August 4, 2008 / 6:16 PM / 11 years ago

New U.N. human rights body appoints Cuban chairman

GENEVA (Reuters) - A key United Nations human rights body on Monday appointed as its chairman for the next three years a Cuban law professor who has been a senior diplomat for the Havana government and spokesman for its foreign ministry.

The 73-year-old Miguel Alfonso Martinez, currently acting president of the Cuban Society for International Law, was elected to preside over its deliberations by the new 18-member Advisory Committee to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council.

Chosen as one of his two vice-presidents was a Russian law expert, Vladimir Kartashkin, who served in the foreign ministry of the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and for many years worked in the U.N. Secretariat in New York.

The other vice-president chosen by the Committee — which replaces the former U.N. sub-commission on the protection of human rights, was Egyptian company lawyer and campaigner for women’s rights Monar Zulfikar.

Members of the committee — which provides expertise to the 47-nation Council — are nominated by their governments but are expected to work independently and to take decisions without reference to the authorities of their home country.

The Council itself was set up two years ago to replace the U.N.’s discredited old Human Rights Commission.

But critics say the Council has also become a battleground between blocs of countries in which Islamic nations — usually supported by Russia, China and Cuba — scrap with Western countries over competing visions of human rights.

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