that the government's 'minor changes' to its arbitrary detentions only made the number of political prisoners seem smaller.

"Once the government stopped using long prison sentences or, better said, as a result of not employing long prison sentences, the total number of political prisoners diminished over the last few years," he said.

Rodriguez's comments regarding Guantanamo Base comes one day after U.S. President Barack Obama said that holding prisoners in 'legal limbo' at the base was damaging U.S. interests. Early on Tuesday, Obama renewed an old vow to close the camp, where about 100 inmates are on hunger strike to protest against their years in detention without trial.

Human rights groups welcomed Obama's recommitment to shutting the prison.

President Raul Castro has introduced some economic and other reforms, but has stressed Cuba will continue along the revolutionary path.