Venezuelan and Cuban activists lobby U.N. on human rights

GENEVA Wed Jun 18, 2014 1:51pm EDT

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay looks on after her address to the 26th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva June 10, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay looks on after her address to the 26th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva June 10, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA (Reuters) - Venezuelan and Cuban activists lobbied the United Nations on Wednesday to investigate the deaths of dozens of student protesters in Caracas and the jailing of Cuban dissidents.

The two Latin American powers, led by socialist Presidents Nicolas Maduro and Raul Castro, are members of the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council.

"We came to Geneva to ask the U.N. to send a mission to Venezuela to evaluate the cases of human rights violations that students have been subjected to," Eusebio Costa, a student activist and President of the Student Center at the Catholic University Santa Rosa in Caracas, told a news briefing.

He said 117 students are still being held, some in high-security military prisons, after three months of protests that began in the major oil-producing nation in February. Forty-two people including 38 students were killed in the violence.

The government says the protests were a veneer for a U.S.-backed conspiracy to oust the successor to the late Hugo Chavez.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, in an opening speech to the Human Rights Council on June 10, called for independent U.N. investigators to have access to Venezuela.

Venezuela last invited a U.N. human rights investigator in 1996, and Cuba in 2007, whereas 108 countries have extended standing invitations to all investigators, U.N. officials say.

'FINANCED BY FOREIGN POWERS'

So far, no country has presented a resolution on Venezuela or Cuba at the Council's three-week session ending on June 27.

Venezuelan student Alejandro Suarez Teppa, a national board member of the Juventud Activa Venezuela Unida (United Active Youth of Venezuela), recalled witnessing students being shot in February and said his student camp was attacked on the night of May 8.

"They put drugs and weapons inside the camps and U.S. dollars to indicate we were financed by foreign powers," he told reporters, saying he was beaten then held in isolation for 72 hours.

Venezuelan government supporters and even some in opposition have criticized demonstrators for blocking streets and staging violent confrontations with police.

Cuban activists, backed by groups including UN Watch, said authorities detained and assaulted Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, a dissident known as "Antunez" who previously served 17 years in prison, and his wife Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera last week.

The Cuban government says the activists are working for the United States to discredit Cuba.

Cuba in recent years has freed political prisoners and taken to temporarily detaining political opponents such as Antunez. Some 1,000 people a month are jailed and released within a few hours or days for political activity, Cuban dissidents say.

The Cuban government does not acknowledge the statistics and views the activists as mercenaries who are doing the bidding of the United States to undermine the 1959 revolution.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas and Daniel Trotta in Havana; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)