14ymedio, Havana, 3 July 2020 — The Cuban delegation blocked Ariel Ruiz Urquiola’s speech at the United Nations Human Rights Council three times this Friday in Geneva. The activist began to speak around 11:25 in the morning denouncing the Cuban medical missions as human trafficking. Just a few seconds later, Cuba asked to speak to raise a “point of order” (Articles 113 and 7 of the rules) and asked the presiding officer to withdraw the activist’s words.
The scuffle continued when Ruiz Urquiola spoke again, as he carried on with his plea as if nothing was happening, to which the Cuban delegation intervened again. This time, Venezuela, China, North Korea and Eritrea followed them, demanding that the speaker address the topic on the agenda, child trafficking, and said it was a violation of the agenda that the speaker used his time for other matters. Meanwhile, Australia asked for the floor to support the presentation of the Cuban biologist requesting that he be allowed to go on.
Ruiz Urquiola continued, this time arguing that Cuba denies medical treatment to opponents, such as his sister (an oncology patient) and himself, who claims to be a victim of HIV inoculation in an island hospital. But the interruptions returned in the same vein demanding that the vice president’s authority be respected by returning to the agenda item. During all of Ruiz Urquiola’s attempts to speak, the Cuban delegation banged on the table to make it difficult for parliament to listen.
Finally, after up to three interruptions, Ruiz Urquiola had to end his speach because his 90 seconds, the time available to each speaker, had expired.
Ariel Ruiz Urquiola had managed to speak thanks to a ceding of time by the NGO UN Watch. The order of the day indicated that the topic planned for this conference, which started yesterday, was trafficking in persons, specifically women and children.
After the countries spoke, it was the turn of the non-governmental organizations. When it was his turn to speak, Ruiz Urquiola established the link with the theme of the day by tying it to the working conditions to which the Cuban healthcare workers participating in missions abroad are subjected. However, the Cuban delegation said that medical cooperation has no relationship and the speaker only sought to divert attention by criticizing the Government, which they considered “a lack of respect” for the plenary.
Ruiz Urquiola was granted the NGO UN Watch’s turn to speak after spending several days protesting, including with a hunger and thirst strike, in front of the office of the High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, to whom he wanted to deliver a letter asking her to present his case “without intermediaries in plenary, as a victim of a crime against humanity, of torture, by the Cuban dictatorship.”
In the letter, the activist highlighted Cuba’s breaches of its commitments to human rights and insisted on the unfairness of his detention, as well as his status as a prisoner of conscience recognized by Amnesty International.
Tom Haeck, an official of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke with the scientist and assured him that he would try to convince is contacts so that he could present his case and be heard.
A biologist and doctor of science, Urquiola has participated in several research projects on Cuban biodiversity, especially related to marine and terrestrial species. He was expelled from the Center for Marine Research under the official excuse of unexcused absences, but, according to the scientist, it was a plot against him for not being “reliable” for the authorities of the scientific center due to his political inclinations.
Urquiola has previously conducted at least three other hunger strikes. One of them was in front of the Oncology Hospital in Havana, when his sister, Omara, was not given a medicine for the cancer she suffers from. The other two were carried out during his arrest in 2018 when he was sentenced to one year in prison for the alleged crime of “contempt.” On that occasion, the fast ended with the liberation of the scientist.
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