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 Home > News & Policies > April 2003

Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, April 29, 2003 (Full Transcript)

One announcement, and then I'll be happy to take your questions. Literally just a few moments ago, the United Nations voted to reelect Cuba to the Human Rights Commission. This is a setback for the cause of human rights. Cuba does not deserve a seat on the Human Rights Commission. Cuba deserves to be investigated by the Human Rights Commission. The action taken in the United Nations -- the Human Rights Commission at the United Nations comes upon, immediately upon Cuba's actions of rounding up 78 independent journalists, librarians and opposition leaders and sentencing them to 28 years in prison. Having Cuba serve again on the Human Rights Commission is like putting Al Capone in charge of bank security. It was an inappropriate action that does not serve the cause of human rights in Cuba or at the United Nations.

QUESTION: Does the administration, does the President envision any kind of action that he might take in the United Nations to formally protest this seating of Cuba?

MR. FLEISCHER: We deplore the action. We will speak out against the action. But this is an action taken by the United Nations through their Economic and Social Committee -- that was where the vote took place to reelect Cuba to the Commission. The action has been taken.

QUESTION: Ari, on Cuba, what good is a human rights organization that within days of a government arresting all these dissidents and poets and jailing them, elects that government to the Human Rights Commission? What does the President see as the usefulness, and what worth does he see in the expenditure of American tax dollars to go to such an organization?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Human Rights Commission undermines its own credibility at the United Nations when they allowed Cuba to get reelected. The Human Rights Commission not only hurts the people of Cuba, but they hurt the very cause in which nations should sign up to serve on the Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Commission wanted to send investigators into Cuba, and Cuba said, no. And yet today, Cuba gets reelected to the Human Rights Commission. It raises troubling issues, and that's why the United States is speaking out about it. We hope others will speak out.

QUESTION: Right now, though, speaking out is all the President intends to do, that he intends to continue to contribute and other ways that the United States does to this organization?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is no change in our overall position toward the United Nations. The United Nations continues to pursue other areas that do good around the world. But in this case, the Human Rights Commission voted to reelect a nation that would -- deserves to be the object of an investigation, not a duly elected member of the Human Rights Commission.

QUESTION: On the Cuba vote, did we take any actions at the U.N. to try to bring about a different outcome on the vote?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly we worked the vote. The Economic and Social Committee makes its own determinations up. And you have to keep in mind that Libya is the chairman of this committee. There are some things that happen at the United Nations that it's very hard for anybody to explain.

QUESTION: Ari, back to Cuba for a moment. There have been any number of delegations going to Cuba for trade purposes in the past year or so. Would the President -- given what happened at the U.N. today, would the President be inclined to tighten restrictions or put a clamp on increased trade -- albeit small, but it has been increasing -- would he be inclined to do that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has been vociferous in saying that we should not lift the sanctions, change the sanctions aimed at Cuba. In fact, if you recall, the President went to Florida and made a speech about the Cuba policy, and he actually offered Cuba an opportunity to change its relationship if they would welcome in democracy and make changes in their human rights situation. The President offered to take new steps, and Cuba, unfortunately, went in the exact opposite direction and increased its repression of its people.

QUESTION: What do you make of that?

MR. FLEISCHER: We make of it that Fidel Castro is an outright, absolute dictator who has no interest in the lives or the suffering of his own people. He only has interest in keeping himself in power at the expense of those people.

QUESTION: Ari, to follow on some earlier questions, what benefit does the United States see to remaining a member of a Human Rights Commission that has Libya as a chair, and reelects Cuba despite what it's doing to its citizens?

MR. FLEISCHER: It is troublesome. But we believe by being a part of the Human Rights Commission we can work from the inside, as well as from the outside, to effect positive change. But it certainly does raise eyebrows and raise questions about the United Nations Human Rights Commission's commitment to human rights. It does raise those questions. You cannot get around it. The United Nations Human Rights Commission cannot expect to have Libya be its chair, to reelect Cuba, and not have people wonder if they really do stand for human rights, or not.