Cuba puts on brave face, Czechs triumphant over resolution

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On Wednesday the United Nations Human Rights Commission narrowly approved a resolution voicing concern over human rights abuses in Cuba. It was the tenth rebuke to Fidel Castro's 'Island of Freedom' in 11 years, but this latest resolution was the third in a series of resolutions sponsored by the Czech Republic. It passed by the skin of its teeth - 22 countries voted in favour, 20 against, and there were 10 abstentions. And as Rob Cameron explains, getting this latest resolution passed was a severe test for Czech diplomacy.

The resolution calls for Cuba to release jailed dissidents and people imprisoned for their political, religious or social beliefs. The commission also appealed to Cuba to "open a dialogue with the political opposition" and invited the government "to afford Cuba full and open contact with other countries". But Cuba remained defiant after the vote: Cuba's Chargé d'Affaires in Prague, David Paulovich, told Radio Prague that the resolution was a moral victory for his country.

"We believe that this is not a defeat. We believe this is a moral victory. We are not violating human rights - this is a kind of propaganda, a kind of action against Cuba in order to justify all these blockades and all this political aggression and all these actions of terrorists in Cuba, all these elements who are living in Miami or other parts of the United States."

The Czech Republic has had to tread a delicate path to Geneva. Cuba - still smarting after two prominent Czech citizens were caught meeting dissidents in Havana earlier this year - has consistently lambasted Prague over its sponsorship of the resolution. In a defiant speech before the vote, a Cuban delegate blasted Prague for accepting "the humiliating task of holding up a fig leaf" for the United States. Another representative said the Czech Republic was trying to butter up to the European Union and the United States, using human rights as a pretext.

But the Czech Republic has also faced opposition from its own allies in the U.N.: the resolution was nearly sunk by a row with the United States over a paragraph describing the U.S. embargo against Havana as 'counter-productive.' Poland, originally a co-sponsor, pulled out over the U.S. embargo paragraph. President Havel was rumoured to have put pressure on Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, who began to look increasingly isolated as critics accused him of antagonising Washington. For a while Prague stuck to its guns, but changed language in the days running up to the resolution, saying they had found a compromise acceptable to everyone. The compromise seems to be more of a diplomatic fudge: by Wednesday the offending paragraph had been dropped completely.

Whether the Cuba resolution was a success or failure is probably a matter of personal opinion. But there's no arguing that trying to recruit the necessary support has been a valuable lesson for the Czech Republic.