Introduction by Tania Quintero
On December 10, 2010, without resources, publicity, or fanfare, attorney and freelance journalist Laritza Diversent founded a modest office in her home to provide free, independent advice to Cubans and foreigners on national and international legal issues and human rights. She established the Cubalex Legal Information Center. Over time she was joined by other lawyers, such as Yaremis Flores and her husband Veizant Boloy. These three young people are of Afro-Cuban origin and humble backgrounds. Cubalex also investigates and reports to international and regional organizations regarding individual complaints of human-rights violations on the island. It is located at the corner of 169 Lindero and Angeles, El Calvario, Havana, Cuba 13900. Telephone: (0053) 5-241 5948 (Laritza’s cell). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Any help is welcome.
On Cubanet you can read the two reports presented by Cubalex in Geneva, at the 55th meeting of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which on July 8 and 9 was dedicated to analyzing the situation of Cuban women. The following is the report of Laritza Diversent.
Report from Laritza Diversent
Cubalex presented a “shadow” (alternative) report to CEDAW. Yaremis Flores and I, representing the Cubalex office, participated in the meeting of the experts with NGOs from the countries that were studied at the 55th session, including Cuba.
On Saturday, July 6, we traveled to Switzerland, coincidentally sharing the flight with some members of the official Cuban delegation that participated in the examination. Upon arrival at the airport in Geneva, there were other members of the delegation. One of them, after talking on the phone and looking at us repeatedly while we were waiting for our luggage, came over and took our photo without our permission.
He said it was “so we would look beautiful in the press” and sarcastically welcomed us to Geneva. We told him we were prepared to be photographed by State Security. Then he said he was from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that he had studied at the Law School, had graduated in 2004, and knew us both. A pity that we didn’t remember him. If he publishes our photo, we will post his, when giving messages to the members of the Cuban delegation.
On Monday the 8th we turned up early at the United Nations headquarters for the process of accreditation; we had previously requested this and had received confirmation that we were accredited. Yet strangely, our registration did not appear in the database. We had to wait two hours for the confirmation of our accreditation.
After verifying the location of the private meeting with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), we made sure to contact the International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW), an NGO that organizes the private meetings between the Committee and NGOs from the countries that are being examined, to confirm our presence.
Representatives of this organization were surprised that an NGO based in the island presented a report critical of the situation of Cuban women, because the rest of the national organizations, including the National Union of Jurists, and the Cuban Association for Animal Production, supported the state report.
Earlier that morning, NGOs recognized by the Cuban government had presented themselves there to confirm their participation. Strangely, they asked if there would be other participants. Until then, IWRAW was not aware of our presence in Geneva.
We returned to the room where the meeting would take place and found the supposed lawyer for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We then learned that our presence had caused problems in the Permanent Mission of Cuba in Geneva. They thought we were going to pull out posters and yell anti-government slogans.
As a precaution, we stayed in the meeting place and waited until it started, to head off any manipulation or government action. After the presentations, the NGOs recognized by the regime, instead of speaking privately with the Committee about the problems of Cuban women, devoted their efforts to discrediting us.
They claimed that Cubalex consisted of only five members, who responded to the interests of the United States, a country which for more than 50 years had imposed a “blockade,” the main cause of violence and discrimination against women in Cuba. They also said that our report lacked objectivity, had little technical rigor, and manipulated the information.
Among other insults, they categorized us as amateurs. They questioned the financing of our trip, claiming that they had to seek help from UN agencies. The Committee had to ask them to stop their attacks and concentrate on the problems of Cuban women.
But they were unable to answer direct questions from the Committee about prostitution, civil unions, and whether a woman who was a victim of violence could be represented by a lawyer. They sowed confusion and wasted time on political speeches, preventing the Committee from clearing up its doubts on these subjects.
For our part, we raised these issues, which we consider the most alarming about the situation of women in Cuba. We warned about recent amendments to the Criminal Code and how it might affect women as victims.
The strategy of these government NGOs, both in the private meeting and at the meeting of the Committee with the NGOs from the countries to be examined, was to consume the time allotted to the country, to prevent us from speaking. They repeated everything that was in their reports, supporting the government. A position that was also requested by the Committee.
At the meeting with NGOs in the countries to be considered at the 55th session (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Afghanistan, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom), one of the experts directed a question to Cubalex, and members of the official Cuban NGOs consumed all the time, and we could not answer. That position was requested by the Committee Chair, who asked us to present additional information in writing, which we did the following day.
Our perception is that the quasi-state NGOs and the Permanent Mission of Cuba in Geneva were nervous and undiplomatic in the face of our unexpected presence. The person who said he was from the Foreign Ministry accosted us at our arrival and tried to intimidate us, hostilely taking our photos without our permission. The NGO officials showed a lack of education and respect.
As independent lawyers based in Havana, we are pleased with our first experience at the United Nations. We were able to take the opportunity to criticize the Cuban government in a setting where it had never been confronted by an NGO that it does not recognize.
Despite the pressures and provocations, we maintained our equanimity, always respecting the place (Palace of the Nations, the main UN headquarters in Geneva), and the honorable members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Before, it was very comfortable for the so-called Cuban NGOs to beguile with many words, without saying anything and without fear of contradiction. The Members of the Committee members felt uncomfortable about the hostility and lack of diplomacy that the Cuban delegation showed toward us.
Translated by: Tomás A.
11 July 2013