A Second Evaluation / Dimas Castellanos

Human Rights Council, UN, 30 April 2013. (CUBADEBATE)
Human Rights Council, UN, 30 April 2013. (CUBADEBATE)

On May 1 the government of Cuba was the subject for the second time of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a tool of the Human Rights Council (HRC) of the United Nations responsible for reviewing the obligations and commitments made by the members States in this area.

When this function was exercised by the former Commission on Human Rights, under the UN Economic and Social Council, the dispute between the governments of Cuba and the United States led to a growing politicization of the issue until if became a total bottleneck. Each year the same script is repeated: lobbying before and during the sessions, offensive debates, exchange of accusations, voting on a resolution and finally the Cuban government’s announcement of the defeat of imperialism. From that time until the next session nothing changed in Cuba, because when dealing with “false” and “gross” accusations of the enemy, there was nothing to change.

For Cubans what happened in Geneva had no effect on their lives, because conflicts between states tend to the underhanded and therefore to demobilize conflicts within states, and much more so when the external contradiction is brought to the fore. This situation was used by the Cuban authorities to support ideological nationalism and to “prove” to the world that in Cuba there were no human rights violations, it was all lies told by enemies.

For example, in 2002, in the month of January, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs accused the U.S. government of working with the foreign ministries of Latin American countries to present a resolution on “alleged” human rights violations. Thus the controversy moved from discussion of violations in Cuba to the conduct of the United States. Three months later, in response to the Mexican vote in Geneva against Cuba, the newspaper Juventud Rebelde launched a ruthless attack on Mexican president Vicente Fox, published in Mexico by La Jornada, in which it said that the President is “unable to defend the interests of Mexicans and is an embarrassment to Latin America.”

Since human rights precede and transcend politics, to put things in their place politicizes of the issue and on that basis promotes a peaceful and constructive debate, aimed at improving the real state of human rights in the Greater Antilles. This was enough to answer questions as simple as the following:

Can Cubans leave and enter the country without government permission? Can they associate independently of the state? Can they choose the type of education they want for their children? Can they participate as subjects in their nation’s economy? Can they disagree publicly with the government or the Communist Party without risk? Can they freely connect to the internet? Can they follow the ball in the major leagues on TV as is done with football? The answer was a single and simple: No. An answer sufficient to shed light on human rights within the country and turn the focus of attention on the allegations against Argentina, Mexico, the U.S. or any other state for “meddling” in the internal affairs and/or the lack of moral standing to condemn the Cuban government. Questions and responses that delimit the problem to discussing and drawing attention to the political will and the responsibility of the Cuban government to its people.

The Question Now

The UPR, unlike the former Human Rights Commission, is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations, composed of 47 member countries, which is led by a troika of rapporteurs and in the presence of the observer states, regularly reviews the status of human rights in UN member countries. The country examined presents a report to the group which starts a dialogue from which recommendations emerge. According to this procedure, Cuba received 88 recommendations in the first review in 2009. And on the basis of that opinion the Greater Antilles has just been submitted again for evaluation.

The Cuban Foreign Minister of the day, in the report, repeated the rhetoric against blockade imposed by the U.S., against the policy to impose “regime change” and enumerated the significant changes in the economy and society in the last two years. He asserted that “Cuba has continued to strengthen the democratic character of its institutions and freedoms of opinion, expression, information and news are recognized for all citizens,” without clarifying that these freedoms are constitutionally limited to defending the postulates of the ruling party, which explains that in Cuba the associations that can legally exist are created and subordinated to this end.

During the evaluation the majority of countries participating in the UPR praised the Island for its “progress” in relation to the Millennium Development Goals, especially in regard to education and access to health services and changes in immigration policy and the right of Cubans to work for themselves in a set of limited activities. But at the same time they urged the Government, among other things, to end the short term detentions, harassment and other repressive measures against activists and independent journalists, to reduce government control of the internet, to allow representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit prisons without limitation, to ratify the Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Cuba signed since 2008.

As a result of the evaluation, the HRC made 204 recommendations and suggestions more than in 2009, that is a total of 292. The comments correspond to the deplorable state of human rights in Cuba and correspond to the allegations made by the Cuban opposition inside and outside the country before and after the creation of the HRC, demonstrating conclusively that the absence of civil liberties and fundamental rights in Cuba have little to do with the dispute with or the “baloney” of the enemy. There is no denying that there have been some changes in human rights, but in a western country with a rich history in freedoms, the current state is deplorable and unsustainable, as these small measures implemented don’t even reach the level of respect for human rights that existed in Cuba since the second half of the nineteenth century.

An important step would be to start by ratifying the covenants Cuba signed five years ago, which, if made binding, could be a real sign of change.

However, we must recognize that the response of the island’s ambassador to the UN, arguing that of these recommendations “a large group” will be accepted and implemented “according to our possibilities and changing circumstances,” is at least some distance from those inflammatory speeches any time a remark is made about the Island.

Translated from Diario de Cuba

14 May 2013