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U.N. Rights Body Condemns Iran

The top U.N. human rights watchdog censured Iran on Friday, voting "yes" to a European Union resolution condemning the country for stifling press freedom and allowing "cruel executions."

The European Union mustered 21 votes in favor of the resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Commission, winning support from the United States, Canada, Japan and Latin American countries.

Seventeen countries - including Russia, China, India and Indonesia - voted against, with 15 abstaining.

The EU resolution to the 53-member commission denounced a lack of "freedom of ... expression, especially attacks against the freedom of the press," and condemned "the imprisonment of journalists and the harsh reaction to student demonstrations."

It cited "unsatisfactory compliance with international standards in the administration of justice, in particular public and especially cruel executions."

It also criticized Iran for failing to cooperate with U.N. human rights experts, who have been denied access to the country since 1996.

But Iranian Ambassador Ali Khorram attacked the resolution.

"The real aim of the sponsors ... is not the promotion of human rights, but rather ... yet another means of domination over the developing countries," he told the commission. Iran had faced such resolutions at the commission for 18 years, he said, and they were
"ineffective and fruitless."

"I do not claim there are no ... violations of human rights in Iran," he said. But "the protection and promotion of human rights ... are fundamental principles to which my government is fully committed."

He said Iran was moving toward democracy, and authorities were serious about applying the human rights set out in the country's constitution.

On Wednesday, the commission postponed voting on an EU resolution criticizing Russian actions in the breakaway republic of Chechnya after the European Union asked for more time for last-minute negotiations.

The EU resolution condemns Russia for "attacks against civilians" and breaches of international law, as well as "serious violations of human rights" including "forced disappearances" and summary and arbitrary executions.

It expresses concern about the slow pace of Russian internal investigations into alleged human rights abuses by its troops in Chechnya and also attacks the actions of Chechen rebels, who are accused of torture, taking hostages and the indiscriminate use of
land mines.

The Russian delegation at the commission has been locked in talks with the European Union in an attempt to head off a vote by producing a softer consensus statement.

Commission procedures mean consensus must be reached by late Friday afternoon, otherwise the vote will take place next week.

Last year, attempts to produce a similar statement failed and Russia became the first permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to be censured by the commission for human rights abuses. The other four permanent mebers are China, the United States, Britain and France.

But human rights campaigners have criticized attempts to avoid a vote.

"It would be scandalous if no vote took place," Joanna Weschler, U.N. representative of Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press. She said Russia's own investigations into abuses were neither thorough nor credible and its rights violations needed to be highlighted.

During commission votes Wednesday, China blocked a U.S. resolution to condemn its human rights record.

However, the commission voted 50-1 to censure Israel for allowing Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, with only the United States taking Israel's side.

A resolution condemning Cuba's human rights record passed by a slimmer margin - 22-20 with 10 abstentions.

Censure by the U.N. body brings no penalties but draws international attention to a country's human rights record.

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