* Cuba leads tribute to late Venezuelan leader
* Geneva forum has criticised rights abuses there
* Raised case of detained judge this week
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, March 6 (Reuters) - The United Nations' main human
rights forum observed a minute's silence on Wednesday for the
late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez whose record it has often
criticised over the years.
The U.N. Human Rights Council has voiced repeated concerns
about freedom of expression, lack of independence of the
judiciary, restrictions on activists, and arbitrary detentions
in Venezuela under Chavez who died on Tuesday.
The ambassador of Cuba - which has declared three days of
mourning for its ally Chavez - led diplomats in Geneva in
observing the minute's silence.
"On behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean states, we
wish to express our deep solidarity with the people and
government of Venezuela, particularly the family members and
friends of Commandante Chavez," Ambassador Anayansi Rodriguez
"Chavez was key in Latin America's advance towards its
second independence. He worked tirelessly not only for his
people, but for the betterment of the nations of Latin America
and the Caribbean," she said.
Under Chavez, Venezuela achieved most of the ambitious U.N.
targets for improving health and education, known as the
Millennium Development Goals, Cuba's envoy said.
"Chavez has not died, he didn't enter history yesterday, he
entered history a decade ago when he began the Bolivarian
Revolution and the struggle for real Latin American
integration," she said.
Poland's Remigiusz Achilles Henczel, who holds the Council's
rotating presidency, said: "We reiterate on behalf of the
Council our condolences to the people and government of
Venezuela at the death of Hugo Chavez."
Venezuela became one of the council's 47 members this year,
under a system where member countries are selected by the U.N.
General Assembly. Western states expect it to vote along similar
lines of Cuba on issues such as Syria and North Korea, now that
its Caribbean ally is no longer a member.
The Council, which is holding its main annual four-week
session, on Tuesday discussed cases of arbitrary detention,
including that of Venezuelan judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni Mora.
Afiuni has been held since December 2009 and was raped in
detention, independent U.N. experts said last month. She was
jailed after allowing the release of a businessman charged with
subverting currency controls, saying his pre-trial detention was
longer than generally allowed under Venezuelan law.
"Judge Afiuni's situation is an emblematic case of reprisal
for having cooperated with one of the U.N.'s human rights
organs," Margaret Sekaggya, U.N. special rapporteur on human
rights defenders, said in a Feb. 14 statement.
Venezuela's delegation on Tuesday denounced her "fraudulent
activities and refusal to appear before the court".
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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