Cuba and Iran blast U.S. human rights at U.N. forum

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States defended its human rights record on Friday from criticism from foes including Cuba and Iran, who called for it to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad.

A U.S. delegation also heard demands for an end to discrimination against minorities and immigrants and a banning of the death penalty.

The debate took place in the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is gradually reviewing the performance of all 192 U.N. member states.

“While we are proud of our achievements, we are not satisfied with the status quo. We will continue to work to ensure that our laws are fair and justly implemented,” Michael Posner, assistant U.S. secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, told the Geneva forum.

But diplomats from countries at odds with Washington -- some of whom queued overnight to be among the first on the speakers’ list -- hammered the U.S. delegation for alleged abuses.

Cuban ambassador Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez spoke first, calling on Washington to end the blockade on his island country and respect the Cuban people’s right to self-determination.

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Venezuela’s envoy German Mundarain Hernandez said it should “close Guantanamo and secret detention centers around the world, punish those people who torture, disappear and execute detainees arbitrarily and provide compensation to victims.”

Iran’s delegation urged the United States to “halt serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law including covert external operations by the CIA carried out on pretext of combating terrorism.”

Harold Koh, State Department legal adviser, said the Obama administration had begun by “turning the page” on Bush-era practices and fully ensured humane treatment of detainees.

“Let there be no doubt, the United States does not torture and it will not torture,” Koh declared.

“President Obama has clearly and unequivocally ordered and remains committed to the closure of Guantanamo as a facility. While that commitment has not wavered, the task is enormously complex,” said Koh, a former dean of Yale University law school.

Closing the U.S. detention facility in southeastern Cuba, which now holds 174 security detainees, required help from America’s allies and the U.S. courts and Congress, he said.

The United States submitted a 29-page report to the 47-member forum listing achievements and conceding shortcomings.

“Freedoms of speech, assembly, thought and conscience and religion remain vigorously respected,” Posner said on Friday.

“We have expansive legal protection against unfair discrimination and in the last half century have made significant progress in ensuring that the law protects equal opportunities for all Americans in areas such as education, employment, health, and voting.”