Group Urges U.N. to Back Cuba in Rights Row

About 200 intellectuals, activists and artists from Latin America and elsewhere issued a letter Monday urging the top United Nations human rights watchdog to side with Cuba (search) in an expected battle over the communist country's rights record.

A U.S.-backed resolution to condemn the island's record is usually presented at every spring meeting in Geneva of the U.N. Human Rights Commission (search), which this year was to open Monday and run through April 22.

No resolution targeting the island has emerged this year, but Cuba expects such a proposal will be presented and considered in mid-April. Last year's resolution passed narrowly, adopted by 22 votes to 21, with 10 abstentions.

"We urge the governments of the commission's member countries to not permit (the resolution) to be used to legitimize the anti-Cuban aggression of the administration of (President) Bush," the letter said.

Washington maintains a four-decades-old trade embargo against the island, and trade and travel restrictions have been steadily tightened in recent years.

Nobel Peace Prize laureates including Adolfo Perez Esquivel (search) of Argentina and Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala signed the letter, as did South Africa's Nadine Gordimer and Portugal's Jose Saramago, both recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Among American signatories were actor Danny Glover, author Alice Walker and historian and activist Howard Zinn. Other international figures included filmmaker Walter Salles of Brazil, the music group Manu Chau and France's former first lady, Danielle Mitterrand.

The letter said the U.S. government has no moral authority to criticize Cuba's human rights record after its own scandals over treatment of terror suspects at prisons in Iraq and the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

Some who signed the letter had criticized Cuba when the government sentenced 75 political opponents to long prison terms in 2003.