Cuba’s Alleged Expatriation of Dissidents

On June 19, in Madrid, the Spanish-based Cuban Prisoners Defenders released a report documenting the Cuban government’s forcing dissidents to go into exile in an attempt to weaken its political opposition .[1]

The report names 35 activists, independent journalists and artists who were expelled over the past two years. If they did not leave, the report asserts that Cuban security threatened them with prison or bodily harm and harassed their families. In addition, this month there are at least 42 additional dissidents who were being pressured to leave the island.

This report will be submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

===========================================

[1] Reuters, Cuba Forces Dissidents Into Exile, Advocacy Group Says, N.Y. Times (June 19, 2019); ‘Forced Expatriations’: new denunciation against Cuban regime before the UN, Diario de Cuba (June 19, 2019); Cuban Prisoners Defenders, FACEBOOK.

 

;

 

More Thoughts on Commission on Unalienable Rights

Carol Giacomo, a member of the New York Times Editorial Board and a former diplomatic correspondent for Reuters, has expressed her concern over the State Department’s creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights,[1] which was discussed in prior posts.[2]

She says the Department’s Human Rights Bureau and Congress were not included in the decision to establish this Commission. Instead it was a personal project of Secretary Pompeo and that next month the Department plans to say more about it. This underscores the concern that this commission is motivated by conservative political and religious beliefs and organizations.

This concern, she claims, also is illustrated by Vice President Pence’s promotion of religious freedom as “our first freedom” and arguing that human rights are becoming politicized and conflated with economic and social goals.

Another is a statement by a conservative religion commentator, R.R. Reno, that he is “increasingly against human rights” which “as the epitome of social responsibility short-circuits collective judgment and stymies action for the sake of the common good.” Reno is the Editor of First Things, a publication of the Institute on Religion and Public Life that “keeps its eyes on first things: our religious faith, love of family and neighbor, the sanctity of life, the achievements of Western civilization, and the dignity of the human person.”

Giacomo also reports that the House of Representatives is considering a proposal to restrict funding for this new entity while several Democratic senators have sent a letter to Secretary Pompeo expressing “deep concern” with the process and intent of this decision.

Harold Hongju Koh, a Yale law professor who was assistant secretary of state for human rights in the Clinton administration, said that a shift to “natural law” would conflict with the view that “modern human rights are based on the dignity inherent in all human beings, not on God-given rights.”

Conclusion

This blogger strives to follow Jesus as a member of a Presbyterian church and believes that religious freedom is a basic human right for all people in the world. But he worries that this Commission and related actions might be surreptitious ways to advance a conservative political and religious agenda and to promote the re-election of Donald Trump. Therefore, this blogger thinks that attention should be paid to this Commission and related activities of this Administration.

For example, for his year’s celebration of the Fourth of July, President Trump reportedly will deliver a speech at the Lincoln Memorial. [3]  Perhaps he will use that occasion to proclaim about unalienable rights.

Not mentioned by Giacomo, but probably related to the new Commission, was last July’s first ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom that was hosted by the State Department and that will be discussed in a future post.

=================================

[1] Giacomo, A New Trump Battleground: Defining Human Rights, N.Y. Times (June 17, 2019.

[2] Is The Trump Administration Attempting To Redefine International Human Rights, dwkcommentaries.com(June 15, 2019); Other Reactions to State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (June 17, 2019).

[3] Nirappil, Hermann & Jamison, Officials: Trump to speak at Lincoln Memorial during July Fourth celebration, Wash. Post (June 5,, 2019).

Is Trump Administration Attempting To Redefine International Human Rights?

Since the end of World War II, treaties and international institutions have defined and developed international human rights and institutions, as discussed in previous posts. [1]

Commission on Unalienable Rights [2]

Now with little fanfare the U.S. State Department recently announced the establishment of  the Commission on Unalienable Rights. Here are the key provisions of its Charter:

  • The Commission will provide the Secretary of State with “informed advice and recommendations concerning international human rights matters . . . [and] fresh thinking about human rights and . . . reforms of human rights discourse where it has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” (Para. 3) (emphasis added).
  • The Commission’s advice and recommendations will help “guide U.S. diplomatic and foreign policy decisions and actions with respect to human rights in international settings . . . [and] recover that which is enduring for the maintenance of free and open societies.” (Para. 4) (emphasis added).

The Commission will be composed of “no more than fifteen members who have distinguished backgrounds in international law, human rights, and religious liberties.” Its membership “will be a bipartisan, diverse group of men and women.”

The phrase “unalienable rights,” of course, comes from the second paragraph of the U.S. Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Emphasis added.)

At first glance this may sound like an unobjectionable reference to an important document and concept of U.S. history. But it may be much more than that. It may be an attempt by the Trump Administration to redefine international human rights, as suggested by Eric Posner, Professor at the University of Chicago Law School.

Reactions of Professor Eric Posner [3]

Posner so far has been the only one to have noticed this Commission. He says “the significance of . . . [this Commission] should not be overlooked. It puts the government’s imprimatur on an assault upon one of the cornerstones of modern liberalism: international human rights.”

This conclusion, Posner argues, follows from the Commission’s name, implicitly emphasizing that these rights are endowed ‘by their Creator” and come from “natural law” and “natural rights.” This interpretation, he claims, also is suggested by the Charter’s reference to “discourse,” implying that contemporary human rights is merely talk, not law. In short, this Charter is conservatives’ “declaration of intent. Its plainly stated goal is not just to wipe away the baleful foreign influence of human rights ‘discourse’ but to revive [conservative] 18th-century natural law.”

In Posner’s opinion, the reference to natural law is an indirect endorsement of contemporary Roman “Catholic conservative intellectuals, who kept alive the academic tradition of natural law long after mainstream secular intellectuals forgot what it was —[and, therefore,] . . .  goodbye to reproductive rights and protections for sexual minorities.” Posner also claims that Robert George, a prominent Catholic intellectual, natural-law theorist, and opponent of abortion rights and same-sex marriage, played a role in the creation of the Commission. In other words, this new commission will provide “the ideological justification for the anti-abortion foreign policy that the Trump administration has undertaken”

Natural law, says Posner, can also be used by conservatives to argue for “expanded religious freedoms that override statutes with secular goals, and to push back against progressive government programs like universal health care. The ‘right to health,’ a centerpiece of ‘human rights law,’ is firmly rejected by natural-law theorists like George.

“But the mission of the commission may be even bolder,” in Posner’s opinion. ”If we take the idea of natural law seriously, it not only overrides statutes in foreign countries that protect abortion rights and respect same-sex marriage. It also overrides American laws that protect abortion rights and respect same-sex marriage. One can imagine a day when a Supreme Court justice, taking a page from [former Supreme Court Justice Anthony] Kennedy, invokes natural law — supposedly endorsed by the founders, after all, and embodied in the sacred Declaration — to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and to prepare the path for an even holier grail, the abolition of state laws that grant abortion rights.”

“Liberals hoped that human rights, sanctified by the sacrifices of the victims of totalitarianism, would provide common ground in a world of competing ideologies. But what human rights actually helped produce was a liberal international order that has offended a great many people who do not share liberal values. The backlash began years ago in authoritarian countries, in developing countries that saw human rights as an affront to their traditions and as a mask for imperialist goals, and in highly religious countries. These countries advanced interpretations of human rights law that conform with their values or interests but made little headway against dominant elite opinion. What is new is that the government of the world’s most powerful nation [the U.S.], long acknowledged (if grudgingly) as the leader of the international human rights regime, has officially signed on to that backlash.”

Presumably this Posner argument is expanded in his recent book, The Twilight of Human Rights Law.[4]

Conclusion

Although noted author and commentator George Will is not a fan of President Trump, he probably is sympathetic to the recent trumpeting of “ unalienable rights” and “natural law” and “natural rights.” In the “Introduction” to his new book, The Conservative Sensibility, Will says “We [conservatives] seek to conserve the American Founding” with a “clear mission: It is to conserve, by articulating and demonstrating the continuing pertinence of, the Founders’ thinking.” Indeed, “Americans codified their Founding doctrines as a natural rights republic in an exceptional Constitution, one that does not say what government must do for them but what government may not do for them.”

Therefore, according to Mr.Will, “The doctrine of natural rights is the most solid foundation—perhaps the only firm foundation—for the idea of the political equality of all self-directing individuals..”

In retrospect, perhaps the Trump Administration has been dropping hints that something like the Commission might be coming by the State Department’s using the phrase “unalienable rights” in various statements and documents.[5]

Although this blogger has no objection to contemporary references to the language of our Declaration of Independence, he does object to the notion that this new Commission is an underhanded way to implement current political preferences of this Administration. Moreover, this blogger suggests that it is too simplistic to use notions of natural law to preempt the decisions on the previously mentioned contemporary issues.

After all, natural rights and human rights treaties can be seen as compatible allies, just as English and American common law are compatible with their respective statutes. Such multilateral treaties with provisions for implementation and amendment are drafted by committees and individual nation states are not bound by the treaties unless and until they ratify the treaties. Similarly domestic statues in the U.S. and U.K. are prepared and adopted by legislatures, often as a result of common law developments, and always are subject to subsequent amendment.

===========================================

[1]  See posts listed in the following: List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Law (INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT); List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Law (REFUGEE & ASYLUM)List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Law (TREATIES); List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Law: U.S. (ALIEN TORT STATUTE); List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Law U.S. (TORTURE VICTIMS  PROTECTION ACT).

[2] State Dep’t, Notice: Department of State Commission on Unalienable Rights, 84 Fed. Reg. 25109 (May 30, 2019); State Dep’t, Charter: Commission on Unalienable Rights (created: May 10, 2019); State Dep’t, Membership Balance Plan: Commission on Unalienable Rights (created: May 10, 2019).

[3] Posner, The administration’s plan to redefine ‘human rights’ along conservative lines, Wash. Post (June 14, 2019).

[4] Posner, The Twilight of Human Rights Law (Oxford Univ. Press, 2014-).

[5]  State Dep’t, Secretary Tillerson’s Testimony before Senate Appropriations Committee (June  13, 2017) (“Our mission is at all times guided by our longstanding values of freedom, democracy, individual liberty, and human dignity. The conviction of our country’s founders is enduring: that all men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” (Emphasis added); State Dep’t, [Secretary Tillerson’s] Remarks With Secretary General of the Community of Democracies Thomas Garrett (Sept. 17, 2017) (“In our Declaration of Independence, our founders boldly stated that all are endowed by their creator with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Emphasis added); State Dep’t, [Secretary Tillerson’s] Remarks at the “Conversation on the Value of Respect” Event (Jan. 12, 2018) (“It was the Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson who wrote that we are all endowed with certain unalienable rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”); State Dep’t, Remarks on the Release of the 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (April 20, 2018) (these annual reports “are a natural outgrowth of our values as Americans. The founding documents of our country speak to unalienable rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law – revolutionary concepts at the time of our founding that are now woven into the fabric of America and its interests both at home and abroad”); State Dep’t, The State Department Role in Countering Violent Extremism (May 30, 2018) (“America is committed to individual rights, and we recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. We are all, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”); State Dep’t, 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Mar. 13, 2019) ((Secretary Pompeo’s Preface :”The United States was founded on the premise that all persons “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Our Constitution secures these unalienable rights . . . in the First [and Fifth] amendments.” ((emphasis added); State Dep’t, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo At the Celebration of Israel’s 71st Independence Day (May 22, 2019) (both the Israel Declaration of Independence of 1948 and the U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776 “speak of central ideas that are ‘self-evident’ – In the American case, it’s the truth that men are created equal and have rights that are unalienable”) (Emphasis added).

 

 

 

Proposed U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution on Cuban Human Rights

An international coalition of 75 human rights organizations has asked the U.N. Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution on Cuban human rights at its meeting in Geneva, Switzerland  on June 24 to July 12. [1]

Here are the terms of action in that proposed resolution:[2]

“1. Strongly condemns the grave human rights violations and abuses committed by the Government of Cuba, including the denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression and association, both online and offline; the widespread use of arbitrary arrest and detention, including preemptive detention, and other forms of harassment and intimidation as tools to suppress political dissent; use of violence by Government forces to threaten and intimidate arrestees and detainees; and widespread violations of the rights to due process and to a trial before a fair, independent and impartial tribunal; “

“2. Calls upon Cuba to fully grant its citizens internationally recognized civil, political, and economic rights and freedoms, including freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and free access to information;”

“3. Demands that Cuba, including its judicial and security branches, create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment in which an independent, diverse, and pluralistic civil society can operate free from undue hindrance and insecurity;”

“ 4. Urges Cuba to end widespread and serious restrictions, in law and in practice, on the right to freedom of expression, opinion, associations and peaceful assembly, both online and offline, including by ending the harassment, intimidation and persecution of political opponents, human rights defenders, women’s and minority rights activists, labour leaders, students’ rights activists, journalists, bloggers, social media users, social media page administrators, media workers, religious leaders and lawyers;”

“5. Strongly urges Cuba to release persons arbitrarily detained for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, to consider rescinding unduly harsh sentences for exercising such fundamental freedoms and to end reprisals against individuals, including for cooperating with the United Nations human rights mechanisms;”

“ 6. Strongly condemns the lack of free, fair and transparent democratic elections in Cuba, and in particular the constitutional referendum of 24 February 2019, which was marked by fraud, lack of transparency and violence against the Government’s political opponents;”

“7. Determines that the new constitution has no legitimacy, and that members of the National Assembly, President Miguel Días-Canel and Communist Party leader Raul Castro lack any legitimacy, given that they were not elected by the people of Cuba in free, fair and multiparty elections;”

“8. Calls upon Cuba to launch a comprehensive accountability process in response to all cases of serious human rights violations, including those involving the Cuban judiciary and security branches, and calls upon the Government of Cuba to end impunity for such violations;”

“9. Calls upon the Government to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner, the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and the relevant treaty bodies, as well as the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, including by facilitating visits, granting unfettered access throughout the country, including to detention facilities, and preventing and refraining from all acts of intimidation or reprisal, and to positively consider the recommendations made in their reports;”

“10. Decides to appoint a Special Rapporteur to monitor developments and make recommendations on the situation of human rights in Cuba for a period of one year, who will submit a report to the Human Rights Council at its forty-third session;”

“11. Calls upon the Government of Cuba to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur, to permit access to visit the country and to provide the information necessary for the fulfilment of the mandate;”

“12. Requests the Office of the High Commissioner to provide the Special Rapporteur with the assistance and resources necessary to fulfil the mandate;”

“13. Requests the High Commissioner to provide an oral update on the situation of human rights in Cuba to the Council at its forty-second session, and to submit a follow-up report to the Council and to hold an Interactive Dialogue on the situation of human rights in Cuba at its forty-third session;”

“14. Decides to remain seized of the matter.”

Conclusion

Now we wait to see if this proposed resolution is put to a vote by the Council and the results of any such vote.

In the meantime,  Freedom House, which describes itself as “an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world,” recently released its 2019 annual report about 195 countries concluding that 86 were “FREE,”  59 “PARTLY FREE” and 50, including Cuba, as “NOT FREE.”

This was its Overview for Cuba:  “Cuba is a one-party communist state that outlaws political pluralism, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite new leadership in 2018 and a process of diplomatic “normalization” with Washington, which has stalled in recent years.”  [3]

=================================

[1] The UN Human Rights Council could discuss a resolution on Cuba, Diario de Cuba (June 13, 2019); Proposed Draft Resolution for U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Situation of Human Rights in Cuba.

[2] Footnotes to the operative paragraphs of the proposed resolution state that they are based upon various sources, including  recommendations by European Union member states at Cuba’ Universal Periodic Review by the Council in July 2018. Previous blog posts have discussed other Council proceedings regarding Cuba. See the “Cuban Human Rights” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaires—Topical: CUBA.

[3] Freedom House, Democracy in Retreat: Freedom in the World 2019; Freedom House: Freedom in the World 2019.

New Bill To Expand U.S. Agricultural Exports to Cuba

On May 14  U.S. Senators John Boozman (Rep., AK) and Michael Bennet (Dem., CO) introduced a bill to expand U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba by removing barriers to private financing of same. [1]

Senators Bennet and Boozman issued coordinated press releases about the bill. They said the bill would “remove a major hurdle for American farmers and ranchers to selling American agricultural products in the Cuban market. The bipartisan bill would support jobs in Colorado, Arkansas, and across the country by lifting restrictions on private financing for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.”

The press releases also stated, “the biggest barrier for producers as they seek access to Cuba is the Trade Sanctions and Reform Act (TSRA) prohibition on providing private credit for those exports, which forces Cubans to pay with cash up front for American-grown food. As a result, American farm goods have become less competitive, and Cuba has turned to other countries who are able to directly extend credit to Cuban buyers for transactions. This bill would amend the TSRA to allow for private financing of agricultural exports and level the playing field for American farmers competing in the global market.”

The press releases included supportive statements from Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, the Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Potato, Arkansas Farm Bureau, Agricultural Council of Arkansas and Arkansas Rice Federation.

The original co-sponsors of the bill are the following senators: Jerry Moran (Rep., KS),  Susan Collins (Rep., ME), Mike Enzi (Rep., WY), Kevin Cramer (Rep., ND), John Hoeven (Rep., ND), Tom Udall (Dem., NM), Mark Warner (Dem., VA), Debbie Stabenow (Dem. MI), Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT); Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) and Angus King (Ind., ME).

======================================

[1] Library of Congress, S.1447: A bill to allow the financing by United States persons of sales of agricultural commodities to Cuba (May 14, 2019); Sen. Boozman, Press Release, Boozman, Bennet Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Expand Agricultural Exports to Cuba (May 14, 2019); Sen. Bennet, Press Release, Bennet, Boozman Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Expand Agricultural Exports to Cuba (May 14, 2019); USA: Presented bipartisan project to expand agricultural sales to Cuba, Cubadebate (May 15, 2019).

 

U.S. Needs To Cooperate with U.N. Human Rights Experts

The U.N. Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, Switzerland, has what it calls Special Procedures, which are “”independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. The system of Special Procedures is a central element of the United Nations human rights machinery and covers all human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political, and social. As of 1 August 2017, there are 44 thematic and 12 country mandates.”[1]

Recent U.S. Non-Cooperation with U.N. Human Rights Council

On January 4, 2019, the London-based Guardian newspaper published an article asserting that the Trump Administration “has stopped cooperating with UN investigators over potential human rights violations occurring inside America, in a move that delivers a major blow to vulnerable US communities and sends a dangerous signal to authoritarian regimes around the world.”[2]

More specifically, the Guardian said the U.S. State Department “has ceased to respond to official complaints from UN special rapporteurs, the network of independent experts who act as global watchdogs on fundamental issues such as poverty, migration, freedom of expression and justice. There has been no response to any such formal query since 7 May 2018, with at least 13 requests going unanswered..

In addition, the Trump Administration has not “extended any invitation to a UN monitor to visit the US to investigate human rights inside the country since the start of Donald Trump’s term two years ago in January 2017. (Two UN experts have made official fact-finding visits . . .[since then] – but both had been invited by President Obama].”[3]

The U.S. thereby has now joined the ranks of countries like North Korea, Iran and Eritrea that simply ignore the requests of UN human rights monitors.

 U.S. Senator Menendez Asks for State Department Explanation

Therefore, on April 25, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), the Ranking Member on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on this situation. The Senator started his letter by stating, “the work Special Rapporteurs conduct remains one of the international community’s most important tools for promoting and protecting human rights.”[4]

The letter continued,“Under previous Democratic and Republican administrations the United States welcomed visits by UN Special Rapporteurs and regularly responded to official queries, regardless of U.S. participation in the Human Rights Council at the time. Engaging with UN Special Rapporteurs is an essential part of U.S. global leadership and demonstrates our commitment to addressing complex human rights issues and the rule of law both at home and around the globe. The credibility of the work of UN Special Rapporteurs depends heavily on their ability to apply the same international standards to all countries, including democracies.”

“By shutting out UN Special Rapporteurs, the United States risks undermining a foundational value of the United Nations as well as human rights progress globally and will be seen as empowering repressive regimes, like China and Russia, who seek to delegitimize internationally accepted human rights norms. Though the United Nations is an imperfect body, UN Special Rapporteurs play an important role in advancing the fundamental human values traditionally championed by every previous U.S. Administration.”

Therefore, the Senator asked the Secretary to respond to the following questions by May 30, 2019:

1)     “Is there a policy, either formal or informal, in place with regards to responding to queries and visit requests from UN Special Rapporteurs? What is that policy?”

2)     “Since May 7, 2018, has the State Department responded either formally or informally to any queries or visit request from UN Special Rapporteurs? If yes, please provide detailed information, including: which UN Special Rapporteur the Department responded to, the date of last correspondence or engagement, the type of engagement (formal vs. informal) and copies of any formal responses.”

Conclusion

U.S. advocates for human rights here and around the world need to thank Senator Menendez for this request and urge Secretary Pompeo to stop this apparent practice or policy of non-cooperation with these human rights monitors.

=======================================

[1] U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

[2] Pilkington, US halts cooperation with UN on potential human rights violations, Guardian (Jan. 4, 2019); Goldberg, US ceases cooperation with UN Human Rights Special Rapporteurs, U.N. Hum. Rts. Council (Jan. 8, 2019).

[3] Apparently after President Trump became President, Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, visited the U.S. by President Obama’s invitation, and Alston’s final report in June 2018 was harshly criticized by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. (See U.N. Official’s Report About U.S. Poverty Is Criticized by U.S., dwkcommentaries.com (June 28, 2018).)

[4] Press Release, Menendez Questions Sec. Pompeo about State Department’s Apparent Decision to Cut Contact with UN Human Rights Experts (April 25, 2019).