UN official wants to meet Cuban political prisoners

January 30th, 2009 - 4:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaVienna, Jan 30 (IANS) The UN special rapporteur on torture will insist on meeting political prisoners when he visits Cuba on behalf of the United Nations Human Rights Council.Austrian jurist and academic Manfred Nowak said he plans to make “unannounced” visits to all kinds of detention facilities while in Cuba and to spend time with every type of detainee, including those being held for political reasons, EFE reported.

“The Cuban government knows perfectly well my conditions for visiting a country. I want to meet alone with prisoners and their families,” he said, a day after Cuba announced that it would soon issues an invitation to the UN torture rapporteur.

Nowak said he also wants to talk to members of dissident groups as well as with Cuban President Raul Castro and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque.

He said he expects to spend at least a week on the communist-ruled island and expressed confidence the visit would materialise “in the course of this year”.

The rapporteur said he was happy to hear of the forthcoming invitation, which he described as a signal of change linked to the retirement of Fidel Castro - Raul’s ailing older brother - and to the inauguration of new US President Barack Obama.

One prominent Cuban dissident Thursday said that while he welcomes the invitation to Nowak, he doesn’t expect the visit to produce much in the way of results.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the banned Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said the practical impact of visits by UN rapporteurs would remain “insignificant” until the Castro government “demonstrates in deeds a sincere political will regarding respect for civil, political and economic rights”.

Though Foreign Minister Perez Roque asserted Wednesday that Cuba has a “clean conscience” in the matter of human rights, Sanchez’s group says the island’s roughly 210 political prisoners suffer under very harsh conditions.

After years of rejecting demands from the old UN Commission on Human Rights that a rapporteur be allowed to visit Cuba, Havana has adopted a more conciliatory stance toward the new Human Rights Council, of which it is a member.

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