U.S. 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom

On June 2, 2022, the U.S. State Department released its 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom. It “describes the status of religious freedom in every country. The report covers government policies violating religious  denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. The U.S. Department of State submits the reports in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.”[1]

The Report includes these sources on the subject: (a) Universal Declaration of Human Rights; (b) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (c) Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief; (d) Religious Freedom Provisions, Commitments, and Obligations from Regional Bodies and Instruments; (e) Department of State Training Related to the International Religious Freedom Act-2021; (f) Department of Homeland Security and the International Religious Freedom Act; and (g) Overview of U.S. Refugee Policy—2021.

There is no overall summary of this freedom in 2021 throughout the world. Instead, as the above summary indicates, the report has separate reports for “every country” in the world. After a summary of its report on Cuba, which is chosen because a Minneapolis church, Westminster Presbyterian, has had partnerships with the island’s Presbyterian-Reformed Church since 2002, there will be general comments from that Cuban church and Westminster.

State Department Report on Cuba

Cuban Religious Demography

According to the Report, “The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11 million (midyear 2021).  There is no independent, authoritative source on the overall size or composition of religious groups.  The Catholic Church estimates 60 percent of the population identifies as Catholic.  Membership in Protestant churches is estimated at 5 percent.  According to some observers, Pentecostals and Baptists are likely the largest Protestant denominations.  The Assemblies of God reports approximately 150,000 members; the four Baptist conventions estimate their combined membership at more than 100,000.”

“Jehovah’s Witnesses estimate their members at 95,000; Methodists 50,000; Seventh-day Adventists 36,000; Presbyterians 25,000; Anglicans 22,500; Episcopalians 10,000; Anabaptists 4,387 (mostly Iglesia de Los Hermanos en Cristo, the Brethren of Christ); Quakers 1,000; Moravians 750; and the Church of Jesus Christ 357 members.  There are approximately 4,000 followers of 50 Apostolic churches (an unregistered, loosely affiliated network of Protestant churches, also known as the Apostolic Movement) and a separate New Apostolic Church associated with the New Apostolic Church International.  According to some Christian leaders, evangelical Protestant groups continue to grow in the country.  The Jewish community estimates it has 1,200 members, of whom 1,000 reside in Havana.  According to a representative of the Islamic League, there are approximately 4,000 Muslims in the country, of whom fewer than half are native-born.  The representative also said that the majority of the Muslim population is Sunni.  Immigrants and native-born citizens practice several different Buddhist traditions, with estimates of 6,200 followers.  The largest group of Buddhists is the Japanese Soka Gakkai; its estimated membership is 1,000.  Other religious groups with small numbers of adherents include Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Baha’is.”

“Many individuals, particularly Afro-Cubans, practice religions with roots across Africa, including Yoruba groups often referred to by outsiders as Santeria, but by adherents as the order of Lucumi or Orisha worship.  Bantu-influenced groups refer to themselves as Palo Monte.  These religious practices are commonly intermingled with Catholicism and other forms of Christianity, and some require Catholic baptism for full initiation, making it difficult to estimate accurately their total membership.  Rastafarian adherents also have a presence on the island, although the size of the community is unknown.”

Religious Freedom in Cuba

According to the Report’s Executive Summary, “The country’s constitution contains written provisions for religious freedom and prohibitions against discrimination based on religious grounds.  According to the religious freedom advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), through its Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), continued to control most aspects of religious life.  In its annual Watch List, Open Doors reported a continued rise in persecution of Christians in the country.  According to media, on July 11, security forces (a general term covering military, police, and vigilante forces) committed acts of violence against, detained, and harassed religious leaders from multiple faith communities who were participating in peaceful demonstrations across the country.  According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), security forces beat Roman Catholic priest Jose Castor Alvarez Devesa when he offered aid to an injured person at a protest in Camaguey on July 11.  CSW reported Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo faced up to a 10-year sentence for participating in a march the same day.  Rosales Fajardo was found guilty of charges in December and awaited sentencing at year’s end.  Sissi Abascal Zamora, a member of the Ladies in White opposition group, received a six-year sentence for participating in the July protests.  Authorities continued to subject members of the Association of Free Yorubas of Cuba (Free Yorubas) to arbitrary detentions, threats, physical violence, and verbal harassment.  The U.S.-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Global Liberty Alliance reported four members of Free Yorubas faced extended pretrial detention after their arrests following the July protests and prison sentences of up to 10 years.  The Spanish NGO Cuban Observatory of Human Rights registered at least 30 acts against leaders and laypersons from multiple faith communities as the government attempted to suppress public support for peaceful protests called for November 15.  According to NGO and media reports, those actions included the orchestration of demonstrations (acts of repudiation) in front of the homes of Catholic priests, police surveillance, internet cuts, and the harassment of a nun as she left her residence in Havana to meet a friend.  In August, security service officials arrested Apostolic Church pastor Alain Toledano Valiente for ‘propagating the COVID pandemic’ when he held what he said was a socially distanced service.  Religious groups reported the ORA and MOJ continued to deny official registration to certain groups, including to several Apostolic churches, or did not respond to long-pending applications, such as those for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).”

“Some religious groups and organizations, such as the Catholic charity Caritas, continued to gather and distribute relief items, providing humanitarian assistance to individuals regardless of religious belief.  The Catholic-affiliated Community of Sant’Egidio continued to hold prayer and small group meetings in spite of COVID-19 restrictions.”

“Due to a lack of government responsiveness, U.S. embassy officials did not meet with or otherwise engage the ORA during the year.  In public statements and on social media, U.S. government officials, including the Secretary of State, continued to call upon the government to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the freedom of religion.  Embassy officials met regularly with a range of religious groups concerning the state of religious freedom and political activities related to religious groups’ beliefs.”

“On November 15, 2021, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State again placed Cuba on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.”

Recent Devotion from Cuban Presbyterian-Reformed Church[3]

The Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba prepares daily devotions in Spanish (with English translations) that are available on the Internet. Here, for example, is their devotion for June 26, 2022, the 132nd Anniversary of the church: “Following Jesus (Luke 9:51-62).”

“Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”

“A new section of the Gospel of Luke begins with these verses, Jesus’ resolve to travel to Jerusalem.   The three candidates for discipleship illustrate the demands that are implied by following Jesus; they teach that emotional enthusiasm is not sufficient and neither are we capable of abandoning all to follow him.”

“Loyalty to Christ takes precedence over any other loyalties.   In one of the cases the man tried to excuse himself by saying that he had to care for his dead father.   The spiritually dead should bury their dead, but the followers of Jesus should fulfill the urgent work of proclaiming the good news.   This is not an argument in favor of insensitivity but is a lesson against delay in fulfilling an order.”

“Jesus focuses his attention on one truth: to serve his cause demands complete dedication. To not be suitable for the Reign of God means a discipleship through which God is unable to use us in the best way.”

“What does Jesus want of us?   Complete dedication, not half delivery.   We don’t have the right to follow him at our convenience; we should accept the cross together with the crown, judgment together with mercy.   One must take into account the cost and to be ready to abandon everything.   We should not allow anything to distract us from the path of living what he calls good and true.”

“Prayer: Lord, allow us to be alert to your call and not continually excuse ourselves.   In the name of Jesus, Amen”

Report from Westminster Presbyterian Church[4]

“For more than 20 years, Westminster has had a partnership with people and institutions in Cuba, making it our longest global partnership. Well over 100 Westminster members and staff have visited Cuba to experience the culture, welcome, and resilience of the Cuban people. The situation in Cuba remains dire due to food shortages, economic despair, and political unrest. Yet, as of January 1, our partner church, El Redentor/Versalles (Versalles) in Matanzas has welcomed a new pastor, the Rev. Anays Noda, and her family. They bring a renewed energy and new members into the church.”

“After building renovation and much hard work, our siblings at Versalles are eagerly readying for visitors from Westminster. A group of five Westminster members plan to travel in July to revisit the seven clean water installations Westminster currently sponsors [on the island] and to assess a potential new site, anticipating installation later this year. A highlight of the trip will be a chance to worship in person again at Versalles. A congregational trip is also being planned for early 2023 offering a unique experience to witness God’s love this whole world over.”

Conclusion[5]

Any discussion of Cuban religious freedom should expressly recognize its enormous economic problems associated with the worldwide COVID pandemic and the resulting severe negative economic impact on Cuba’s market for international tourism and hence Cuban opportunities for employment and entrepreneurial activities. These and other developments, including the continued U.S. embargo of the island, have caused increased numbers of Cuban seeking to flee the island and protests on the island over desperate conditions.

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[1] State Dep’t, 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom (June 2, 2022).

[2] Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 13, 2015}. See generally “Cuban Human Rights” section (with discussions of earlier U.S. reports on Cuban religious freedom) of  List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA [as of 5/4/20].

[3]   Daily Devotions of the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Cuba (June 26, 2022).

[4]  Our Global Partners in Cuba, Westminster News (July 2022). This blogger treasures his having been on three Westminster mission trips to Cuba and the friendships he has developed with Cubans. (Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 13, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 4, 2015). See generally List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA [as of 5/4/20].

[5] See, e.g., Frank, Cuba sees slow economic recovery at 4% in 2022—Official, Reuters (Dec. 12, 2021); Cubans arriving in record numbers along Mexico border, Wash. Post (April 7, 2022); Cuba economic crisis and political crackdown pushes many to immigrate, Al Jazeera YouTube (May 2022); Cuban Migrants Arrive to U.S. in Record Numbers, on Foot, Not by Boat, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2022); With the world distracted, Cuba cracks down on dissident artists, Wash. Post (June 27, 2022)..

 

 

U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Cameroon Human Rights

On April 12, 2022, the U.S. State Department released its 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights. This report is the latest annual report for nearly five decades that “strive[s] to provide a factual and objective record on the status of human rights worldwide.” The 2021 report covers 198 countries and territories. [1]

Cameroon Human Rights[2]

Here is the outline of the details on the status of various human rights in each of the 198 countries and territories, including Cameroon:

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

  1. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
  2. Disappearance
  3. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading treatment or Punishment
  4. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
  5. Denial of Fair Public Trial
  6. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, Or Correspondence

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

  1. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
  2. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
  3. Freedom of Religion
  4. Freedom of Movement and the Right To Leave the Country
  5. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced People
  6. Protection of Refugees

Section 3.  Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Section 4.  Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Section 5.  Governmental Posture Towards International and           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Section 6.  Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Section 7. Worker Rights

Executive Summary of Cameroon Human Rights

The report on Cameroon begins with the following Executive Summary.

“Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The president retains power over the legislative and judicial branches of government. The ruling political party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, has remained in power since its creation in 1985. The country held legislative elections in February 2020 that were marked by irregularities. The ruling party won 152 of 180 National Assembly seats. Paul Biya has served as president since 1982. He was last reelected in 2018 in an election marked by irregularities.”

“The national police and the national gendarmerie are responsible for internal security. The former reports to the General Delegation of National Security and the latter to the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the Gendarmerie. The army shares some domestic security responsibilities; it reports to the minister delegate at the presidency in charge of defense. The Rapid Intervention Battalion reports directly to the president. Civilian and military authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.”

“Casualties rose in the Anglophone crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. Anglophone separatists used improvised explosive devices with greater success. ISIS-West Africa increased attacks in the Far North Region. The government continued to crack down on the opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement, and in December several of its members were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from one to seven years following protests in 2020.”

“Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government and nonstate armed groups; forced disappearances by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government and nonstate armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in a conflict, including abductions and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by nonstate armed groups; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigations and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence or use of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults.”

“Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corruption, it did not do so systematically and rarely held public proceedings. Impunity remained a serious problem.”

“Armed separatists, Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, and criminal gangs also committed human rights abuses, some of which were investigated by the government.”

Conclusion[3]

Commenting on this report, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said governments around the world, including Russia and China, grew more repressive last year. One example was the increasingly brazen way governments were “reaching across borders to threaten and attack critics” while some governments such as Cuba, Egypt and Russia were quick to lock up critics at home. Blinken also noted there had been “a serious erosion of human rights” in Afghanistan.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights (April 12, 2022).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cameroon (April 12, 2022).

[3] Crowley, U.S. Report Describes a Global Retreat on Human Rights and Democracy, N.Y. Times (April 12, 2022);U.S. State DRyan, Human rights and democracy eroding worldwide, U.S. finds, Wash. Post (April 12, 2022).

 

U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Cuban Human Rights

On April 12, 2022, the U.S. State Department released its 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights. This report is the latest annual report that for nearly five decades has striven “to provide a factual and objective record on the status of human rights worldwide.” The 2021 report covers 198 countries and territories. [1]

Cuban Human Rights[2]

Here is the outline of the details on the status of various human rights in each of the 198 countries and territories, including Cuba:

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

  1. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
  2. Disappearance
  3. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading treatment or Punishment
  4. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
  5. Denial of Fair Public Trial
  6. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, Or Correspondence

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

  1. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
  2. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
  3. Freedom of Religion
  4. Freedom of Movement and the Right To Leave the Country
  5. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced People
  6. Protection of Refugees

Section 3.  Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Section 4.  Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Section 5.  Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Section 6.  Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Section 7. Worker Rights

Executive Summary of Cuban Human Rights

The report on Cuba begins with the following Executive Summary.

“Cuba is an authoritarian state. The 2019 constitution codifies that Cuba remains a one-party system in which the Communist Party is the only legal political party. On April 19, President Miguel Diaz-Canel replaced former president Raul Castro as first secretary of the Communist Party, the highest political entity of the state by law. Elections were neither free nor fair nor competitive.”

“The Ministry of Interior controls police, internal security forces, and the prison system. The ministry’s National Revolutionary Police are the primary law enforcement organization. Specialized units of the ministry’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity. The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses, and the number of political prisoners increased dramatically, with many held in pretrial detention under extremely harsh and degrading conditions.”

“On January 28, security forces violently arrested more than 20 artists and journalist peacefully protesting in front of the Ministry of Culture for the release of detained artists. On July 11, spontaneous peaceful protests broke out across the island. In the largest and most widespread demonstrations in decades, tens of thousands of citizens across the country poured into the streets to demand an end to repression as well as to criticize the government’s failure to meet their basic needs and its poor response to COVID-19. Social media posts helped spread news of the protests among citizens. Security forces responded with tear gas, beatings, and arrests. First Secretary of the Communist Party and President Miguel Diaz-Canel went on national television to call on “all revolutionaries and communists to confront these protests,” a reference to Article Four of the 2019 constitution, which gives citizens the right to “combat through any means, including armed combat” any who “intend to topple the political, social, and economic order established by this constitution.” Many of those arrested reported cruel and degrading treatment in prison. In October authorities denied permission for a protest planned for November 15 and threatened organizers. The government conducted summary trials for some protesters; sought long prison sentences, some up to 30 years, in hundreds of cases; and held other protesters in extended pretrial detention. Some activists chose to go into exile, and the government forced others to do so.”

“Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by the government; forced disappearance by the government; torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; reprisals against family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media including violence or threats of violence against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws used against persons who criticized government leadership; serious restrictions on internet freedom; severe restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly and denial of freedom of association, including refusal to recognize independent associations; severe restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections, including serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; a lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; and outlawing of independent trade unions.”

“Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses. As a matter of policy, officials failed to investigate or prosecute those who committed these abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread, as was impunity for official corruption.”

Conclusion[3]

Commenting on this report, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said governments around the world, including Russia and China, grew more repressive last year. One example was the increasingly brazen way governments were “reaching across borders to threaten and attack critics” while some governments such as Cuba, Egypt and Russia were quick to lock up critics at home. Blinken also noted there had been “a serious erosion of human rights” in Afghanistan.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights (April 12, 2022).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cuba (April 12, 2022).

[3] Crowley, U.S. Report Describes a Global Retreat on Human Rights and Democracy, N.Y. Times (April 12, 2022).; Ryan, Human rights and democracy eroding worldwide, U.S. finds, Wash. Post (April 12, 2022).

 

U.S. Reviewing Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

Since 1982 the United States has had different opinions as to whether Cuba was a “state sponsor of terrorism” under three U.S. statutes—the Export Administration Act (section 6(j)), the Arms Export Control Act (section 40) and the Foreign Assistance Act (Section 620A)—that authorize the Secretary of State to designate countries that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” as “state sponsors of terrorism” and thereby impose sanctions on such countries, including restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance, bans on U.S. defense exports and sales, controls over exports of dual use items and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.[1]

We will look at these different positions, including the Biden Administration’s current review of the Trump Administration’s last minute designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor.”

Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” 1982-2014[2]

From 1982 through 2014, the U.S. designated Cuba as such a Sponsor.

U.S. Rescinds Cuba’s “Sponsor” Designation, 2015[3]

 On April 14, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry publicly announced that the State Department had recommended that President Obama rescind the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” His press release stated that the prior week the “Department submitted a report to the White House recommending, based on the facts and the statutory standard, that President Obama rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

“This recommendation,” the Statement continued, “reflects the Department’s assessment that Cuba meets the criteria established by Congress for rescission . . . . whether Cuba provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six months, and whether Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” This conclusion was based, in part, upon “corroborative assurances received from the Government of Cuba.”

Nevertheless, according to the Secretary’s statement, “the United States has had, and continues to have, significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, [but] these concerns and disagreements fall outside of the criteria for designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

The same day (April 14, 2015), a White House press release stated the President had “submitted to Congress the statutorily required report and certifications indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.”

That presidential decision was based upon the previously mentioned State Department recommendation that was based on its “careful review of Cuba’s record, which was informed by the Intelligence Community, as well as assurances provided by the Cuban government.”

This White House press release also stated, “As the President has said, we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.  That determination is based on the statutory standard – and the facts – and those facts have led the President to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.  More broadly, the [U.S.] will continue to support our interests and values through engagement with the Cuban government and people.”

President Obama’s simultaneous message to Congress certified that “(i) the Government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and (ii) the Government of Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.”

U.S. Non-Designation of Cuba, 2016-20[4]

From 2015 through the end of the Obama Administration in January 2017, the U.S. continued to not so designate Cuba as the U.S. and Cuba held several bilateral diplomatic meetings to discuss the many issues that had accumulated ever since the January 1, 1959, takeover of the Cuban government by the Cuban Revolution.

At  their May 2016 Law Enforcement Dialogue, the U.S. State Department said that “law enforcement is an area of mutual interest to both the U.S. and Cuba as we advance toward normalized relations. We anticipate that the dialogue will be productive, and an additional opportunity to reinforce the benefits of law enforcement cooperation. During the dialogue, the United States and Cuba will continue to discuss a wide range of areas of cooperation, including counterterrorism, counternarcotic, transnational crime, cybercrime, secure travel and trade, and fugitives.”

The framework for the dialogue was the May 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Cuban Ministry of Interior. This MOU set the basis of cooperation in exchanging risk information for travelers, cargo or conveyances in international transit; the continuation of periodic, mutual, and reciprocal assessments regarding air, sea, and port security; and the coordination of transportation security, screening of cargo, travelers and baggage, and the design of secure, efficient inspection facilities at ports and airports, among other things.

The next month, June 2016,  the U.S. and Cuba met in Havana for their first Counterterrorism Technical Exchange. The State Department said, “Coordination and cooperation on counterterrorism has been one of several important topics discussed in law enforcement dialogues between the United States and Cuba. We welcome the opportunity to bring together technical experts to discuss this topic of common interest.” Afterwards, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said that the meeting was conducted with “respect and professionalism” and that “both parties agreed on the importance of progress in cooperation in this sphere and agreed to continue the meetings of technicians on the topic.”

During the last weeks of the Obama Administration in January 2017, the U.S. and Cuba signed the following four agreements:

  • S.-Cuba Memorandum of Understanding on Law Enforcement “to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and other international criminal activities.”
  • Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen cooperation in the field of maritime and aeronautical search and rescue by enhancing effectiveness and efficiency in assisting persons in distress and to act in furtherance of obligations under international law.
  • S., Cuba and Mexico signed a a treaty to set territorial limits in contested Gulf of Mexico waters. The treaty covers the Eastern Gap of the Gulf of Mexico, an area believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. The three countries’ overlapping claims in the Eastern Gap had created what is known as a “Doughnut Hole.” Trilateral discussions begun in mid-2016 on the maritime territorial issue were concluded by the end of the year.
  • S. and Cuba memorandum of understanding to help prevent the introduction and spread of quarantine pests, animal and plant disease agents through the exchange of scientific information, best practices for the prevention and control of plagues and emerging diseases, collaborative scientific projects, including the use of technology, research and surveillance, and the holding of events on specific aspects of animal and plant health.

In addition, the Trump Administration for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020  did not designate Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”[5]

Secretary Pompeo’s Re-Designation of Cuba as “Sponsor”[6]

On January 11, 2021 (with only nine days left of the Trump Administration), Secretary of State Pompeo announced that Cuba was being re-designated as a “State Sponsor” to join Iran, North Korea and Syria. Here is what his statement said:

  • “The State Department has designated Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism for repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists.”
  • “The Trump Administration has been focused from the start on denying the Castro regime the resources it uses to oppress its people at home, and countering its malign interference in Venezuela and the rest of the Western Hemisphere.”
  • “With this action, we will once again hold Cuba’s government accountable and send a clear message: the Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of U.S. justice.”
  • “For decades, the Cuban government has fed, housed, and provided medical care for murderers, bombmakers, and hijackers, while many Cubans go hungry, homeless, and without basic medicine.  Members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, traveled to Havana to conduct peace talks with the Colombian government in 2017.  Citing peace negotiation protocols, Cuba has refused Colombia’s requests to extradite ten ELN leaders living in Havana after the group claimed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy that killed 22 people and injured more than 87 others.”
  • “Cuba also harbors several U.S. fugitives from justice wanted on or convicted of charges of political violence, many of whom have resided in Cuba for decades.  For example, the Cuban regime has refused to return Joanne Chesimard, on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List for executing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973; Ishmael LaBeet, convicted of killing eight people in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1972; Charles Lee Hill, charged with killing New Mexico state policeman Robert Rosenbloom in 1971; and others.”
  • “Cuba returns to the SST list following its broken commitment to stop supporting terrorism as a condition of its removal by the previous administration in 2015.  On May 13, 2020, the State Department notified Congress that it had certified Cuba under Section 40A(a) of the Arms Export Control Act as “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts in 2019.”
  • “In addition to the support for international terrorism that is the basis for today’s action, the Cuban regime engages in a range of malign behavior across the region.  The Cuban intelligence and security apparatus has infiltrated Venezuela’s security and military forces, assisting Nicholas Maduro to maintain his stranglehold over his people while allowing terrorist organizations to operate.  The Cuban government’s support for FARC dissidents and the ELN continues beyond Cuba’s borders as well, and the regime’s support of Maduro has created a permissive environment for international terrorists to live and thrive within Venezuela.”
  • “Today’s designation subjects Cuba to sanctions that penalize persons and countries engaging in certain trade with Cuba, restricts U.S. foreign assistance, bans defense exports and sales, and imposes certain controls on exports of dual use items.”
  • “The United States will continue to support the Cuban people in their desire for a democratic government and respect for human rights, including freedom of religion, expression, and association.  Until these rights and freedoms are respected, we will continue to hold the regime accountable.”

Biden Administration’s Review of Designation[7]

The latest change was announced on February 5, 2021 at press briefing by Ned Price, a State Department spokesperson, said, “[O]ur overall overarching policy when it comes to Cuba, and it’s a policy that will be governed by two principles. First is the support for democracy and human rights. It will be at the core of our efforts through empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future. And second, we believe that Americans, and especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba. We’re committed to making human rights a core pillar of our U.S. foreign policy. That certainly applies to Cuba, just as you’ve heard me reference it across the board, and includes redoubling our dedication to human rights throughout our own hemisphere.”

“Despite, human rights defenders around the world continue to look to the United States to – for support against authoritarian regimes. This is one of those issues that we will continue to rally our allies and partners against. And in the administration we’ve also committed to carefully reviewing policy decisions made in the prior administration, including the decision by the outgoing administration to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. I wouldn’t want to go into any further details. But as we take a look at this issue into our broader policy with Cuba, those principles will continue to be front of mind.”

In this context, it should be pointed out that there is a serious legal impediment to Cuba’s extraditing  some U.S. fugitives to the U.S.

Conclusion

This blogger strongly supports the Biden Administration’s decision to conduct such a review, as required by statutes, and trust that later it will conclude to rescind this designation.

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

[1] State Dep’t, State Sponsors of Terrorism.

[2] Sullivan, CRS Report for Congress: Cuba and the State Sponsors of Terrorism List (Updated May 13, 2015).

[3] See these posts to dwkcommantaries.com: President Obama Rescinds U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” (April 15, 2015); U.S. Rescinds Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” May 29, 2015).

[4]  See thee posts to dwkcommenareis.com: United States and Cuba Hold Second Law Enforcement Dialogue (May 19, 2016); U.S. and Cuba Discuss Counterterrorism Cooperation (June 10, 2016); President Obama Issues Presidential Directive—United States-Cuba Normalization (Oct. 14, 2016); U.S. and Cuba Continue To Implement Normalization of Relations (Jan. 17, 2017); U.S. and Cuba sign Additional Agreements (Jan. 20, 2017).

[5] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries: No Mention of Cuba in U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Terrorism (July 22, 2017); No Mention of Cuba in New U.S. Report on Terrorism (Nov. 5, 2019).

[6] State Dep’t, U.S. Announces Designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism (Jan. 11, 2021); Crowley, Augustin & Semple, Pompeo Returns Cuba to Terrorism Sponsor List, Constraining Biden’s Plans, N.Y. Times (Jan. 11, 2021).

[7] State Dep’t, Press Briefing—February 5, 2021; Issues Regarding Cuba and U.S. Extradition of the Other’s Fugitives, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 24, 2015); Criticism of the U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Agreement, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 21, 2017)

 

 

Strong Recommendation for New U.S. Policy for Engagement with Cuba

On December 17 a strong recommendation for a new U.S. policy for engagement was put forward by the Center for Democracy in the Americas and the Washington Office on Latin America.[1]

It sets forth the Case for Engagement; the First Nine Months of the Biden Administration (Repairing the Damage); The Second Year [of the Biden Administration] (Taking the Initiative); and Finishing the Job: A Legislative Agenda.

For example, here are the major points of its Case for Engagement that advance the interests of the U.S. and those of the Cuban people:

  • “Engagement begins with constructive diplomacy that includes cooperation on issues of mutual interest and negotiations on issues in conflict.”
  • “Engagement is a more effective strategy to advance the cause of human rights, political liberty, and economic reform.”
  • “Engagement must include civil society—cultural, educational, scientific, and familial linkages that foster mutual understanding, reconciliation, and cultural enrichment for both peoples.”
  • “Engagement will facilitate commercial ties, expanding the market for U.S. businesses, raising the standard of living for the Cuban people, and encouraging economic reform.”
  • “Engagement will serve as a counterweight to the aspirations that global competitors like Russia and China have in Cuba.”
  • “Engagement accomplished in two years more than the policy of hostility achieved in sixty years.”

The Center for Democracy in the Americas is “a non-partisan 501(c )(3) institution dedicated to promoting a U.S. policy toward the Americas based on engagement and mutual respect, fostering dialogue with those governments and movements with which U.S. policy is at adds, and recognizing positive trends in democracy and governance.” It was founded in 2008 by Sarah Stevens.[2]

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is “ a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas. We envision a future where public policies protect human rights and recognize human dignity, and where justice overcomes violence. WOLA tackles problems that transcend borders and demand cross-border solutions. We create strategic partnerships with courageous people making social change—advocacy organizations, academics, religious and business leaders, artists, and government officials. Together, we advocate for more just societies in the Americas.”[3]

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

[1] Democracy in the Americas,  The United States and Cuba; A New Policy of Engagement (Dec. 17, 2020); Center Democracy in Americas, Joint Press Release. The Washington Office on Latin America and the Center for Democracy in the Americas publish “The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement” (Dec. 17, 2020); WOLA., The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement (Dec.2020).

[2] Center for Democracy in the Americas, Our Work.

[3] WOLA, About Us.

Pandemic Journal (# 34): Grim Report Lightened by News of Vaccines   

One of the objectives of this Journal is recording what it is like to live during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is another such report. [1]

Current Status of the Pandemic[2]

The cumulative confirmed pandemic statistics as of November 21-22: the world has 55.6 million cases and 1.36 million deaths; the U.S., 12.2 million cases (the most in the world) and 256,000 deaths; and Minnesota, 262,952 cases and 3,201 deaths.

Minnesota like many other states continues to set record numbers of cases and deaths. As of November 21, the month “is on track to become the state’s deadliest month of the pandemic with 744 fatalities [so far],” accounting for 20% of the state’s total Covid-19 deaths. ” “Colder weather, drier conditions and the movement of people indoors have fueled the spread of the virus” in Minnesota and other states in the Upper Midwest.

This surge has put an enormous strain on hospitals and health care workers. For example, in Minnesota last week 79% of  available ICU beds are filled, and in some parts of the state open ICU beds were down to single digits. “More worrisome are the growing infections among health care workers who then cannot care for patients.”  Many hospitals in the state also do not  have stable supplies of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) and enacted conservation methods — such as bagging then reusing disposal N95 masks.

On November 18, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued a detailed 23-page executive order, effective at the end of November 20 for the next four weeks: continuing the requirement for face masks and social distancing; prohibiting (with certain exceptions) social gatherings of individuals who are not members of the same household; limiting social gatherings to individual households; shutting down bars, restaurants, entertainment venues (movie theaters, museums, bowling alleys and fitness clubs); and pausing amateur sports.

In response to the Governor’s order, the management of our condo building on November 20 announced that “effective at the end of [that day] . . .  all association fitness rooms, indoor pools, community rooms, club rooms, libraries and other similar facilities that are currently open will be closed unless otherwise directed by your Board of Directors.”

This new condo building regulation unfortunately has caused me to cancel a weekly gathering in our entertainment center with two or three other male residents over coffee at a table with distanced chairs. There is no set agenda and instead we just start a conversation that usually lasts 60 to 90 minutes. We thereby learn more about one another and become better friends.

More optimistically, two vaccines with 95% success rates have been announced by two ventures (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna), one of which last week was submitted to U.S. federal agencies for emergency approval and this coming week the other is expected to make a similar application. In addition, three other companies (AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novaax) are developing other vaccines that are still being tested. Everyone is hoping that the first two of these vaccines will be quickly approved by the federal government agencies and initially distributed to the public in mid-December.

My wife and I continue to be healthy while spending most of our time in our condo, except for trips to buy groceries and other supplies and for walks on nicer days. Yesterday just before the closing of our fitness facilities I walked for one mile in 20 minutes on a treadmill and had exercises in our weight room.  Our Thanksgiving Day will be celebrated in the condo by ourselves.

U.S. Presidential Election [3]

On November 3 the U.S. conducted its presidential election with a total popular vote of 153,628,574, which was 65% of all eligible voters, the highest since 1908.

On November 7 the Associated Press reported that the Democratic ticket (Joe Biden and Kamala Harris) won the election with 79,836,131 and 308 electoral votes while the Republican ticket (Donald Trump and Mike Pence) had 73,792,443 popular votes and 232 electoral votes. Thus, the Democratic margin of victory was 6,043,688 popular votes and 76 electoral votes.

President Trump, however, has refused to accept the above results of the election and has issued many tweets claiming the election was rigged and fraudulent. At his direction, the Republican Party or Campaign Team has commenced many lawsuits challenging the popular election in various states, but all of them have been dismissed or withdrawn with many of the judges castigating the poor legal arguments and the lack of supporting evidence offered by the attorneys for the Republicans. In addition, Trump has been attempting, so far unsuccessfully, to get Republican-controlled agencies in various states to appoint Republican electors to the Electoral College despite their popular vote having been for the Biden-Harris ticket.

As a Biden/Harris voter and as a lawyer interested in the rule of law, I have been, and continue to be, absolutely horrified by Trump’s efforts to steal this election.

In addition, Trump has instructed the official in charge of arranging for the president-elect’s transition to the presidency to refuse the  traditional provision of office space for the president-elect and the transition team and for national security briefings.

There has been a lot of speculation as to Trump’s motivation for not accepting the results of the election and engaging in these efforts to change the result of the election. One is his perceived psychological inability to accept defeat. The other is his realization that he faces immense problems if he is no longer president. One is his personal guaranties of over $300 million of loan liabilities of his various corporations. The other is his potential criminal liability for financial crimes, election-law violations, obstruction of justice, public corruption and partisan coercion. [4]

In any event, the Electoral College, under the Constitution, meets on January 6, 2021 to count the electoral votes and on January 15, the new president is inaugurated.

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

[1] See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: Pandemic Journal.

[2} Our World in Data, Statistics and Research: Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19);Kumar, 40 more COVID-19 deaths, 7,219 new cases in Minnesota, StarTribune (Nov. 22, 2020); Snowbeck, November already sets record for COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota, StarTribune (Nov. 21, 2000); Howatt, November on track to be Minnesota’s deadliest month for COVID-19., StarTrib. (Nov. 20, 2020); Olson, ‘No beds anywhere’: Minnesota hospitals strained to limit by COVID-19, StarTribune (Nov. 22, 2020); Governor Walz, Emergency Order 20-99 (Nov. 18, 2020); Pfizer, BioNTech Ask FDA to Authorize Their Covid-19 Vaccine, W.S.J. (Nov. 20, 2020); Robbins & Mueller, AstraZeneca Releases Promising Data on Its Coronavirus Vaccine, N.Y. Times (Nov. 23, 2020).

[3] E.g., Riccardi, Biden approaches 80 million votes in historic victory, AP (Nov. 18, 2020); Trump’s legal team cried vote fraud, but courts found none, StarTribune (Nov. 22, 2020); National Archives, Electoral College Timeline of Events

[4] E.g., Choma, Trump Has a Half Billion in Loans Coming Due. They may Be His Biggest Conflict of Interest Yet, Mother Jones (July/August 2020); Mahler, Individual-1, N.Y. Times Magazine at 35 (Nov. 22, 2020); Jacobs, Trump’s post-presidency will be cluttered with potentially serious legal battles, Wash. Post (Nov. 22, 2020).

 

 

 

 

President Trump Announces Categories for U.S. Admission of Refugees for Fiscal 2021             

On September 30, the U.S. State Department announced that President Trump had reduced the U.S. quota for admission of refugees to 15,000 for Fiscal Year 2021 (October 1, 2020-September 30, 2021) that would be documented in a subsequent presidential determination.[1]

That Presidential Determination confirming the 15,000 limitation was issued on October 28 in the form of a memorandum to the Secretary of State. It also announced allocations “among refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States.”[2] Here are those allocations:

Number Category
5,000 Refugees who: have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion; or are within a category of aliens established under subsections (b) and (c) of section 599D of Title V, Public Law 101-167, as amended (the Lautenberg and Specter Amendments). [(i) “aliens who are or were nationals and residents of the Soviet Union and who share common characteristics that identify them as targets of persecution in the Soviet Union on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” including “nationals and residents of the Soviet Union and who are Jews or Evangelical Christians ” and (ii) “aliens who are or were nationals and residents of Vietnam, Laos, or Cambodia and who share common characteristics that identify them as targets of persecution in such respective foreign state on such an account.
4,000 Refugees who are within a category of aliens listed in section 1243(a) of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007, Title XII, Div. A, Public Law 110-181, as amended: “[1) Iraqis who were or are employed by the United States Government, in Iraq;(2) Iraqis who establish to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State that they are or were employed in Iraq by–(A) a media or nongovernmental organization headquartered in the United States; or (B) an organization or entity closely associated with the United States mission in Iraq that has received United States Government funding through an official and documented contract, award, grant, or cooperative agreement; and 3) spouses, children, and parents whether or not  accompanying or following to join, and sons, daughters, and siblings of aliens described in paragraph (1), paragraph (2), or section 1244(b)(1); and(4) Iraqis who are members of a religious or minority community, have been identified by the Secretary of State, or the designee of the Secretary, as a persecuted group, and have close family members . . . in the United States.”
1,000 Refugees who are nationals or habitual residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.
5,000 Other refugees in the following groups: those referred to the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) by a United States Embassy in any location; those who will be admitted through a Form I-730 following-to-join petition or who gain access to the USRAP for family reunification through the P-3 process; those currently located in Australia, Nauru, or Papua New Guinea who gain access to the USRAP pursuant to an arrangement between the United States and Australia; those who are nationals or habitual residents of Hong Kong, Venezuela, or Cuba; and those in the USRAP who were in “Ready for Departure” status as of September 30, 2019.
15,000 TOTAL

In addition, the President authorized the Secretary of State, subject to certain conditions, “to transfer unused admissions from a particular allocation above to one or more other allocations, if there is a need for greater admissions for the allocation to which the admissions will be transferred.”

The President, subject to certain conditions, also authorized the Secretary of State to consider “the following persons . . ., if otherwise qualified, . . . [as] refugees for the purpose of admission to the United States within their countries of nationality or habitual residence: a. persons in Cuba; b. persons in Eurasia and the Baltics; c. persons in Iraq; d. persons in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador; and e. in exceptional circumstances, persons identified by a United States Embassy in any location.”

The President specified “that persons from certain high-risk areas of terrorist presence or control, including Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, shall not be admitted as refugees, except those refugees of special humanitarian concern:  (1) who have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion; (2) were referred to the USRAP by a United States Embassy in any location; or (3) who will be admitted through a Form I-730 following-to-join petition or who gain access to the USRAP for family reunification through the P‑3 process.  The threat to United States national security and public safety posed by the admission of refugees from high-risk areas of terrorist presence or control is significant and cannot be fully mitigated at this time.”

Another specification by the President was “ for FY 2021, newly admitted refugees should be placed, to the maximum extent possible, in States and localities that have clearly expressed their willingness to receive refugees under the Department of State’s Reception and Placement Program.  Such cooperation ensures that refugees are resettled in communities that are eager and equipped to support their successful integration into American society and the labor force.”

Finally the President determined “hat assistance to or on behalf of persons applying for admission to the United States as part of the overseas refugee admissions program will contribute to the foreign policy interests of the United States, and I accordingly designate such persons for this purpose.”

Conclusion

 The principal objection to this presidential action is the overall limitation of resettled refugees to 15,000 in one year. The identification of the refugees in the above categories and their allocated numbers presumably are justified.

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

[1] U.S. Reduces Refugee Admissions to 15,000 for Fiscal 2021, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 2, 2020).

[2] White House, Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021 (Oct. 28, 2020).

 

U.S. Needs Federal Elections Agency

This year’s U.S. presidential election reminds us that such elections operate under 50 sets of confusing rules established by state legislatures. We, therefore, should be reminded of the need for a Federal Elections Agency to simplify this morass.

Latest Proposal for Such an Agency[1]

The latest proposal for such an agency has been put forward by Charlotte Hill (a board member of FairVote and RepresentUs and a PhD candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley) and Lee Drutman (a senior fellow at New America and the author of Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: the Case for Multiparty Democracy in America).

They say, “Though the pandemic and this erratic president are stress-testing our election system like never before in recent memory, the challenges of holding a free and fair vote in America have been mounting for decades. Since the early 2000s, court battles over election rules have become constant, while global experts like those with The Economist’s “Democracy Index” have downgraded the quality of American democracy across multiple measures for years.”

“We often talk about elections as if voters across the country are participating in a single event. But the reality is that individual states and counties — and the partisan politicians who run them — largely make their own rules about ease of voting, ballots and district lines. The overall result is that in the 21st century, in the richest democracy in the world, some people must work much harder to exercise their basic right to vote — and even then, their ballot may be less potent than others.”

“Take rules around registration and voting. Some states and cities automatically register voters and proactively mail them their ballots. Other states require people to register weeks in advance of the election and, unless they have a valid excuse for voting absentee, to show up in person at the polls, where they may face long lines, poorly trained poll workers, and unreliable equipment — not to mention the chance of becoming infected with a lethal virus that thrives in crowded indoor environments.”

“If someone lives in a gerrymandered or lopsided district, that person’s vote might matter less. In the vast majority of states, partisan lawmakers decide how to draw district lines — carefully engineered to maintain power statewide, even if a majority of voters prefers the other party.”

“In the all too common worst-case scenarios, partisan officials take advantage of the lack of federal election standards to disproportionately purge minority voters from the registration rolls entirely, or invalidate their ballots because of minor technicalities at higher rates.”

The U.S. now has two federal election agencies: the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FEC oversees campaign finance laws, and EAC was created to provide guidance to states for meeting the requirements of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 by creating voluntary voting system guidelines and a national clearinghouse of information on election administration. But neither one is very effective.

The EAC “is designed to be bipartisan, with an even number of commissioners from both parties (two Democrats and two Republicans). But amid our hyperpartisan, polarized politics, bipartisan balance has meant deadlock. The commissioners can’t even agree on core issues like how to handle foreign interference: One Republican commissioner even stated that reports of Russian election meddling are ‘deceptive propaganda perpetrated on the American public.’ Partisanship isn’t the only issue. The commission has been plagued in recent years with unfilled appointments, reduced staff and budget cuts. Perhaps most important, it does not have the authority to make sure its recommendations are followed.”

Therefore, “It is clear that Congress needs to establish a federal elections agency to ensure that the voting process is fair, consistent, secure and legitimate — from redistricting to registration to voting technology. Would this be constitutional? In short, absolutely: Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution explicitly gives Congress broad powers to ‘make or alter’ regulations affecting elections.”

Such an agency “could help oversee and administer the standards for voting access, legislative decisions on redistricting and election security. It could use formal orders, fines, lawsuits and even criminal enforcement actions to make sure that political campaigns are conducted with integrity, elections are not marred by fraud or interference and lawmakers are penalized for attempting to rig the system in their favor.”

Such an agency “could use new, safe technologies to modernize and streamline our elections, while consolidating and securing important data. It could also help pilot secure election technology, such as the ‘uncheckable’ open-source voting system currently being developed by the Department of Defense. Unlike current election software that is bought from private companies and shielded from public inspection, this system will run publicly available computer code that election security experts can scrutinize for issues.”

This proposed “agency could also better take on certain administrative functions that are currently carried out by the states: for example, the creation of a national voter roll, with all eligible citizens automatically registered to vote. This would bring our registration system up to the standards of most other advanced democracies. (And simultaneously make it easier for intelligence officials to detect security breaches.)”

In addition, it “could . . . regulate the distribution of false or misleading information about federal elections — an increasingly important challenge.”

This “agency would not stop at setting federal standards; it would also enforce them. That means ensuring that congressional redistricting is truly fair for all voters by reviewing district maps and — if they do not meet standards — require that new maps be drawn. And that means monitoring elections to ensure they’re free and fair, including by building out an ‘election forensics’ team that can determine whether fraud, interference, or suppression tipped the balance in a given race.”

This proposed “agency must have a strong mandate, based on widely supported principles of democratic fairness, as well as an empowered inspector general to monitor any potential abuses of that power. We propose an extensive vetting process for agency appointees: a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission could put forth a short list of names and nominees would be confirmed by the House of Representatives — a more broadly representative body than the Senate.”

“Appointees [to this agency] would have to abide by a robust conflict-of-interest policy, as well as a legally binding pledge of allegiance to the integrity of the voting process and the public interest. Taken together, these structural safeguards make us optimistic that the agency would serve its intended purpose.”

Concurring Opinion for a Federal Elections Agency[2]

Stephen I. Vladeck, a Professor and the holder of the Charles Alan Wright Chair in Federal Courts at the University of Texas School of Law, concurs in the conclusion that there should be a new federal elections agency.   He says, “centralizing the [federal election] process under uniform rules is one key reform.”  He points out that in Canada “a nonpartisan federal agency administers elections using a uniform set of rules and procedures across the country. Brazil has a similar system.”

In addition, Vladeck stresses that “the ‘torturous’ process for states’ reporting election results . . . [creates] the opportunity for at least one of the political parties ‘to conjure conspiracy theories to explain’ an election defeat.”

In this year’s U.S, election, for example, “the random way in which returns were counted and released by states — Election Day returns versus mail-in ballots, for instance — led to wild fluctuations as results were updated. The consequence, as experts predicted, was a series of shifts in early tabulations, as candidates seemed to outperform or underperform expectations. President Trump seized on these gyrations, warning that something ‘strange’ was going on and that a conspiracy was afoot to ‘steal’ the election.”

In addition, “the random dissemination of results gave the appearance of something that just wasn’t true — that the returns were dynamic, not static — and that the counting of votes reflected ‘trends’ when the result was already in. We simply needed to tally the votes to figure out what that result was.”

A related problem was the various ways of reporting the results “distorted our understanding of when votes were cast. In some states, like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, rules prohibiting “pre-canvassing” — preparing early and mail-in ballots for counting — before Election Day meant that votes cast first could end up being counted last.”

This lack of uniform rules for counting and reporting election results “opens the door for charges that something is amiss, as it might have struck some with the returns from Pennsylvania, where the count first had one candidate up by thousands of votes, only to swing entirely in the other direction. This can leave the impression that sinister forces were at work, when it was just a function of the partisan makeup of the counties whose votes were being counted, or the type of vote — mail-ins, for example, which are disproportionately Democratic — being reported.”

Another problem is the rules for counting and reporting votes could be structured so that the initial reported results “look much better for . . . [one party’s] candidates than the overall tally, thus influencing the election narrative. There’s value in shaping the headlines even if the bottom line remains unchanged.”

Conclusion

There should be a Federal Election Agency establishing an uniform set of rules for federal elections.

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

[1] Hill & Drutman, America Votes by 50 Sets of Rules. We Need a Federal Elections Agency, N.Y. Times (Nov. 5, 2020).

[2] Vladeck, Elections Don’t Have To Be So Chaotic and Excruciating, N.Y. Times (Nov. 8, 2020).

 

 

 

 

Pompeo Discusses Unalienable Rights and the Geneva Consensus Declaration

On October 29, in Jakarta, Indonesia before an audience of diplomats and faith leaders, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made an address he titled “Unalienable Rights and Traditions of Tolerance.” With him was the Chair of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights, Mary Ann Glendon. Here is what the Secretary said on that topic while also mentioning the Geneva Consensus Declaration.

The Secretary’s Remarks [1]

“The founding principle of the United States is very, very simple. America’s Declaration of Independence affirms that governments exist – governments exist to secure the rights inherent in every human being. Indeed, as the commission’s report argues, the United States was the first nation founded on a commitment, a deep commitment to universal rights for all human beings.”

“Now, the most fundamental of these rights is the right to freedom of conscience, including religious freedom. It’s the basis for the most important conversations about what conscience tells us and about what God demands of each of us. It’s one reason that religious freedom is the very first freedom enumerated in our Constitution, in the American constitution. As an evangelical Christian, my faith informs how I live, how I work, how I think.”

“And it is exceedingly rare in the scope of human history for a nation to make those promises to its citizens. It is rarer for nations even to keep them.”
“America’s respect for God-given rights, is the defining feature of our national spirit. It’s why America stood tallest among Western democracies in supporting your independence from colonial rule and has been a stalwart supporter of Indonesia’s transition to democracy over these past two decades. The fact that our people embrace freedom and uphold a tradition of tolerance is very special. We should never lose it. We must continue upholding our traditions, and we must do so very actively. We can’t assume our freedoms and our faith will live on. We must stand for what we believe.”

“I’m here in Indonesia because I believe that Indonesia shows us the way forward. There is literally no reason that Islam can’t co-exist peacefully alongside Christianity or Buddhism. . .Indeed, Indonesia’s national motto, translated into English, is, ‘Unity Amid Diversity.’. . . [And] your Constitution from 1945 clearly declares that every person shall be free: ‘Every person shall be free to…practice the religion of his [or] her choice.’” [These values then were implemented in your “Pancasila – foundational principles that enshrined the importance of faith in the life of your country[and established] . . .that Indonesia’s embrace of diverse religions, people, and cultures would become a core pillar of your country’s success.”

“The flexible, inclusive, and tolerant democratic culture that has emerged since the Reformasi of 1998 has defied the skeptics, the skeptics who believed that Indonesia could only be governed by a strongman restricting the rights of its people. Indonesia has since then given the whole world a positive model of how different faiths, different ethnic groups . . can coexist peacefully and settle their disagreements through democratic means. This is glorious.”

The work of the groups here today “is now more important than ever. Blasphemy accusations, which destroy lives, have become more common. Discrimination against non-official religions renders their practitioners second-class citizens who are subject to abuse and deprivation.”

“I want you to urge the same actions I asked the Catholic Church’s leaders to do in the Vatican.” [2]

“We need more religious leaders to speak out on behalf of people of all faiths wherever their rights are being violated. We need more religious leaders to be a moral witness. We need more religious leaders to support principles of ‘humanity and justice,’ as your founders wrote, and as our respect for unalienable rights demands.”

After noting the U.S. complaints about the Burmese military and the Iranian regime’s persecution of religious groups, the Secretary said, “the gravest threat to the future of religious freedom is the Chinese Communist Party’s war against people of all faiths: Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Falun Gong practitioners alike.The atheist Chinese Communist Party has tried to convince the world that its brutalization of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang is necessary as a part of its counterterrorism efforts or poverty alleviation. . . . [but we know those claims to be false.] I know that the Chinese Communist Party has tried to convince Indonesians to look away, to look away from the torments your fellow Muslims are suffering.. . . [But] you know the ways that the Islamic tradition – and the Indonesian tradition – demand that we speak out and work for justice. . . .

“Free people of free nations must defend those [God-given unalienable] rights. It is our duty. Even as we each do this . . in our own and often different ways, we should recognize that we have strength in numbers. We should recognize that we can turn to each other for support in difficult times, and that our cherished rights and values are absolutely worth defending at every moment, as the birthright of every people.

The Secretary then gave the following responses to questions from the audience:

• Pompeo said the U.S. works on counter-terrorism and on developing “a model for Middle East peace” and respect for human rights.
• The Geneva Consensus Declaration that recently was signed by the U.S., Indonisia and others acknowledges these religious freedom rights and protects the unborn. [3]
• The recent peace agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan seek to improve the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. still supports a two-state solution.
• The Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights recognizes the U.S. Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an important aspirational document that calls on every nation to embrace and protect human rights. [4]

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[1] State Dep’t, Pompeo Speech: Unalienable Rights and Traditions of Tolerance (Oct. 29, 2020).

[2] On September 30 at the Vatican Secretary Pompeo gave a speech that criticized the Pope for having agreed to accept seven bishops appointed by China for the official, state-sanctioned church and for recently negotiating the renewal of that agreement. (See Secretary Pompeo Foments Conflict with the Holy See, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 3, 2020). Subsequently, on October 22, the Vatican announced such a two-year renewal although the exact details of the agreement were not released, but it contemplates ongoing dialogue about various issues. The Holy See said that it “considers the initial application of the agreement – which is of great ecclesial and pastoral value – to have been positive, thanks to good communication and cooperation between the parties on the matters agreed upon, and intends to pursue an open and constructive dialogue for the benefit of the life of the Catholic Church and the good of Chinese people.” And the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said the Vatican ‘does not fail to attract the attention of the Chinese government to encourage a more fruitful exercise of religious freedom.’” (Winfield, Vatican, China extend bishop agreement over U.S. opposition, Wash. Post (Oct. 22, 2020); Rocca & Wong, Vatican, Bejing Renew Deal on Bishop Appointments, as Catholics Remain Divided, W.S.J. (Oct. 22, 2020); Horowitz, Vatican Extends Deal With China Over Appointment of Bishops, N.Y. Times (Oct. 22, 2020).

[3] The Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 5, 2020).

[4] U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights Issues Final Report, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 4, 2020).

 

 

The Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family

On October 22, the U.S. hosted a ceremony at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)  for the signing of the Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family.[1]

Contents of the Declaration[2]

The Declaration was prepared because COVID-19 prevented the signatories from meeting in Geneva, Switzerland for the 2020 World Health Assembly “to review progress made and challenges to uphold the right to the highest attainable standards of health for women; to promote women’s essential contribution to health, and strength of the family and of a successful and flourishing society; and to express the essential priority of protecting the right to life, committing to coordinated efforts in multilateral fora.”

The signatories, therefore:

“1. Reaffirm ‘all are equal before the law,’  and ‘human rights of women are an inalienable, integral, and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms’;”

“2. Emphasize ‘the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights,’  as well as economic, social, and cultural rights; and the ‘equal rights, opportunities and access to resources and equal sharing of responsibilities for the family by men and women and a harmonious partnership between them are critical to their well-being and that of their families’ ; and that ‘women and girls must enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources, and political participation as well as equal opportunities with men and boys for employment, leadership and decision-making at all levels;’”

“3. Reaffirm the inherent ‘dignity and worth of the human person,’ that ‘every human being has the inherent right to life,’ and the commitment ‘to enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant;’”

“4. Emphasize that ‘in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning’ and that ‘any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process’; Reaffirm that ‘the child… needs special safeguards and care… before as well as after birth’ and ‘special measures of protection and assistance should be taken on behalf of all children,’ based on the principle of the best interest of the child;”

” 5. Reaffirm that ‘the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’; that ‘motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance,’ that ‘women play a critical role in the family’ and women’s ‘contribution to the welfare of the family and to the development of society’;”

“6. Recognize that ‘universal health coverage is fundamental for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals related not only to health and well-being,’ with further recognition that ‘health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ that ‘the predominant focus of health-care systems on treating illness rather than maintaining optimal health also prevents a holistic approach’; and that there are ‘needs that exist at different stages in an individual’s lifespan, which together support optimal health across the life course, entailing the provision of the necessary information, skills, and care for achieving the best possible health outcomes and reaching full human potential; and”

“7. Reaffirm ‘the importance of national ownership and the primary role and responsibility of governments at all levels to determine their own path towards achieving universal health coverage, in accordance with national contexts and priorities’, preserving human dignity and all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Furthermore, the signatories ”hereby declare in mutual friendship and respect, our commitment to work together to:

  • Ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and equal opportunity for women at all levels of political, economic, and public life;
  • Improve and secure access to health and development gains for women, including sexual and reproductive health, which must always promote optimal health, the highest attainable standard of health, without including abortion;
  • Reaffirm that there is no international right to abortion, nor any international obligation on the part of States to finance or facilitate abortion, consistent with the long-standing international consensus that each nation has the sovereign right to implement programs and activities consistent with their laws and policies;
  • Build our health system capacity and mobilize resources to implement health and development programs that address the needs of women and children in situations of vulnerability and advance universal health coverage;
  • Advance supportive public health policies for women and girls as well as families, including building our healthcare capacity and mobilizing resources within our own countries, bilaterally, and in multilateral fora;
  • Support the role of the family as foundational to society and as a source of health, support, and care; and
  • Engage across the UN system to realize these universal values, recognizing that individually we are strong, but together we are stronger.”

The Declaration’s Signatories[3]

The co-sponsors and signatories of this Declaration were the U.S., Indonesia, Brazil, Egypt, Hungary and Uganda. The other 26 signatories included Poland, the Belarus (where security forces are currently trying to suppress a women-led protest movement), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan and Libya.

According to the Women, Peace and Security Index that was established by Georgetown University, most of the signatories are among the worst countries for women’s rights, and none of the top twenty countries on that index—except for the U.S. which ranked 19th—signed the declaration.

At the ceremony, Alex Azar, the Secretary of DHHS, said, “too many wealthy nations and international institutions put a myopic focus on a radical agenda that is offensive to many cultures and derails agreement on women’s health priorities. Today, we put down a clear marker: No longer can U.N. agencies reinterpret and misinterpret agreed-upon language without accountability. Member States set the policy for the U.N. to pursue. Not the other way around.”

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo added that this document aims to “protect women’s health, defends the unborn and reiterates the vital importance of the family as the foundation of society.” He also stressed, “There is no international right to abortion.”

The document does not directly address same-sex marriage, but its statement that the family is “the natural and fundamental group unit of society” has clear meaning for those signatories that restrict LGBT rights like Egypt.

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[1] Health & Human Services Dep’t, Trump Administration Marks the Signing of the Geneva Consensus Declaration (Oct. 22, 2020); Berger, U.S. signs international declaration challenging right to abortion and upholding ‘role of the family,’ Wash. Post (Oct. 22, 2020); Borger, U.S. signs anti-abortion declaration with group of largely authoritarian governments, Guardian (Oct. 22, 2020).

[2] Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family.

[3]  See n. 1; Azar, Remarks at the Geneva Consensus Declaration Signing Ceremony, DHHS (Oct. 22, 2020); State Dep’t, Secretary Pompeo Participates in the Geneva Consensus Declaration Signing Ceremony (Oct. 21, 2020).