Emerging Development of Cuba’s Mariel Port 

Only 28 miles west of Havana, Cuba has been developing the Mariel Special Economic Development Zone around a deep-water port. Now this project is reaching fruition.[1]

With a goal of becoming a bustling commercial city built on high-tech, advanced manufacturing and sustainable development, the Zone of 115,000 acres now has large tracts of land leveled and ready for construction of the following two major manufacturing operations:

  • The BrasCuba factory — a joint venturebetween Brazil’s Souza Cruz and Cuba’s Tabacuba–will turn out Popular, Cohiba and H. Upmann cigarettes for export and the domestic market.
  • Womy Equipment Rental, a Dutch company that rents cranes and other heavy equipment, has just finished its building as shown in this photograph.

In addition, a site has been prepared for a Cuban biotech factory, and two foreign companies–BDC-Log and BDC-Tec– have begun operating in the zone’s logistics sector.

Although only nine companies are currently operating there, another 18, including firms from Spain, the Netherlands, Panama, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, Vietnam, France, Belgium, and Cuba itself have been approved and are getting ready to start.

The port has more than 2,300 feet of wharf space, four super Post-Panamax cranes and the capacity to handle 820,000 cargo containers annually.

In light of President Trump’s June 2017 announcement of still forthcoming regulatory restrictions on U.S. business’ doing business in Cuba, U.S. firms have been reluctant to make commitments for Mariel projects.

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[1] Whitefield, Mariel is Cuba’s big industrial gamble. Could U.S. companies be among investors?, Miami Herald (Oct. 23, 2017). An earlier blog post discussed potential U.S. interest in Mariel.

Cuba Pays $60 Million of Indebtedness to Major Creditor Nations     

The week of October 15 Cuba paid $60 million of indebtiness to 14 wealthy creditor nations. Last year Cuba paid $40 million to the same group. The total debt is $2.6 billion after the creditors in 2015 forgave $8.5 billion of $11.1 billion upon which Cuba had defaulted through 1986 plus charges.[1]

These creditor nations known as the Club of Paris are the following: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Under the 2015 agreement, Cuba agreed for the first time to grant the creditors equity in development projects, in areas like manufacturing and agriculture, in exchange for a portion of their debt holdings. Many of these restructuring agreements include the establishment of so-called counter-value funds, under which a percentage of debt is discounted in exchange for the potential profits stemming from participation by a creditor country’s firms in Cuba joint-development projects.

The counter-value funds have an estimated combined value of around $750 million of the $2.6 billion owed. Japan, Spain, France and Italy – Cuba’s largest Paris Club creditors – are furthest along in negotiating swaps.

  • For example, a $46 million French project to develop cattle ranching and dairy products in central Camaguey province is ready to sign, according to France’s ambassador to Cuba, Jean-Marie Bruno.
  • Another example is Spain which has a project ready to manufacture cardboard and another aluminium structures for construction capable of resisting earthquakes and hurricanes, both involving Spanish companies.

This access to Cuban development projects gives the European countries and companies an advantage over U.S. companies who are banned by various U.S. laws from such projects.

This payment happened during dire economic times for Cuba due to the political and economic crisis in its ally Venezuela, declines in Cuban exports and tourism due, in part, to the damages caused by Hurricane Irma.

Cuba’s payment in these circumstances showed the importance Cuba attaches to the 2015 agreement with this group of major creditor nations.

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[1] Reuters, Cash-Strapped Cuba Makes Debt Payment to Major Creditors-Diplomats, N.Y. Times (Oct. 18, 2017); Chow, Cuba Reaches Deal to Pay $2.6 Billion in Arrears to Paris Club, W.S.J. (Dec. 12, 2015); Paris Club, Agreement on the Debt Between Cuba and the Group of Creditors of Cuba (Dec. 12, 2015).

The Confession of Belhar Is Adopted by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

PCUSA

On June 23, 2016, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) overwhelmingly voted (540 to 33) to include in its Book of Confessions the 1986 Confession of Belhar from South Africa.

Let us examine that Confession, its adoption by the PC(USA)’s General Assembly, the PC(USA)’s Book of Confessions and the recent use of the Belhar Confession at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, a member of the PC(USA).

 The Confession of Belhar[1]

The Belhar Confession emerged from the era of apartheid in South Africa, 1948-1994. That doctrine and practice of racial segregation was embraced by the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRC) for whites and imposed upon its racially segregated offshoots: the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) for colored or mixed-race people, the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa for blacks and the Reformed Church in Africa for people of Indian descent.

After the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, the 1964 convictions and imprisonments of anti-apartheid activists Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, the 1976 Soweto Uprising and the 1976 condemnation of South Africa and apartheid by the United Nations, the Synod of the DRMC in 1978 concluded that apartheid was anti-evangelical and a structural and institutional sin.

Eight years later, in 1986, another Synod of the DRMC met in Belhar, a colored suburb of Capetown, South Africa, and adopted the Confession of Belhar. It has the following primary confessional statements:

  1. “We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.”
  2. “We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.”
  3. “We believe that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ; that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
  4. “We believe that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people.”
  5. “We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence.”

Three of these statements also set forth additional detailed belief statements and rejections of any doctrine and ideology which:

  • “absolutizes  natural diversity or the sinful separation of people;”
  • “explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church;”
  • “sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race or color;”
  • “would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.”

The PC(USA)’s Adoption of the Belhar Confession [2]

As previously noted, on June 23, 2016 (30 years after the DRMC adoption of the Confession of Belhar), the General Assembly of the PC(USA) voted to add that Confession to the U.S. church’s Book of Confessions.

Rev. Godfrey Betha
Rev. Godfrey Betha

Immediately after the vote, the General Assembly was addressed by Rev. Godfrey Betha, the Vice Moderator of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, which was formed by the DRMC and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa for blacks. Betha told the General Assembly, “It is important to seek solidarity with South Africa. We’ve come a long way with the PC(USA). We are grateful to have you as partners in service to the Lord. Today we offer gratitude, we salute you as the PC(USA) for your historic decision to adopt the Belhar Confession as a standard of faith for your church. I bow in humility to God and thankfulness to you … I’ll never forget this date.”

Betha added: “Your decision affirms that, like those other historic standards of faith, the Belhar Confession transcends its historic circumstances as a standard for faith in all places and times. Your decision affirms that Belhar does speak against ideological and theological attempts to justify specific historical forms of injustice. Your decision affirms to your church, [and] to all, when you come looking for the demon of racism, don’t come to us.”

Rev. Allan Boesak
Rev. Allan Boesak

Also present at the General Assembly was Rev. Allan Boesak, a co-author of the Confession of Belhar and the moderator of the DRMC when it was adopted in 1986. He said, “I thank God for what happened here tonight. I thank God for your faithfulness. I thank God for your acknowledgement of our common humanity in doing this … I thank God, and I thank you, and because of Jesus and because of God’s faithfulness, we shall overcome.”

Rev. Denise Anderson
Rev. T. Denise Anderson

At that point the commissioners linked hands throughout the plenary hall and spontaneously broke into “We Shall Overcome,” the famous song of the U.S. African-American civil rights movement, led by the General Assembly’s Co- Moderator, Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Pastor, Unity Presbyterian Church, Temple Hills, MD.

Earlier that same day, and before the General Assembly action, Boesak had addressed a breakfast meeting at the General Assembly. He said the Belhar Confession “stirs us, humbles us, and inspires us … It’s a unifying document. We cannot yet foresee the consequences of the Confession. No other Confession has been so clear in its intentions: not only unity, but its foundationality; not just reconciliation, but its inescapability; not only justice, but its indivisibility.”

“Today is a defining moment for the PC(USA), as it was for the Dutch Reformed Mission Church 30 years ago as we finally adopted the Belhar Confession,” Boesak continued. “But the defining moment  was  not  just  the  adoption  of  the confession, as stunning as it was. In the years between 1982 and 1986, my friend and colleague and co-author Jaap Durand offered crucial prophetic insights that inspired and haunted the church in ways we couldn’t imagine in 1982, saying, ‘A  confession does not and cannot engage in mere trivialities. It can only be an extension of the ancient confession that Christ is Lord… I’m convinced that the Confession of Belhar will outlive apartheid and the heresy that formed it.’”

Recalling the struggles of black South Africans to remain faithful and pursue unity in light of terrible oppression, mass detention and cruel policies, Bosack said: “The church became directly involved in the efforts of freedom and justice in South Africa. The Jesus we worship and confess as Lord in the sanctuary is the Jesus we take into the street. Our people were slaughtered. Everyone was touched in one way or another.”

“By 1986 we saw no sense in, and had no desire for, unity with the white church, or with white people in general,” he said of the general despair that afflicted the DRMC. “But we had Belhar, [which] . . . understood [John] Calvin as he spoke of Holy Communion. ‘Christ has only one body of which he makes us all partakers.’”

Calling the unity of the church both a gift and command, Boesak said it was difficult in those years to find points of unity or reconciliation with those who were actively opposing the rights of black South Africans. The Belhar Confession, however, understood from Isaiah that God is not only a God of justice, but that God is a God of indivisible justice,” he said. “So against our self-absorbed instinct for self-absorbed victimhood, the black church confessed God as a God who wants to bring forth peace and justice in the world, and that God calls the church to follow in this, that the church must stand next to people in any form of need or injustice.”

This teaching of Belfar also challenged the DRMC when it faced the issue of the rights of LGBTQI and eventually affirmed those rights. Boesak said his denomination had “to face the consequences, not only with the white Dutch Reformed Church, but within itself.”

“In following Christ, the church must fight against those who use their privilege to oppress and put down any people,” he said. In asking the PC(USA) to “witness against any form of injustice,” Boesak turned his attention to Palestine, asking the denomination to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement – similar to those used to end apartheid – to place economic pressure on Israel to end the occupation and expansion of territories. “Kairos Palestine is a cry from the heart of suffering,” he said. “Unless it rolls down for Palestinians, it will not roll down for others. Indivisible. Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”

In conclusion, Boesak said of Belhar and its broader implications: “It is a confession that stirs us, humbles us, and inspires us … It’s a unifying document.”

The PC(USA)’s Book of Confessions

The Book of Confessions is a collection of confessions and creeds that declare to the church’s “members and to the world who and what [the church] is, what it believes and what it resolves to do.” Prior to the addition of the Belhar Confession, the Book contained 11 confessions and creeds starting with the Nicene Creed of 325 and ending with A Brief Statement of Faith– Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) of 1983.[3]

According to the church’s Book of Order, These creeds and confessions are “subordinate standards . . . subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to him” that “identify the church as a community of people known by its convictions as well as by its actions,” that “guide the church in its study and interpretation of the Scriptures,” that “summarize the essence of Christian tradition,” that “direct the church in maintaining sound doctrines” and that “equip the church for its work of proclamation.” They also give “witness to the faith of the church catholic” while identifying “with the affirmations of the Protestant Reformation:” “grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.”[4]

Westminster’s Recent Use of the Belhar Confession

One of Belhar Confession’s central themes was adapted for use by Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church as its July 17, 2016, Call to Worship (in call and response mode):[5]

  • One: This we believe.
  • All: God longs to bring justice and peace among all people.
  • One: This we believe.
  • All: God teaches the church to do what is good and to seek the right.
  • One: This we believe.
  • All: God sees a day when all people – black, white, red, yellow, and brown – will live together in harmony.
  • One: This we believe.
  • All: God calls the church to follow Jesus, to lift up the poor, to heal those who hurt, to feed those who hunger, and to comfort those who grieve.”

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[1] PCUSA, Confession of Belhar (English translation); PCUSA, The Belhar Confession (paper about the history of the Confession); PCUSA, 30 Days with the Belhar Confession: Reflections on Unity, Reconciliation and Justice (this book weaves together Scripture passages and the Confession’s timely themes of unity, reconciliation and justice; it is written by a diverse collection of scholars, theologians and church leaders and is a great resource for individuals, study groups or entire congregations wanting to familiarize themselves with the Confession through prayer and reflection; the Confession itself is included).

[2] PCUSA, Allan Boesak commends Belhar Confession (June 23, 2016); PCUSA, Belhar added to PC(USA)’s Book of Confessions (June 23, 2016); Duffield, Adopting Belhar, the 222nd General Assembly Makes History, Presbyterian Outlook (June 23, 2016). The Confession previously had been adopted by Namibia’s Evangelical Reformed Church in Africa, Belgium’s United Protestant Church, the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church of North America. The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, however, has not adopted the Confession in a manner acceptable to the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa and, therefore, has not merged into the latter.

[3] PCUSA, Book of Confessions.

[4] PCUSA, Book of Order, Ch. II (1983-85 edition).

[5] Westminster, Worship Bulletin (July 17, 2016).

 

 

Issues of Cuban Human Rights To Be Discussed by Cuba and United States (Part II)

On March 26 Cuba announced that the U.S. and Cuba will commence their negotiations regarding human rights on March 31 in Washington, D.C.; this was covered in a prior post.

Issues of Cuban human rights that probably will be put on the agenda for further discussions were first examined in a prior post about the recent speech on this subject by Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.

In Cuba’s March 26th announcement of the upcoming talks, Pedro Luis Pedroso, Cuba’s Deputy Director General of Multilateral Affairs and International Law, referred to “the recognition Cuba received at the last Universal Periodic Review [UPR] by the U.N. Human Rights Council, where the international community praised and commended Cuban achievements in areas such as education, health and access to cultural rights, and the contribution the island has made in those same areas in other countries.”

Therefore, this post will look at that UPR of Cuba while another post will discuss the latest U.S. State Department report on Cuban human rights (the one issued in 2014 for 2013).

The Nature of the UPR Process [1]

In order to assess the recent UPR of Cuba, we first must understand the UPR process, which provides the opportunity for each of the 193 U.N. members, on a periodic basis, to declare what actions it has taken to improve its human rights and to fulfill its human rights obligations.

The UPR process includes a report on all human rights issues from the subject country, compilations of information about the country from various U.N. organizations and from “stakeholders” (non-governmental organizations), a public interactive session of the Human Rights Council about the country, a report by a working group about the proceedings that includes conclusions and recommendations, the subject country’s responses to those conclusions and recommendations and a subsequent evaluation of the UPR by the Council.

It is exceedingly important, however, to know that these conclusions and recommendations are merely a systematic compilation or listing of all those that had been offered by all of the countries participating in the UPR. Hence, there is a lot of duplication and overlapping in this part of the report, which is not similar to an independent judicial body’s reaching certain findings and conclusions based upon an evaluation of often conflicting evidence. Indeed, the Working Group’s report expressly states that the conclusions and recommendations “should not be construed as endorsed by the Working Group as a whole.” In short, there is no overall “grade” of a country’s human rights performance by the Working Group or by the Council as a whole.

Most Recent UPR of Cuba [2]

The most recent UPR of Cuba occurred in 2013.

1. The Report of  the Working Group.

The key document in figuring out what happened in this UPR is the “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Cuba” that was issued on July 8, 2013. It has the following standard structure, after a brief Introduction:

I. Summary of the proceedings of the review process

A. Presentation by the State under review

B. Interactive dialogue and response by the State under review

II. Conclusions and Recommendations

The “interactive dialogue.” This section of this report states that there was such a dialogue about Cuba involving 132 delegations at the session on May 1, 2013, and sets forth a brief summary of that dialogue in 144 numbered paragraphs. One example is paragraph 31, which states, “ Nicaragua highlighted the commitment of Cuba to human rights despite the blockade, and condemned the [U.S.] convictions against five Cubans.”

The only reference to U.S. comments in this dialogue is in paragraph 77, which states the U.S. “raised concerns for impediments to multiparty elections and freedom of expression and referred to Alan Gross and Oswaldo Paya.” Cuba, according to paragraph 111, responded to this U.S. comment by saying that “freedom of the press was guaranteed in Cuba“ and by “reiterated[ing its] . . . willingness . . . to continue talks with the [U.S.] . . . on the situation of Mr. Gross and of other individuals who were held in detention in Cuba and in the [U.S.].” [3]

Conclusions and Recommendations. This section starts with the following statement: “The recommendations formulated [by all the countries participating] during the interactive dialogue and listed below will be examined by Cuba, which will provide responses in due time, but no later than the twenty-fourth session of the Human Rights Council in September 2013” (para. 170). This section of the Report is concluded by this statement: “All conclusions and/or recommendations contained in the present report reflect the position of the submitting State(s) and/or the State under review. They should not be construed as endorsed by the Working Group as a whole” (para. 171).

The actual conclusions and recommendations are summarized in 292 numbered subparagraphs of the Report. Those offered by the U.S. are for Cuba to “allow for independent investigations into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero” (para. 170.138) [4], to “release Alan Gross and imprisoned journalists such as Jose Antonio Torres immediately” (para. 170.187) [5] and to “eliminate or cease enforcing laws impeding freedom of expression” (para. 170.176).

2. Cuba’s Responses to the Recommendations.

In response to the U.S. recommendations and 20 others from other countries, Cuba said they “do not enjoy [its] support . . . on the grounds that they are politically biased and based on false premises; they derive from attempts to discredit Cuba by those who, with their hegemonic ambitions, refuse to accept the Cuban people’s diversity and right to self-determination. These proposals are inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation and respect demanded by the UPR process.” Moreover, said Cuba, they “are incompatible with constitutional principles and national legislation, and whose content is contrary to the spirit of cooperation and respect that should predominate at the UPR.” [6]

The other 20 numbered recommendations that were so summarily rejected by Cuba related to protecting human rights defenders, including journalists, against abusive criminal prosecutions, harassment and intimidation (Czech Republic, Austria, Australia, Germany, Hungary); release of all political prisoners (Czech Republic, Belgium, Slovenia, Poland), end indefinite extensions of preliminary criminal investigations (Belgium); improve freedom of expression (Romania, Estonia, Hungary, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, France, Canada); repeal laws relating to “pre-criminal social dangerousness” (Ireland); end repression, investigate acts of repudiation and protect targets of intimidation and violence (Netherlands); and end Internet censorship (Australia, Germany).

Cuba, however, did accept 230 of the recommendations while noting, “Many of these . . . have already been complied with, or are in the process of implementation , or are included among future national priorities.” Therefore, these items “will be implemented in accordance with our capabilities and in step with the evolution of the circumstances within which Cuba is pursuing its aim of complete social justice.”

The remaining 42 recommendations were “noted” by Cuba as matters to be examined with the understanding that its “process of ratifying an international instrument is very rigorous;” that is stands ready “to continue cooperating with . . . the UN System’s human rights machinery;” that it is “philosophically opposed to the death penalty: and wants to eliminate it when suitable conditions exist;” that it has an “extensive and effective” system for resolving human rights complaints; that its “system of criminal justice . . . ensures fair and impartial hearings and full guarantees to the accused;” Cuba is working at expanding internet access; and “the right to freedom of expression and assembly . . . [is] enshrined in the Constitution and . . . national legislation.”

3. Human Rights Council’s Evaluation of this UPR. As paragraph 170 of the Report of the Working Group provided, the Council was to review the UPR of Cuba at its session in September 2013 after Cuba had submitted its response to the conclusions and recommendations. That Cuban response was just summarized, and the Council on September 20, 2013, reviewed this UPR and approved, without a vote, a resolution “to adopt the outcome of the universal periodic review of Cuba, comprising the report thereon of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review . . ., the views of Cuba concerning the recommendations and/or conclusions made, and its voluntary commitments and replies presented before the adoption of the outcome by the plenary to questions or issues not sufficiently addressed during the interactive dialogue held in the Working Group.” [7]

Criticism of the Recent UPR of Cuba

It must also be noted that an observer has alleged that Cuba “corrupted and abused” this UPR process by prompting the submission of many “fraudulent” stakeholder NGOs; there was a total of 454 submissions regarding Cuba compared with the next highest, 48 on Canada. As a result, says this observer (UN Watch), “numerous statements of praise taint the UN’s official summary” of stakeholders’ submissions. UN Watch also alleges that the compilation of information from U.N. agencies was unfairly slanted in favor of Cuba. [8]

Another observer (International Service for Human Rights) reported that during the UPR of Cuba, 132 countries, at 51 seconds each, took the floor to ask questions and make recommendations. As a result, Cuba received 293 recommendations, the highest number that a State under review has ever received at the UPR, but 121 of them started with the verb ‘continue,’ thus requiring minimal action to be taken by Cuba. [9]

Conclusion

I do not know whether any of NGO stakeholders at this UPR were “fraudulent,” as alleged, but it does appear that Cuba “stacked” the process to minimize the time available to authentic critics of its human rights record and to maximize the time available to its supporters. It also appears as if Cuba rejected recommendations for improving many foundational human rights.

In any event, because the UPR process does not involve a truly independent fact-finder to assess the human rights record of Cuba or any other country in such a process, I reject the assertion by Cuba’s Deputy Director General of Multilateral Affairs and International Law, Pedro Luis Pedroso, that Cuba obtained a laudatory evaluation of its human rights record by the U.N. Human Rights Council. In short, I think this UPR is irrelevant to Cuba’s human rights issues.

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[1] Details about the UPR process are provided on the Council’s website. The process involves a “working group,” which is composed of all 47 members of the Council.

[2] All of the documents about the UPR of Cuba are available on the Council’s website, including the Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Cuba, dated July 8, 2013.

[3] As discussed in a prior post, Alan Gross was released from a Cuban prison on December 17, 2014, and returned to the U.S. as part of the U.S.-Cuba agreement to re-establish normal diplomatic relations.

[4] Paya was a Cuban political activist, a leader of the political opposition to the to the Cuban government. He was the founder and organizer of the Varela Project, which collected enough signatures to present to the government a request for changes in legislation. He was awarded the Andrei Sakharov Prize for Human Rights of the European Parliament in 2002. On July 12, 2012, Paya was killed in an automobile crash in Cuba under suspicious circumstances; Harold Cepero, a youth leader, was also killed in the crash. Many people believe they were murdered by government agents.

[5] Torres, a correspondent for the Cuban government newspaper, Granma, wrote an article about alleged mismanagement of a Santiago Cuba aqueduct project and of the installation of the Cuba-Venezuela fibre-optic cable. Afterwards he was charged and convicted of spying and sentenced to 14 years in prison and cancellation of his university degree in journalism.

[6] Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Cuba: Addendum: Views on conclusions and/or recommendation, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review [Cuba] (Sept. 2013).

[7] Report of the Human Rights Council at its 24th session (Para. 24/114) (Jan. 27, 2014).

[8] UNWatch, Massive Fraud: The Corruption of the 2013 UPR of Cuba.

[9] Int’l Service for Human Rights, Unprecedented challeng to the Universal Periodic Review (May 31, 2013)  See also Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, Alleged Fraud During Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review, Human Rights Brief (Oct. 24, 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. State Department’s Report on International Religious Freedom in 2013

USDeptStateseal

On July 28, 2014, the U.S. State Department released its annual report on religious freedom around the world.[1]

 Secretary of State Kerry’s Comments

Announcing the release of the report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said although the U.S. was “obviously far from perfect,” it was important for the U.S. to treasure freedom of religion as “a universal value. . . . The freedom to profess and practice one’s faith is the birthright of every human being . . . [and] are properly recognized under international law. The promotion of international religious freedom is a priority for President Obama and it is a priority for me as Secretary of State.” In short, “religious freedom remains an integral part of our global diplomatic engagement.”

Executive Summary of the Report

The world had the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory. In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs. Out of fear or by force, entire neighborhoods are emptying of residents. Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map.” In conflict zones (Syria, Central African Republic and Burma), this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm.

All around the world, individuals were subjected to discrimination, violence and abuse, perpetrated and sanctioned violence for simply exercising their faith, identifying with a certain religion, or choosing not to believe in a higher deity at all. Countries where this was a significant problem were Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Eritrea. Throughout Europe, the historical stain of anti-Semitism continued to be a fact of life.

Governments repressed religious freedom. Governments from all regions subjected members of religious groups to repressive policies, discriminatory laws, disenfranchisement, and discriminatory application of laws. These governmental actions not only infringed on freedom of religion themselves, but they also often created a permissive environment for broader human rights abuses. Restrictive policies included laws criminalizing religious activities and expression, prohibitions on conversion or proselytizing, blasphemy laws, and stringent registration requirements or discriminatory application of registration requirements for religious organizations. This was especially true in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, China, Cuba, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Burma, Russia and Bahrain.

Governments engaged in discrimination, impunity and displacement of religious minorities. When governments choose not to combat discrimination on the basis of religion and intolerance, it breeds an environment in which intolerant and violent groups are emboldened, even to the point of physically attacking individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs. Governments in these countries failed to protect vulnerable communities and many religious minority communities were disproportionately affected, resulting in a large number of refugees and internally displaced persons. This was especially true in Syria, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India and Nigeria. Rising anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in the following countries of Europe demonstrated that intolerance is not limited to countries in active conflict:Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and United Kingdom.

Religious minority communities were disproportionately affected by violence, discrimination and harassment. In many regions of the world, religious intolerance was linked to civil and economic strife and resulted in mass migration of members of religious minority communities throughout the year. In some of these areas, the outward migration of certain communities has the potential to permanently change the demographics of entire regions.

“Countries of Particular Concern”

Pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State designated the following countries as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC): Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Such countries “engage in or tolerate particularly severe violations of religious freedom” or “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, abduction or clandestine detention of persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons based on religion.”

Turkmenistan, which is new to this State Department list, is the only one of eight countries recommended for such designation by the latest report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The others so recommended by the Commission are Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam.

Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom

Simultaneously with this report’s release, the Obama administration announced the nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein as the next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Rabbi Saperstein, a reform rabbi and lawyer known for his work in Washington to advance religious freedom, would be the first non-Christian to lead the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, if confirmed by the Senate.

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[1] This post is based upon the International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 (July 28, 2014); Secretary Kerry, Remarks at Rollout of the 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom (July 28, 2014); Assistant Secretary Malinowski, Remarks on the Release of the 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom (July 28, 2014); Department of State, Fact Sheet: 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom (July 28, 2014). Earlier posts covered the international law regarding religious freedom and the State Department’s reports on the subject for 2011 and 2012.