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.
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 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.
On December 6, 2019, the U.N. Security Council held a meeting about the countries of Central Africa, including Cameroon. Here is an account of the U.N. Secretary-General’s report preceding that meeting and the discussion at that meeting insofar as they related to Cameroon.
The Secretary-General stated, ”In the North-West and SouthWest Regions, violence continued to affect 1.3 million people, including over 700,000 people who were uprooted from their homes. Armed fighting and insecurity in the two regions continued to be the principal impediment to the provision of assistance and a barrier for those in need to reach areas where they could receive aid. Attacks on health infrastructure and personnel, schools, teachers, parents and children persisted. More than 855,000 children – almost 9 out of 10 – have been out of school for three years in the two regions. As of November 2019, 90 percent of public primary schools and 77 percent of public secondary schools remained closed or non-operational.”
A U.N. team recently “found that serious human rights violations and abuses, Cameroonattributed to both government security forces and armed separatists, were occurring across the two regions. [The team] received allegations of unlawful killing, rape and gang rape, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, abduction for ransom, infringement of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, forced displacement, destruction of property and attacks on schools and medical facilities, as well as arbitrary detention. There was concern regarding impunity.”
Comments at the Security Council Meeting (12/06/19) 
Francois Louncény Fall, the Head of the U.N. Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that subregion, opened the meeting by presenting the previously mentioned Secretary-General’s report.
According to the summary of his remarks, he said that although Cameroon’s National Dialogue (September 30-October 4) had been productive, “the level of violence continues to threaten Cameroonian lives, . . . citing reports of human rights violations and abuses attributable to all sides. Humanitarian workers have also been targeted. . . . More than 700,000 people have been displaced by the conflict and thousands have been reported killed or injured, . . . [He called] upon international partners to support national efforts to address humanitarian needs. In the wake of the national dialogue, some of its recommendations have been implemented, including the release of some prisoners, but the swift implementation of all recommendations will be a significant step towards resolving the crisis” and contributing “significantly towards resolving the political and humanitarian crisis enveloping that country’s North‑West and South‑West regions.” He also said that there needed to be “further discourse among all stakeholders in order to quell underlying tensions among marginalized communities. The elections announced for 2020 will be a crucial test of democracy and the determination of national stakeholders to achieve genuine stability and socioeconomic development for all Cameroonians, he continued, urging all sides to step up their efforts to protect and promote human rights and to tackle impunity.”
The Special Representative added that although Cameroon President Biya has announced legislative and municipal elections for next February, the leader of a major opposition party had declared that it would not participate in the election because of no suitable conditions for voting in the Anglophone region (the north-West and South-West Regions) while other opposition parties had reservations about the election. For this election to be successful test of democracy, there must be “genuine stability and socioeconomic development for all Cameroonians.” Therefore, “all actors on the ground [must] step up their efforts to protect and promote human rights and to tackle impunity.”
Most of the Council members, according to the summary, had very little comment about Cameroon or merely welcomed the national dialogue and urged the parties to the conflict to resolve differences through compromise. This was true for Equatorial Guinea, Dominican Republic, Russian Federation, Kuwait, Peru, Indonesia and China.
European members of the Council, however, were slightly more pointed in their remarks about Cameroon:
The United Kingdom representative expressed “concern over the strife in Cameroon” and said “all parties must do more to ensure humanitarian access. He called for an end to human rights abuses, for the investigation of all incidents and for the implementation of all recommendations of the national dialogue, including those on strengthening bilingualism and engaging diaspora groups. ‘Words need to be matched by actions,’ to prevent the situation from deteriorating, he emphasized, underlining the imperative need for the international community to support further peacebuilding efforts in Cameroon.”
The representative for Belgium expressed “concern over the strife in Cameroon” and said “all parties must do more to ensure humanitarian access. He called for an end to human rights abuses, for the investigation of all incidents and for the implementation of all recommendations of the national dialogue, including those on strengthening bilingualism and engaging diaspora groups. ‘Words need to be matched by actions,’ to prevent the situation from deteriorating, he emphasized, underlining the imperative need for the international community to support further peacebuilding efforts in Cameroon.”
Poland’s representative “welcomed Cameroon’s holding of a national dialogue but expressed concern over continued human rights violations in that country. All incidents should be investigated and perpetrators held accountable.”
The German representative said “the deteriorating situation in Cameroon” suggested the Security council should “consider how UNOCA can contribute resolving the conflict, which has a negative impact on the entire Central Africa region.”
The most critical remarks came from U.S. Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet. While he expressed gratitude for the Secretary-General’s “work in Cameroon to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the crisis in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions,” he stated the U.S.has increasing concern over the “rapidly worsening humanitarian and human rights situations in Cameroon. Credible reports detail persistent human-rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and torture, all conducted with impunity.”
This, the U.S. said, has become “a humanitarian situation requiring immediate attention. Parties to the conflict limit humanitarian access, and a worsening security situation has reportedly left as much as 65 percent of the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon out of bounds to aid workers.”
Therefore, U.S. Ambassador Chalet urged, first, that the U.N.’s Regional Office for Central Africa and “our partners to take a more assertive role in resolving Cameroon’s conflict and to continue to urge both the Government of Cameroon and separatist groups to enter into open-ended dialogue without pre-conditions, [thereby] relinquishing their focus on a military solution.” Second, the “Swiss-led mediation process between the Government of Cameroon and the separatists” should go forward immediately.
These critical comments by the U.S. Ambassador echoed the words and actions of the U.S. after President Biya’s speech and national dialogue when the U.S. did not applaud the speech and on October 31, 2019, suspended Cameroon’s participation in a beneficial African trade program because “the Government of Cameroon currently engages in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights., [including] extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and torture.” 
Significantly there was no Security Council resolution regarding Cameroon at this meeting, meaning there was no additional U.N. pressure for ending the persecution of the Anglophone Cameroonians.
It also should be noted that although all of these cited documents are in the public domain, there was no discussion of them in the principal U.S. media for coverage of international affairs, the New York Times and the Washington Post.
 According to a U.N. website, Monsieur Fall is a native of Guinea and between 2012 and 2016 served as its Minister for Foreign Affairs after serving as its Prime Minister and as Secretary-General to the Presidency. He also held a number of Guinean ambassadorial positions, including Permanent Representative to the United Nations and representative at the Security Council. For the U.N. he was the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Somalia, 2005-2007 and in the Central African Republic from 2007 to 2008 and as the Vice-Chairman of the Commission for the Monitoring and Evaluation of the South Sudan Peace Agreement, January to October 2016. Since November 2016 he has been the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNOCA. Mr. Fall holds a master’s degree in international law from Conakry University in Guinea.
 On September 10, 2019, Cameroon President Paul Biya in a speech recognized that the country’s crisis initially was triggered by the need to preserve the Anglo-Sacon judicial and educational systems in the Anglophone regions and that the government had taken steps to meet those needs, including the establishment of the Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multi-culturalism and a decentralization process. However, a secessionist movement have fomented violence requiring the government to respond with force. Now the country will conduct a major national dialogue to find ways to address the many problems in the country. The President will offer pardon to those who voluntarily lay down their arms. This speech elicited positive reactions from the U.N. and the African Union, but skepticism from some of the country’s opposition parties. (SeePotential Breakthrough in Cameroon’s Civil War?, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 27, 2019).)
 See Switzerland Mediation of Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 19, 2019). The Conclusion of this post referred to a December 18 report that Switzerland had abandoned this mediation, but this blogger has not found any other reference to this alleged abandonment of mediation.
On January 26 the U.N. Security Council met to debate action on the crisis in Venezuela.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, after giving examples of the despair of ordinary Venezuelans, asserted that the U.S. was there “ to urge all nations to support the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people as they try to free themselves from former President Maduro’s illegitimate mafia state. . . .The humanitarian situation demands action now; it demands action today.”
As a result, the U.S. “ stands with the Venezuelan people. So far, many other nations have chosen to do the same and they too have recognized the legitimate government of interim President Guaidó. The United States stands proudly with you as we stand together in support of Venezuela. You knew the Venezuelan people did not have a moment to spare.”
After criticizing China and Russia for supporting Maduro, Pompeo said, “But no regime has done more to sustain the nightmarish condition of the Venezuelan people than the regime in Havana. For years, Cuban security and intelligence thugs, invited into Venezuela by Maduro himself and those around him, have sustained this illegitimate rule. They have trained Maduro’s security and intelligence henchmen in Cuba’s own worst practices. Cuba’s interior ministry even provides a former – provides former President Maduro’s personal security. Members of this body often use their microphones here to condemn foreign interference in internal affairs. Let’s be crystal clear: the foreign power meddling in Venezuela today is Cuba. Cuba has directly made matters worse and the United States and our partners are the true friends of the Venezuelan people.” (Emphasis added.)
Elliott Abrams, the new U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela, following Secretary Pompeo, noted that every criticism [of the U.S.] came from a country that is not democratic. And he accused Venezuela of being a “satellite” of Cuba and Russia. “This is not about foreign intervention in Venezuela,. It is not an attempt to impose a result on the Venezuelan people. Democracy never needs to be imposed. It is tyranny that has to be imposed.”
The ambassadors of Russia and China, both permanent members of the Security Council with veto power, said they considered the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela an internal matter and urged the United States to stop meddling. The Russian ambassador said, “If anything represents a threat to peace and security, it is the shameless and aggressive actions of the United States and their allies to oust a legitimately elected president of Venezuela.” The U.S., he said, was trying “to engineer a coup d’etat in Venezuela.”
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza then took a personal swipe at Abrams, noting that he had pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Reagan administration’s support for contra rebels fighting the government in Nicaragua,
UN Under Secretary-General of Political and Peacebuilding, Rosemary DiCarlo, made a logical, but unpersuasive suggestion: “We must try to help bring about a political solution that will allow the country’s citizens to enjoy peace, prosperity and all their human rights,” This essentially reiterated the plea earlier in the week by U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres urging all parties to “lower tensions and calling for all relevant actors to commit to inclusive and credible political dialogue. Concerned by reports of casualties in the context of demonstrations and unrest in and around the capital Caracas, the UN chief also called for a transparent and independent investigation of those incidents.
The Security Council, however, took no vote on the situation in Venezuela under the threat of vetoes by permanent members Russia and China. This was presaged by the vote to consider the Venezuela crisis: nine in favor (Belgium, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, United Kingdom, United States) to four against (China, Equatorial Guinea, Russian Federation, South Africa) with two abstentions (Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia).
The next day, January 27, U.S. National Security Advisor, John Bolton, tweeted, “ “Any violence and intimidation against U.S. diplomatic personnel, Venezuela’s democratic leader, Juan Guiado (sic), or the National Assembly itself would represent a grave assault on the rule of law and will be met with a significant response,” Bolton also noted Cuba’s support for Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro’s paramilitary forces.
After the Council’s meeting, Cuba Foreign Secretary, Bruno Rodriguez, tweeted, “”I categorically reject slanderous accusations against #Cuba from the US Secretary of State in the Security Council of @ONU_es. His assault on #Venezuela constitutionality, orchestrated from Washington, will fail despite the lies.” Another of his tweets stated, “Secretary of State slanders Cuba to justify a coup against the constitutional power in #Venezuela. Washington designed, financed and managed the alleged usurpation of the Venezuelan Presidency,” The U.S. was doing so “”on the basis of unfounded accusations, false data and masking role of his Government in orchestrating that assault on regional peace. ”
In addition to the above developments, the U.K. joined the U.S., Germany, France and Spain in backing Guaidó. The U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, said, ““After banning opposition candidates, ballot box stuffing and counting irregularities in a deeply-flawed election it is clear Nicolás Maduro is not the legitimate leader of Venezuela.” Therefore, the U.K. would recognize Guaidó as the legitimate president unless Maduro within the next eight days called for a new election. 
Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, claims that “every sensible observer agrees that Latin America’s once-richest country, sitting atop the world’s largest proven oil reserves, is an economic basket case, a humanitarian disaster, and a dictatorship whose demise cannot come soon enough.” Moreover, he argues, “Twenty years of socialism . . . led to the ruin of a nation.” In short, according to Stephens, “Why does socialism never work? Because, as Margaret Thatcher explained, ‘eventually you run out of other people’s money.’”
All of these developments pose many questions to ponder as we go forward or backward.
On April 25, 2018, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its annual report on the subject for 28 countries in the world. Of these the Commission concluded that Cuba and 11 other countries had engaged in or tolerated religious freedom violations during 2017 that were serious and “systematic, or ongoing, or egregious.”
According to this report, “religious freedom conditions in Cuba remained poor” with the following Key Findings:
“The Cuban government engaged in harassment campaigns that included detentions and repeated interrogations targeting religious leaders and activists who advocate for religious freedom.”
“Officials threatened to confiscate numerous churches and interrogated religious leaders countrywide about the legal status of their religious properties.”
“The government continues to interfere in religious groups’ internal affairs and actively limits, controls, and monitors their religious practice, access to information, and communications through a restrictive system of laws and policies, surveillance, and harassment.”
“While the Cuban constitution guarantees freedom of religion or belief, this protection is limited by other constitutional and legal provisions. At the end of the reporting period, 55 religious communities were registered; only registered religious communities are legally permitted to receive foreign visitors, import religious materials, meet in approved houses of worship, and apply to travel abroad for religious purposes.”
“The Cuban Communist Party Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) answers only to the Party and so it has broad, largely unchecked power to control religious activity, including approving some religious ceremonies other than worship services, repair or construction of houses of worship, and importation of religious materials.”
“Authorities prevent human rights and pro-democracy activists from participating in religious activities, sometimes using force. Almost every Sunday in 2017, the government prevented members of Ladies in White from attending Mass.”
“In a positive development, officials verbally promised the Assemblies of God that the government would not confiscate 1,400 of their churches as it threatened to do in 2015 and 2016.”
Commission’s Recommendations About Cuba to U.S. Government
The Commission also made the following recommendations about Cuba to the U.S. Government:
“Publicly denounce violations of religious freedom and related human rights in Cuba.”
“Press the Cuban government to:
“Stop harassment of religious leaders;
End the practice of violently preventing democracy and human rights activists from attending religious services;
End destruction of, threats to destroy, and threats to expropriate houses of worship;
Lift restrictions on religious communities buying property, building or repairing houses of worship, holding religious processions, importing religious materials, and admitting religious leaders;
Allow unregistered religious groups to operate freely and legally, and repeal government policies that restrict religious services in homes or other personal property;
Allow registered and unregistered religious groups to conduct religious education;
Cease interference with religious activities and religious communities’ internal affairs; and
Hold accountable police and other security personnel for actions that violate the human rights of religious practitioners, including the religious freedom of political prisoners.”
“Increase opportunities for Cuban religious leaders from both registered and unregistered religious communities to travel to, exchange aid and materials with, and interact with coreligionists in the United States.”
“Apply the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, Executive Order 13818, or other relevant targeted tools, to deny U.S. visas to and block the U.S. assets of specific officials and agencies identified as responsible for violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief, including considering responsible officials from the ORA for such measures.”
“Use appropriated funds to advance internet freedom and widespread access to mass media, and protect Cuban activists by supporting the development and accessibility of new technologies and programs to counter censorship and to facilitate the free flow of information in and out of Cuba, as informed by the findings and recommendations of the Cuba Internet Task Force created pursuant to the National Security Presidential Memorandum, ‘Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba.’”
“Encourage international partners, including key Latin American and European countries and regional blocs, to ensure violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights are part of all formal and informal multilateral or bilateral discussions with Cuba.”
On May 29, the State Department will release its annual report on religious freedom in every other. country in the world. Thereafter we will examine its comments on Cuba and then analyze and evaluate the two reports’ discussion of Cuba.
 U.S. Comm’n Intl Religious Freedom, USCIRF Releases 2018 Annual Report, Recommends 16 Countries be Designated “Countries of Particular Concern,” (April 25, 2018). The other 11 countries in this category (Tier 2) were Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia and Turkey. The Commission also recommended that the State Department designate the following 16 countries as “Countries of Particular Concern” (countries whose government engage in or tolerates particularly severe (or systematic, ongoing, and egregious) religious freedom violations: Burma, Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The Commission is an unusual quasi-governmental body. See U.S. Commission on International Freedom: Structure and Composition, dwkcommentaries.com (May 29, 2013).
This was the large- caps subheading of a November 24 full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal with the even more prominent large-caps headline, “ALLIED AGAINST TERRORISM.” It was the proclamation of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition” (IMCTC).
The ad went on to say, “Until now, counter-terrorism efforts have been fragmented, with nations and groups often taking isolated initiatives against the growing threat of terror. From November 26th, international counter-terrorism efforts will take a new dimension. Forty-one Muslim countries are coming together in Riyadh [the capital of Saudi Arabia] to launch a global, multi-disciplinary strategy that aims to tackle terrorism at its deepest roots. Under the banner of the IMCTC, these nations will forge an unprecedented and powerful coalition against terror—a coalition that will source sustainable counter-terrorism initiatives in the four strategic domains of Ideology, Communications, Counter Terrorist Financing, as well as Military, to build a cohesive, united front against terror.”
This inaugural IMCTC meeting will be opened by Saudi Arabia’s His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who at age 32 has been leading major reform efforts in the Kingdom and in the Islamic world.
Its website (www.IMCTC.org) lists the following countries as members: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Kingdom of Bahrain, People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Republic of Benin, Burkina Faso, Brunei Darussalam, Republic of Thad, Union of the Comoros, Republic of Còte d’Ivoire, Republic of Dijbouti, Arab Republic of Egypt, Republic of Guinea-Bissau, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, State of Kuwait, Republic of Lebanon, State of Libya, Republic of Maldives, Republic of Mali, Islamic republic of Mauritania, Kingdom of Morocco, Malaysia, Republic of Niger, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Sultanate of Oman, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, State of Palestine, State of Qatar, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Republic of Sierra Leone, Republic of Somalia, Republic of Senegal, Republic of Sudan, Republic of Togo, Republic of Tunisia, Republic of Turkey, Republic of Uganda, United Arab Emirates and Republic of Yemen.
Notable absentees from this list (with their Muslim populations) are Indonesia (202,867,000). India (160,945,000), Iran (73,777,000) and Algeria (34,1999,000).
This coalition was started in December 2015 by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and in March 2016 chiefs of staff from Islamic countries met in Riyadh and affirmed “their determination to intensify efforts in fighting terrorism through joint work according to their capabilities, based on the desire of each member country to participate in operations or programs within the IMCTC framework as per its policies and procedures, and without compromising the sovereignty of the Coalition member countries.” This group of chiefs of staff adopted the following as its strategic objectives:
“Strengthen the contribution of Islamic countries towards global security and peace, and complementing international counter terrorism efforts.
Reinforce solidarity and collaboration among coalition member countries to present a unified front against terrorist organizations and their attempts to destabilize security and distort the image of Islam and Muslims.
Counter radical ideology in Coalition member countries through strategic communication campaigns to refute the radical and extremist narratives and propaganda.
Reaffirm the moderate values of Islam and its principles of peace, tolerance and compassion.
Combat terrorism financing in collaboration with Coalition member countries and international [counter-terrorism] authorities, to promote compliance with international agreements and advance legal, regulatory, and operational frameworks.
Establish strategic partnerships between member countries, supporting nations and international organizations to share counter terrorism information and expertise.”
All of us will need to follow what happens at this inaugural IMCTC conference and the implementation of its objectives. It sounds like an important and positive development.
 IMCTC’s Ideology domain has been presaged by the Marrakesh Declaration from January 2016 as discussed in a prior post.
On October 26, the United Nations General Assembly voted, 191 to 0 (with two abstentions), to adopt a resolution proposed by Cuba to condemn the United States embargo of Cuba. For the first time in the 25-year history of the annual vote on such resolutions, the U.S, rather than opposing the text, cast an abstention, prompting Israel to do likewise.
This post will examine the resolution’s text, its presentation by Cuba, its support by other countries and the arguments for abstention offered by the U.S. and Israel. This post will then conclude with a brief discussion of reaction to the abstention in the U.S. Prior posts discussed the similar General Assembly resolutions against the embargo that were adopted in 2011, 2014 and 2015.
It reiterated “its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures [like the U.S. embargo against Cuba] . . . in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation (¶ 2). It also urged “States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime (¶ 3).
The resolution’s preamble reaffirmed “the sovereign equality of States, non-intervention and non-interference in their internal affairs and freedom of international trade and navigation, which are also enshrined in many international legal instruments” and recited the previous General Assembly resolutions against the embargo. It then welcomed “the progress in the relations between the Governments of Cuba and the [U.S.] and, in that context, the visit of the President of the [U.S.], Barack Obama, to Cuba in March 2016” while also recognizing “the reiterated will of the President of the [U.S.] to work for the elimination of the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba” and “the steps taken by the [U.S.] Administration towards modifying some aspects of the implementation of the embargo, which, although positive, are still limited in scope.”
Cuba’s Presentation of the Resolution
Speaking last in the debate, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, presented arguments for adopting the resolution. Here are extracts of that speech:
“[T]here has been progress [between Cuba and the U.S. since December 2014] in the dialogue and cooperation on issues of common interest and a dozen agreements were signed [and] reciprocal benefits reported. Now just announced the vote of the US abstention on this draft resolution.”
“The [U.S.] president and other top officials have described [the embargo/blockade] as obsolete, useless to advance American’s interests, meaningless, unworkable, being a burden for [U.S.] citizens, . . . [harming] the Cuban people and [causing]. . . isolation to the [U.S.] and [have] called [for the embargo/blockade] to be lifted.”
“We recognize that executive measures [to reduce the scope of the embargo] adopted by the government of the [U.S.] are positive steps, but [have] very limited effect and scope. However, most of the executive regulations and laws establishing the blockade remain in force and are applied rigorously to this minute by U.S. government agencies.”
“Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress has not approved any of the 20 amendments or legislative initiatives, with bipartisan support, . . . [for] eliminating some restrictions of the blockade or even all of this policy. [Moreover,] there have been more than 50 legislative initiatives that threaten to reinforce key aspects of the blockade, preventing the President [from] approving new executive or implementing measures already adopted.”
“It cannot be underestimated in any way the powerful political and ethical message that [action by this Assembly] . . . sends to the peoples of the world. The truth always [finds] its way. Ends of justice prevail. The abstention vote announced surely is a positive step in the future of improved relations between the[U.S.] and Cuba. I appreciate the words and the efforts of Ambassador Samantha Power.”
“[There] are incalculable human damages caused by the blockade. [There is no] Cuban family or industry in the country that does not suffer its effects on health, education, food, services, prices of goods, wages and pensions.” For example, the “imposition of discriminatory and onerous conditions attached to the deterrent effects of the blockade restrict food purchases and the acquisition in the U.S. market for drugs, reagents, spare parts for medical equipment and instruments and others.”
“The [embargo/] blockade also [adversely] affects the interests of American citizens themselves, who could benefit from various services in Cuba, including health [services].”
“The [embargo/] blockade remains a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights of all Cubans and qualifies as an act of genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948. It is an obstacle to cooperation [in] international humanitarian areas.”
“The blockade is the main obstacle to economic and social development of our people. It constitutes a flagrant violation to international law, the United Nations Charter and the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace. Its extraterritorial application adds further to its violation of international law nature of magnitude.”
“Other causes, in addition to [the blockade/embargo] . . . , determine our economic difficulties: the unjust international economic order; the global crisis; the historical distortions and structural weaknesses caused by underdevelopment; high dependence on energy and food imports; the effects of climate change and natural disasters; and also . . . our own mistakes.”
“Between April 2015 and March 2016, the direct economic damage to Cuba by the blockade amounted to $4.68 billion at current prices, calculated rigorously and prudently and conservatively. The damages accumulated over nearly six decades reach the figure of $753 billion, taking into account depreciation of gold. At current prices, [that is] equivalent to just over $125 billion.”
“On 16 April 2016 President Raul Castro Ruz said, ‘We are willing to develop a respectful dialogue and build a new relationship with the [U.S.], as that has never existed between the two countries, because we are convinced that this alone . . . [will provide] mutual benefits.’ And last September 17, he said ‘I reaffirm the will to sustain relations of civilized coexistence with the [U.S.], but Cuba will not give up one of its principles, or make concessions inherent in its sovereignty and independence.’”
“The government of the [U.S.] first proposed the annexation of Cuba and, failing that, to exercise their domination over it. The triumph of the Cuban Revolution . . . [prompted the U.S. adoption of the embargo whose purpose] was ‘to cause disappointment and discouragement through economic dissatisfaction and hardship … to deny Cuba money and supplies, in order to reduce nominal and real wages, with the aim of causing hunger, desperation and overthrow of government. ‘”
“The [new U.S.] Presidential Policy Directive [states] that the Government of the [U.S.] recognizes ‘the sovereignty and self-determination of Cuba’ and [the right of] the Cuban people to make their own decisions about their future.’” It also states “the U.S. will not seek a ‘change of regime in Cuba.’”
But the Directive also says “’the [U.S.] will support the emerging civil society in Cuba and encourage partners and non-governmental actors to join us in advocating in favor of reforms. While the United States remain committed to supporting democratic activists, [we] also [will] participate with community leaders, bloggers, activists and other leaders on social issues that can contribute to the internal dialogue in Cuba on civic participation.’ The Directive goes on to say: “The [U.S.] will maintain our democracy programs and broadcasting, while we will protect our interests and values, such as Guantanamo Naval Base … The government of the United States has no intention of modifying the existing lease agreement and other related provisions.’”
The Directive also asserts that Cuba “remains indebted to the [U.S.] regarding bilateral debts before the Cuban Revolution.”
The U.S. needs to “recognize that change is a sovereign matter for Cubans alone and that Cuba is a truly independent country. It gained its independence by itself and has known and will know how to defend [its] greatest sacrifices and risks. We are proud of our history and our culture that are the most precious treasure. We never forget the past because it is the way never to return to it. And we decided our path to the future and we know that is long and difficult, but we will not deviate from it by ingenuity, by siren songs, or by mistake. No force in the world can force us to it. We will strive to build a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation. We will not return to capitalism.”
During the debate the following 40 countries expressed their support of the resolution:
Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic (for Commonwealth of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)), Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica (for Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), Mexico, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Uruguay and Venezuela (for Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)).
Africa: Algeria, Angola, Libya, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger (for African States), South Africa, Sudan and Tonga.
Middle East: Egypt, Kuwait (for Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC)) and Syria.
Asia: Belarus, China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [North Korea], India, Indonesia, Iran, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Russian Federation, Singapore (for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Thailand (for Group of 77 and China) and Viet Nam.
The U.S. Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power, announced the U.S. abstention before the debate and voting on the resolution. Here are extracts of her speech about that vote.
“For more than 50 years, the [U.S.] had a policy aimed at isolating the government of Cuba. For roughly half of those years, U.N. Member States have voted overwhelmingly for a General Assembly resolution that condemns the U.S. embargo and calls for it to be ended. The [U.S.] has always voted against this resolution. Today the [U.S.] will abstain.”
“In December 2014, President Obama made clear his opposition to the embargo and called on our Congress to take action to lift it. Yet while the Obama Administration agrees that the U.S. embargo on Cuba should be lifted, . . . we don’t support the shift for the reason stated in this resolution. All actions of the [U.S.] with regard to Cuba have been and are fully in conformity with the U.N. Charter and international law, including applicable trade law and the customary law of the sea. We categorically reject the statements in the resolution that suggest otherwise.”
“But [today’s] resolution . . . is a perfect example of why the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba was not working – or worse, how it was actually undermining the very goals it set out to achieve. Instead of isolating Cuba, . . . our policy isolated the [U.S.], including right here at the [U.N.].”
“Under President Obama, we have adopted a new approach: rather than try to close off Cuba from the rest of the world, we want the world of opportunities and ideas open to the people of Cuba. After 50-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we have chosen to take the path of engagement. Because, as President Obama said in Havana, we recognize that the future of the island lies in the hands of the Cuban people.”
“Abstaining on this resolution does not mean that the [U.S.] agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government. We do not. We are profoundly concerned by the serious human rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit with impunity against its own people – including arbitrarily detaining those who criticize the government; threatening, intimidating, and, at times, physically assaulting citizens who take part in peaceful marches and meetings; and severely restricting the access that people on the island have to outside information.”
“We [,however,] recognize the areas in which the Cuban government has made significant progress in advancing the welfare of its people, from significantly reducing its child mortality rate, to ensuring that girls have the same access to primary and secondary school as boys.”
“But none of this should mean that we stay silent when the rights of Cuban people are violated, as Member States here at the [U.N.] have too often done. That is why the [U.S.] raised these concerns directly with the Cuban government during our [recent] historic dialogue on human rights . . ., which shows that, while our governments continue to disagree on fundamental questions of human rights, we have found a way to discuss these issues in a respectful and reciprocal manner. We urge other Member States to speak up about these issues as well.”
“As President Obama made clear when he traveled to Havana, we believe that the Cuban people – like all people – are entitled to basic human rights, such as the right to speak their minds without fear, and the right to assemble, organize, and protest peacefully. Not because these reflect a U.S.-centric conception of rights, but rather because they are universal human rights – enshrined in the U.N. Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which all of our 193 Member States are supposed to respect and defend. Rights that are essential for the dignity of men, women, and children regardless of where they live or what kind of government they have.”
The U.S. concedes that it “has work to do in fulfilling these rights for our own citizens. And we know that at times in our history, U.S. leaders and citizens used the pretext of promoting democracy and human rights in the region to justify actions that have left a deep legacy of mistrust. We recognize that our history, in which there is so much that makes us proud, also gives us ample reason to be humble.”
“The [U.S.] believes that there is a great deal we can do together with Cuba to tackle global challenges. That includes here at the [U.N.], where the decades-long enmity between our nations has at best been a distraction – and at worst, an obstacle – to carrying out some of the most important work of this institution and helping the world’s most vulnerable people.”
Engage Cuba, a U.S. national coalition of private companies, organizations and state and local leaders working to lift the embargo, said, “Year after year, the international community has condemned our failed unilateral sanctions that have caused great economic hardship for the people of Cuba and continue to put American businesses at a competitive disadvantage. The fact that the Administration and Israel abstained from voting for the first time ever demonstrates the growing recognition that the U.S. embargo on Cuba is a failed, obsolete policy that has no place in today’s international affairs.”
Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), on the other hand, blasted the abstention, saying the Obama administration had failed to honor and defend U.S. laws in an international forum. Similar negative reactions were registered by Senators Ted Cruz (Rep., FL) and Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), Republican Representatives from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, and the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.
As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am pleased with the U.S. abstention and agree with Ambassador Power that this vote does not mean the U.S. agrees with the resolution’s stated reasons.
Moreover, too many in the U.S. believe the Cuban damages claim from the embargo is just a crazy Cuban dream, but I disagree. Given the amount of the claim, Cuba will not someday tell the U.S. to forget it. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this and any other damage claims by both countries for resolution by an independent international arbitration panel such as those provided by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands.
Jon Lee Anderson, the author of a Che Guevara biography and a forthcoming book about Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution, has written a fascinating article about President Obama and Cuba in The New Yorker. It provides the following details about Obama’s March 2016 visit to the island and comments about his decision to seek normalization with Cuba beyond those already discussed in earlier posts.
During his visit to Cuba, President Obama hosted an Entrepreneurship and Opportunity Event at La Cervecería (a beer hall) on Havana Harbor. Attending were invited American and Cuban entrepreneurs, government officials and journalists. Brian Chesky, the co-founder of Airbnb, told the group that Cuba was one of its fastest growing markets. In response to Obama’s question, he said his company was now valued at $25 billion after only eight years of operation, and Obama used this as an example of what could happen to a new business. Obama said, “Cuba should take ideas, steal ideas from wherever you see something working, not from where they are not. There are some economic models (like Cuba’s) that just don’t work. That’s just the objective reality. The American people are not interested in Cuba failing. We’re interested in Cuba being a partner with us.”
After Obama had departed the island, a member of Cuba’s security services said that this event was “as subversive as the Bay of Pigs.” Other Communist Party loyalists voiced similar opinions.
Later Obama admitted that he thought the Cuban pushback to his visit would be a lot stronger. The beer hall event, he said, intentionally bypassed the Cuban state in order to advertise and promote the possibilities of commerce freed of political constraint.
Obama also said after his trip that his decision to seek normalization with Cuba was based upon these premises: (1) “Cuba is a tiny, poor country that poses no genuine threat to the [U.S.]” (2) “In this era of the Internet and global capital movements, openness is a more powerful change agent than isolation.” (3) “If you are interested in promoting freedom, independence, civic space inside of Cuba, then . . . remittances to give individual Cubans some cash . . . that then allowed them to start a [business] . . . was going to be the engine whereby individual Cubans . . . can start expecting more.”
Important for Obama was growing up in underdeveloped Indonesia and “never [being] star-struck by revolution. [He believed that Cuba’s revolution had started because of good motives, but he] “was never persuaded that they had taken the right course of action.”
Obama also told Anderson that he believes Raúl Castro’s pursuit of normalization with the U.S. was based upon two conclusions. First, Castro recognized—“particularly in light of what’s happening in Venezuela—that sustaining their economic model over the next ten years becomes increasingly untenable. [Therefore,] how . . . [does he] make [the Cuban] economy run without giving up power. . . . [Second,] Raúl recognizes that any substantial change to their economic system, . . . their civil society, . . . their full political system—requires him to do some downfield blocking [i.e., preparatory work]. If a younger generation tries to pull this off without the revolutionary credentials, there will be too much pushback.”
The U.N. Human Rights Council, which is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on the subject,  is in the midst of its 28th regular session at its headquarters in Geneva Switzerland with the session ending on March 27th. 
At the opening of the session on March 2 the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein,  set forth his concerns on human rights. Three days later, on March 5th, he commented on his annual report on human rights. This post will examine both of these speeches.
From March 2 through 5, the Council conducted what it called its High Level Segment, in which national leaders addressed the Council on the overall subject of human rights. Two of those national leaders were U.S. Secretary of State john Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. Their remarks will be covered in subsequent posts while another post will analyze those remarks and the speeches of the High Commissioner.
High Commissioner’s Speech, March 2nd 
The “cruelty and moral bankruptcy of violent extremists . . . continue daily, and we condemn their merciless conduct daily.”
“And yet, if we are not careful, if we are not completely principled and cunning in our collective attempt to defang them, we will, unwittingly and inexcusably, be advancing their interests. How we define the opening chapters of this already agitated century depends heavily on us not becoming like them. For us, international humanitarian law and international human rights law cannot be trifled with or circumvented, but must be fully observed.”
“It has been 70 years since the great Charter of the [U.N.] was drawn up, and since then States have also written and agreed to a range of strong international treaties, to establish in binding law the legal principles of human rights. They are a distillation of all human experience, all the warnings and screams of our combined human history.” By “ratifying the U.N. Charter, [states] have made a clear commitment [in the words of its Preamble] to ‘reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights; in the dignity and worth of the human person; in the equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small; and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties, and other sources of international law, can be maintained; and to promote social progress, and better standards of life in larger freedom.’”
“And yet, with alarming regularity, human rights are disregarded, and violated, sometimes to a shocking degree.”
“States claim exceptional circumstances. They pick and choose between rights. One Government will thoroughly support women’s human rights and those of the LGBT communities, but will balk at any suggestion that those rights be extended to migrants of irregular status. [U.S.?] Another State may observe scrupulously the right to education, but will brutally stamp out opposing political views. [Cuba?] A third State comprehensively violates the political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights of its people, while vigorously defending the ideals of human rights before its peers.”
“In recent months I have been disturbed deeply by the contempt and disregard displayed by several States towards the women and men appointed by [the Council] as [its] independent experts – and also by the reprisals and smear campaigns that are all too frequently exercised against representatives of civil society, including those who engage with the Council and its bodies. I appeal to all of you, once again, to focus on the substance of the complaint, rather than lash out at the critic – whether that person is mandated by States, is a member of my Office, or is a human rights defender.”
“The overwhelming majority of victims of human rights abuses around the world share two characteristics: Deprivation, and discrimination – whether it is based on race or ethnicity, gender, beliefs, sexual orientation, caste or class. From hunger to massacres, sexual violence and slavery, human rights violations are rooted in these hidden, and sometimes not so hidden, factors.”
“They are not spontaneously generated. Most violations of human rights result from policy choices, which limit freedom and participation, and create obstacles to the fair sharing of resources and opportunities.”
“The most powerful instrument in the arsenal we have against poverty and conflict is the weapon of massive instruction. Respect for the human rights of all, justice, education, equality – these are the strongly interlocking elements that will build fair, confident and resilient societies; true development; and a permanent peace.”
“Everybody knows when police use torture, and when tweets are brutally suppressed. Everybody knows when discrimination means poverty, while corrupt elites gorge on public goods, supported by a corrupt judiciary. Everybody knows when women are treated like property, and children go hungry, and unschooled, in squalid neighborhoods.”
“Some of the evidence may be hidden. But the reality, in far too many countries, of massacres and sexual violence; crushing poverty; the exclusive bestowal of health-care and other vital resources to the wealthy and well-connected; the torture of powerless detainees [U.S.?]; the denial of human dignity – these things are known. . . . [T]hey are what truly make up a State’s reputation; together with the real steps – if any – taken by the State to prevent abuses and address social inequalities, and whether it honors the dignity of its people.”
“The only real measure of a Government’s worth is . . . the extent to which it is sensitive to the needs – and protects the rights – of its nationals and other people who fall under its jurisdiction, or over whom it has physical control.”
“Some policy-makers persuade themselves that their circumstances are exceptional, creating a wholly new reality unforeseen by the law. This logic is abundant around the world today: ‘I arrest arbitrarily and torture because a new type of war justifies it. I spy on my citizens because the fight against terrorism requires it. I don’t want new immigrants, or I discriminate against minorities, because our communal identity is being threatened now as never before. I kill without any form of due process, because if I do not, others will kill me.’ “
“I must remind you of the enduring and universal validity of the international human rights treaties that your States wrote and ratified. In reality, neither terrorism, nor globalization, nor migration are qualitatively new threats that can justify overturning the legal foundations of life on Earth. They are not new.”
“At a time of intensifying global anxiety, I believe the people of the world are crying out for profound and inspiring leadership equal to the challenges we face. We must therefore renew, by the strongest action, our dedication to the reality of inalienable and universal human rights, to end discrimination, deprivation, and the seemingly inexhaustible litany of conflicts and crises that generate such terrible, and needless, suffering.”
“What will become of us, of our world, if we ignore our treaties and principles? Can we be so stupid as to repeat scenes from the twentieth century, punctured as it was by such awful inhumanity? You must not make it so. This is principally your burden, and ours. Together, if we succeed in turning the corner, in improving our global condition, we can then say the screams of history and of the millions upon millions of victims, have been heard, finally. Let us make it so.”
High Commissioner’sSpeech, March 5th 
The High Commissioner was “appalled by the massive suffering ISIL provokes [in Syria, Iraq and Libya]: from the murders, torture, rape and sale of children . . . ; to mass beheadings; burning people alive in cages; seemingly genocidal attacks on ethnic and religious groups; the obliteration of due process; torture; deprivation of income and every kind of service and resource; recruitment of children; the destruction of elements of the cultural heritage of humanity; and, not least, particularly vicious and comprehensive attacks on the rights of women and girls.” [Similar horrible actshe said, were perpetrated in Nigeria by Boko Haram and in Yemen and Somalia by other groups.]
“My Office strongly supports efforts by States around the world to prevent and combat terrorism, and to ensure that the perpetrators of terrorism, as well as their financiers and suppliers of arms, are brought to justice.”
“Terrorist attacks [,however,] cannot destroy the values on which our societies are grounded – but laws and policies can. Measures that build what has been termed the ‘national security state’ – such as arbitrary or prolonged detention; torture and ill-treatment; massive surveillance that contravenes the right to privacy; unfair trials; discriminatory policing; and the abusive use of legislation to curb legitimate rights to peaceful protest and to freedom of expression – are human rights violations. They generate legitimate resentment, harm social cohesion, and undermine the essential values of the international community.”
“There is real danger that in their reaction to extremist violence, opinion-leaders and decision-makers will lose their grasp of the deeper principles that underpin the system for global security which States built 70 years ago to ward off the horror of war. The fight against terror is a struggle to uphold the values of democracy and human rights – not undermine them. . . [C]ounter-terrorist operations that are non-specific, disproportionate, brutal and inadequately supervised violate the very norms that we seek to defend. They also risk handing the terrorists a propaganda tool – thus making our societies neither free nor safe. The use of torture, neglect of due process and collective punishment do not make the world any safer.”
“To be truly effective, any response to extremist violence must be targeted, proportionate, and legal. Military campaigns, financial sanctions and attempts to staunch the inflow of weapons – such as the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty – may be part of the solution.”
“But other actions are needed to stem the root causes that feed into these conflicts. We must acknowledge that large numbers of people do not join such extremist movements en masse because they have been suddenly and inexplicably hypnotized. Extremism – however repugnant – is nurtured by ideology, and by alienation fed by years of tyranny, corruption, repression, discrimination, deprivation and neglect of the legitimate rights of communities.”
He especially was “disturbed by a continuing trend of harsh restrictions on public freedoms by States across all regions. I refer to military crackdowns on demonstrations; harsh sentencing of human rights defenders, journalists and dissidents in politically motivated trials; brutal punishments for simple tweets; censorship; oppressive and illegitimate regulations of civil society movements; the use of new technologies to stifle human rights in the virtual space; and new security laws that are unjustly broad, endangering civil liberties and human rights.”
“And yet the great pillar of every resilient and participative society is freedom of expression. Freedom to formulate the ideas of equality led to the overthrow of colonialism, and has powered every movement against discrimination and injustice. To immunize against dictatorship or totalitarianism, to undo discrimination, to drive justice and accountability, we need freedom of expression – full and free and far-reaching. There is no good governance without free speech.”
The High Commissioner’s speech included specific criticisms of many countries. About the U.S., he said: “In the United States, the Senate report on torture in the context of counter-terrorism operations is courageous and commendable, but profoundly disturbing. For a country that believes so strongly in human rights to have swiftly abandoned their fundamentals at a time of crisis is as astonishing as it is deplorable. And yet few other countries have had the courage to likewise publicly investigate and publicly admit to rights abuses resulting from counter-terror operations – and many should.”
“Under international law, the [Senate] report’s recommendations must be followed through with real accountability. There is no prescription for torture, and torture cannot be amnestied. It should also lead to examination of the institutional and political causes that led the US to violate the absolute prohibition on torture, and measures to ensure this can never recur.”
“As the Senate report clearly demonstrates, the neglect of due process, use of torture and collective punishments that were permitted by US officials in the post-9/11 context did not make the world – or the US – any safer. On the contrary, they increased the threat of terrorism, by feeding into the grievances on which it thrives. The orange jumpsuits of Guantanamo are a recruitment tool for ISIL and other groups. As former President George W. Bush has conceded, Guantanamo became, I quote, ‘a propaganda tool for our enemies.’”
The High Commissioner also expressed regret at the renewed use of the death penalty in a number of countries – Jordan, Pakistan, and Indonesia – and “the continuing extensive use” of the death penalty in China, Iraq, Iran and the U.S.
In conclusion, he said, “It is the people who sustain government, create prosperity, heal and educate others and pay for governmental and other services with their labour. It is their struggles that have created and sustain States. Governments exist to serve the people – not the other way round.”
“Governments that protect human rights, combat discrimination and deprivation, and which are accountable to their people are more prosperous and more secure than those which stifle rights, hamper opportunities, and repress freedoms. When people’s rights are respected – when they are accorded dignity, have opportunities to express their skills and are given a fair share of resources – they form resilient societies. When they are wronged, their rights betrayed, there is a constant threat of turmoil. Respect for the human rights of the people is not destabilizing; but driving legitimate opposition underground is.”
Speeches about human rights in international fora often are replete with platitudes. These speeches by the High Commissioner are not. While he condemns the horrible actions of ISIL and Boko Haram, these groups are not represented at the Council. Instead the countries that are represented are often the victims of their evil deeds. Therefore, the High Commissioner spent most of his time chastising the latter countries for failing to live up to the human rights commitments they have made as they are combatting terrorism. Moreover, these speeches address some countries by name and point our their failings.
In a later post we will look again at these speeches in the context of the issues of human rights in the process of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation.
 The Human Rights Council has 47 member states elected by the U.N. General Assembly. Currently both the U.S. and Cuba are such members.
 Materials about the Council’s 28th session are available on its website.
 The High Commissioner for Human Rights is the principal human rights official of the U.N. and the head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which “spearheads the [U.N.’s] human rights efforts . . . by strengthening international human rights mechanisms; enhancing equality and countering discrimination; combating impunity and strengthening accountability and the rule of law; integrating human rights in development and in the economic sphere; widening the democratic space; and early warning and protection of human rights in situations of conflict, violence and insecurity.”
Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein of Jordan was unanimously elected the High Commissioner by the U.N. General Assembly in June 2014. His many years of diplomatic service include being Jordan’s Ambassador to the U.S., his country’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. and his serving as an officer of the International Criminal Court. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from The Johns Hopkins University and a Doctorate in Philosophy from Cambridge University.
On July 28, 2014, the U.S. State Department released its annual report on religious freedom around the world.
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.
The Commission relies upon this definition of the freedom in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Similar provisions are found in several multilateral human rights treaties. (P. 9.)
The Report stressed the importance of this freedom. It says this right “protects the freedom of religious communities, as groups, to engage in worship and other collective activities. It also protects every individual’s right to hold, or not to hold, any religion or belief, as well as the freedom to manifest such a religion or belief, subject only to the narrow limitations specified under international law.” (P. 9.)
This right is important, says the Commission, “because it enables people to follow what their conscience dictates. . . . People are entitled to religious freedom by virtue of their humanity.” Therefore, there can be no “coercion or compulsion in these matters.” (P. 2.)
Moreover, whenever this freedom is abused, “societal well-being would suffer” as well as democracy and other human rights and economic productivity. So too “peace and security may become more elusive.” In short, according to the commission, “the defense of religious freedom is both a humanitarian imperative and a practical necessity.” (P. 3.)
The Commission recommended that the U.S. do the following with respect to this freedom:
develop and implement a religious freedom strategy;
demonstrate the importance of religious freedom , including the designation of “countries of particular concern ” identified by the Commission;
reinvigorate and create new tools under the Act;
expand training, programming and public diplomacy about the subject;
expand multilateral efforts on the subject; and
protect asylum-seekers from being returned to countries where they face persecution for religious reasons. (Pp. 7-8.)
“Countries of Particular Concern” (Tier 1 Countries)
Under its authorizing statute, the Commission is required to designate as “countries of particular concern” (CPC) (or “Tier 1 Countries”) those that have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom. (P. 5.)
The latest report recommends that the Secretary of State re-designate the following eight countries as Tier 1 countries: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. In addition, the Report recommends that the following additional eight countries also be so designated by the State Department: Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. (P. 5.)
Tier 2 Countries
The Commission also designates some countries as “Tier 2 Countries,” i.e., countries on the threshold of Tier 1 status, i.e., when their “violations . . . are particularly severe” and when at least one, but not all three, of the criteria for that status (“systematic, ongoing and egregious”) is met. (P. 5.)
The latest Report designated the following nine countries as Tier 2: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Russia and Turkey. (P. 5.)
The latest Report also discussed seven other countries (Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka) and one region (Western Europe) that it monitored during the year. (P. 5.)
Because of my personal interest in Cuba, including its religious freedom, a subsequent post will critique the Report regarding that country.
 The Act § § 202, 205. The Report contains an account of the development of the Act and the 15-year history of its implementation. (Pp. 11-23.) A prior post examined the fascinating structure and composition of the Commission, and another post its report issued in 2013.
 Previously the Commission called this group the “Watch List of countries where the serious violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments do not meet the CPC threshold, but require close monitoring.” According to the Commission, the “Watch List provides advance warning of negative trends that could develop into severe violations of religious freedom, thereby providing policymakers with the opportunity to engage early and increasing the likelihood of preventing or diminishing the violations.”