The United Nations has far from a pristine history when it comes to holding the Castro dictatorship accountable for its 50-plus years of repression.
But the UN's Committee Against Torture deserves applause by inspiring a ridiculous comment from one of the dictatorship's mouthpieces in response to the panel's request Tuesday for information about the deaths of political prisoners Orlando Zapata and Wilman Villar and other human rights abuses in Cuba.
"(N)o one in our country has been persecuted or sanctioned for exercising their rights, including those of free expression and association," said Cuban deputy attorney general Rafael Pino.
A U.N. panel on torture Tuesday demanded that Cuba provide information on the deaths of several political prisoners, the repression of dissident groups such as the Ladies in White and the 2,400 arrests of government critics reported last year.
The demand came on the same day that Cuba's Granma newspaper and Prensa Latina news agency published reports defending the island's prison system, which faces allegations of "slave labor" in the 1980s and other current abuses.
Members of the U.N. Committee Against Torture, which is based in Geneva, requested the Cuban government explain the recent deaths of dissidents Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Wilman Villar after lengthy prison hunger strikes, and that of Juan Wilfredo Soto after an alleged beating by security officials.
Complaints that Cuban prisons are plagued by overcrowding, malnutrition, bad hygiene, and beatings for those who protest and forced exile for others have been received in Geneva, said panel member George Tugushi.
Cuba also has been asked to explain the "aggressions and harassments" against the Ladies in White, bloggers Yoani Sanchez and Orlando Luis Pardo and Zapata's mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, the panel noted during the first day of its two-day hearing on Cuba.
The U.N. committee also asked for explanations of the more than 2,400 short-term detentions of dissidents reported in 2011 by Havana human rights activists, including Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
"We want Cuba to clarify all these cases," said Nora Sveaass, one of the 10 panel members and a Norwegian human rights attorney, according to media reports from Geneva.
The panel, which monitors enforcement of the U.N. Convention on Torture and Other Physical Abuses and Transgressions, reviews the records of several U.N. member nations each year. This year it was Cuba's turn.
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