Yet Another U.N. General Assembly Resolution Condemns U.S. Embargo (Blockade) of Cuba 

On November 1, 2018, the United Nations General Assembly again overwhelmingly adopted a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba. The vote this year was 189 to 2 (the two negative votes were registered by the U.S. and Israel while Moldova and Ukraine did not vote).[1]

Also on November 1, the General Assembly overwhelmingly rejected all of eight amendments that were proposed by the U.S. with only Israel and Ukraine (plus the Marshall Islands on one of them) joining the U.S. in their support while 113 voted against them with 65 abstaining. . However, some delegations said they were not opposed to the content of the amendments, but voted against them because the resolution on the embargo was not their appropriate venue.

Cuba’s Report on Prior U.N. Resolution[2].

The debate on the resolution was preceded by  Cuba’s report, dated June 2018, that was called for by the previous U.N. General Assembly resolution on the subject.

The report commenced by saying, “The economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the government of the United States of America against Cuba for almost six decades is the most unfair, severe and extended system of unilateral sanctions ever applied against any country. From April of 2017 until March of 2018, the period with which this report deals, the blockade policy has intensified and it continues to be applied with all rigor.” (P. 48)

This report then alleged, “In the period considered by this report, the blockade has caused losses to Cuba for around $ 4.3 billion” and the “accumulated harm because of the blockade being applied for almost six decades reaches the figure of . . .  . $134.5 billion” (at today’s prices). (Pp. 48-49)

The Actual Resolution[3]

The actual resolution, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (A/RES/73/8) had two principal operative paragraphs.

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 recalled “the measures adopted by the Executive of the United States [President Obama] in 2015 and 2016 to modify several aspects of the application of the embargo, which contrast with the measures announced on 16 June 2017 [by President Trump] to reinforce its implementation.”

The U.S. Proposed Amendments.[4]

Prior to the Session, the U.S. proposed the following eight amendments to the Cuban resolution:

  • The first called for the Cuban government to “grant its citizens internationally recognized civil, political and economic rights and freedoms, including freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and free access to information.”
  • The second manifested “serious concern that in Cuba the serious lack of access to information and freedom of expression, the total absence of judicial independence, and arbitrary arrest and detention, are undermining collective efforts to implement Goal 16 of Sustainable Development.”
  • The third expressed “concern that in Cuba the absence of women in the most powerful decision-making bodies . . . seriously undermines the collective efforts to implement Goal 5 of Sustainable Development.”
  • The fourth asserted concern over a Cuban “trade union monopoly . . ., the prohibition of the right to strike and restrictions on collective bargaining and agreements . . . [which] seriously undermine collective efforts to implement Goal 8 Sustainable Development.”
  • The fifth urged Cuba to “create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and propitious environment in which an independent, diverse and pluralist civil society can operate without undue obstacles and insecurity.”
  • The sixth urged Cuba “to put an end to the widespread and serious restrictions, . . . on the right to freedom of expression, opinion, association and peaceful assembly . . . .”
  • The seventh urged Cuba to “free arbitrarily detained persons for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, consider rescinding unduly harsh sentences for exercising such fundamental freedoms . . . .”
  • The eighth called for Cuba “to initiate an integral process of accountability in response to all cases of serious human rights violations. . . .”

The above mentions of  Sustainable Development Goals are references to the Sustainable Development Goals and 2030 Agenda that were adopted by U.N. Member States in September 2015.

On October 30, the Cuba Foreign Minister said the U.S. amendments “are aimed at “creating a pretext to tighten the blockade, and attempt to present the illusion that there is international support for the policy. . . . The U.S. delegation to the UN seeks to disturb, consume time, create confusion and hinder the adoption of the resolution calling for the end of the blockade against Cuba.

The Foreign Minister  added that these amendments “manipulate the issue of human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.” But Cuba is “confident that the amendments will be rejected, and that the resolution will receive overwhelming majority support, as has happened in the past.”

 The Debate on the Resolution and Amendments[5]

According to an U.N. Press Release, on the morning of October 31, representatives of many countries “overwhelmingly called on the [U.S.]to end its economic,commercial and financial embargo against Cuba . . . amid demands for the cessation of unilateral coercive measures.” They said,”the nearly six‑decades‑long blockade imposed on the Caribbean island by Washington impedes its right to development and its ability to participate fully in the global economy.  They stressed that the [U.S.] must heed the Assembly’s repeated calls to lift its restrictive policies.”

Some speakers added “concern over recent policy shifts in Washington that are undoing progress made in 2015 and 2016 to normalize bilateral ties with Cuba.  The current [U.S.] Administration is pursuing efforts to strengthen the blockade, they warned.”

The Associated Press added that 135 countries spoke in favor of Cuba’s resolution and against the U.S. embargo and its proposed amendments.

The debate continued the next day and, according to another U.N. press release, Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez said “the human damage caused by the United States‑led blockade against his country qualifies as an ‘act of genocide’ and creates obstacles for cultural, academic and scientific engagement throughout the island.”

He said the quantifiable damages caused by “the blockade amount to $933.678 billion and that over the past year losses in Cuba add up to $4.3 billion.  Still, Cuba has managed to achieve economic progress and offer extensive international cooperation.  ‘The blockade continues to be the main obstacle to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals,’ . . . [and] violates the right of Cubans to self‑determination.  ‘It is an act of oppression and an act of war.’”

“Mr. Rodríguez said there is a ‘ferocious intensification’ of the extraterritorial implementation of the blockade, particularly the persecution of Cuba’s financial transactions.  The embargo goes against the [U.N.] Charter and international law.”

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said that the resolution “does not help a single Cuban family”and was “one more time that countries ‘feel like they can poke the United States in the eye’ . . . [while] the sorry state of liberty and human rights in Cuba is not lost on anyone.”

“She went on to say that the [U.N.]does not have the ability or the authority to end the [U.S.] embargo on Cuba.  It does, however, have the power to send a moral message to Cuba’s regime [and]  that the [U.S.’] proposed amendments are ‘your words’ . . .[i.e.] the words expressed by delegations on Cuba’s oppression and lack of freedoms.”

“Throughout the morning, speakers regretted that after 27 years of near‑unanimous support for the yearly resolution in the General Assembly, there is still no indication that Washington, D.C. will lift the embargo.”

Reactions to the Resolution [6]

After the passage of the resolution and rejection of the U.S. amendments,  Ambassador Haley said to the General Assembly, “I’m always taken aback when I hear applause in this chamber in moments like this, because there are no winners here today. There are only losers.The [U.N.] has lost. It has rejected the opportunity to speak on behalf of human rights. The UN Charter commits every country here to the promotion of peace, security, and human rights. And that Charter was betrayed today.”

“Once again, we were reminded why so many people believe that faith in the [U.N.] is often misplaced. The countries that profess to believe in human rights have lost, too. They have earned a justified measure of doubt that they will act to defend their beliefs. And most of all, the Cuban people have lost. They’ve been left, once again, to the brutal whims of the Castro dictatorship. They have been abandoned by the United Nations and by most of the world’s governments.”

“But the Cuban people are not alone today. The [U.S.] stands with them. The people of Cuba are our neighbors and our friends, and they are fellow children of God. The American people will stand with them until they are restored the rights that God has given us all. Rights that no government can legitimately deny its people.”

“While today’s votes were not admirable, they were highly illuminating. And that light contributes to the cause of truth, which is the essential basis of freedom and human rights”.

The previous day (October 31), the U.S. Embassy in Cuba accused the Cuban regime of using the embargo as a justification for its failed economic model and demanded that it stop blocking the development and progress of Cubans, It also said that in 2017 the U.S. exported food, agricultural products, medicines, medical devices, fertilizers, parts of civil aircraft, telecommunications equipment and other products to Cuba and that Cuba was free to trade with any other country.”

Conclusion

As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am not pleased with the U.S. opposition to this resolution and to the very hostile tone of Ambassador Haley’s remarks.[7]

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, nor will the U.S. write a check for Cuba in that amount. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this claim 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.

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[1] U.N. Press Release, Amid Demands for Ending Unilateral Coercive Measures, Speakers in General Assembly Urge United States to Repeal Embargo Against Cuba (Oct. 31, 2018); Assoc. Press, The Latest: UN General Assembly Condemns US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2018); U.N. Press Release, General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling for End to Embargo on Cuba, Soundly Rejects Amendments by United States (Nov. 1, 2018); Assoc. Press, The Latest: UN General Assembly Condemns US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2018); Reuters, U.N. Urges End to U.S. Embargo on Cuba, U.S. Raised Rights Concerns, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2018); Whitefield, U.S. highlights Cuba’s problematic human rights record but U.N. still supports lifting embargo, Miami Herald (Nov. 1, 2018).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Report by Cuba on resolution 72/4 of the United Nations General Assembly  (June 2018).

[3] U.N. Gen. Assembly, A/RES/73/8, Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Nov. 1, 2018).

[4] The eight US amendments to the resolution on the embargo that the UN will vote, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 26, 2018); Bruno Rodriguez: “We are certain the amendments will be rejected,” Granma (Oct. 30, 3018). The Foreign Minister made essentially the same points at another press conference on October 24. (Cuban Foreign Minister denounces U.S. maneuver to undermine international support for an end to the blockade, Granma (Oct. 25, 2018).

[5] U.N. Press Release, Amid Demands for Ending Unilateral Coercive Measures, Speakers in General Assembly Urge United States to Repeal Embargo Against Cuba (Oct. 31, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuba Gets Support Before the UN Votes on Embargo, US Amendments, Wash. Post (Nov. 1, 2018); Cuba is not alone: Nations of the world highlight the absurdity of the U.S. blockade  against Cuba in the UN, Granma (Oct. 31, 2018).

[6] U.S. Mission to U.N., Remarks at a UN General Assembly Meeting on Cuba (Nov. 1, 2018); USA: The Government of Cuba ‘uses the embargo as an excuse for its failed economic model, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 1, 2018).

[7]  See posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

Controversy Over U.S. Withdrawal from U.N. Human Rights Council 

As discussed in prior posts, on June 19 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from its membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council.[1] That decision has prompted controversy.

Ambassador Haley’s Letter to NGOs

The first controversy was created by a June 20 letter from U.S. Ambassador Haley to 18 human rights organizations accusing them of contributing to the U.S. decision to leave the Council. Her reason for this startling assertion was their opposing her failed effort last month for a General Assembly vote on U.S.-proposed changes to the Council and thereby putting themselves “on the side of Russia and China, and opposite the United States, on a key human rights issue.”[2]

One of the letter’s recipients, Human Rights Watch (HRW), by its director for the UN, Louis Charbonneau, agreed that HRW had opposed the Ambassador’s efforts on this issue, but did so because it feared her proposed changes could have led to amendments from Russia, China and other nations to weaken the Council. “The risk was that it would have opened a Pandora’s box of even worse problems. The idea that human rights groups were trying to undermine genuine attempts to reform the council, or that we were working with countries like Russia, is outrageous and ridiculous.”

Another recipient of the letter, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, through its head Andrew Copson, stated that earlier this June it and 14 other advocacy groups had sent a letter expressing concern over efforts by the U.S. “to reduce the role for civil society organizations through a process of ‘efficiency savings.” This organization, therefore, was ‘appalled to receive “this bizarre rant” from the Ambassador that “betrays a deep and profound ignorance of the work of the IHEU, and humanists around the world, to suggest that we would support the autocratic regimes of China and Russia. Much of our work at the UN is in exposing and opposing those states’ human rights abuses.”

Reactions from Other Governments

The second controversy came from the U.N. Secretary General and from diplomats in Geneva.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the United States to rethink its decision to pull out of the world’s top human rights body and said that he “would much prefer for the United States to remain in the Human Rights Council.” He added: “I do believe that the human rights architecture is a key tool at the present moment in order to promote and to protect human rights around the world.”

Meanwhile at the Council in Geneva, “critics and friends alike read the latest Trump move to snub yet another international institution as a sign that U.S. was jettisoning its reputation as a key defender of human rights and self-inflicting a blow to its international image.”[3]

Julian Braithwaite, Britain’s ambassador in Geneva, told the Council. “We have lost a member who has been at the forefront of liberty for generations. While we agree with the U.S. on the need for reform, our support for this Human Rights Council remains steadfast.”

Even Russia  and China criticized the U.S. exit. In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticized what was described as Washington’s “boorish cynicism in stubbornly refusing to recognize its own human rights problems while trying to tailor the council to its political interests.” In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the Council is “an important platform” for countries to discuss human rights and that Beijing has been committed to supporting the group’s work.

About the only country to support the U.S. resignation was Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office called the U.S. decision “courageous “and an “unequivocal statement that enough is enough.”

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[1] U.S. Withdraws from U.N. Human Rights Council, dwkcommentaries.com (June 20, 2018); Washington Post Opposes U.S. Withdrawal from U.N. Human Rights Council, dwkcommentaries.com (June 21, 2018).

[2] Harris, Haley Blames Watchdog Groups for U.S. Withdrawal From U.N. Rights Council, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018); Washington accuses several NGOs of contributing to its departure from the Human Rights Council, Diario de Cuba (June 21, 2018); McLeiland, Humanists shocked to receive ‘bizarre rant’ from United States, IHEWU (June 21, 2018).

[3]  Assoc. Press, Allies Disappointed by ‘Big Bang’ of US Walkout from UN Body, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018); Assoc. Press, UN, Russia Call on US to Rethink Human Rights Council Move, N.Y. Times (June 21, 2018); Human Rts. Watch, UN: US Retreat  from Rights Body Self-defeating (June 19, 2018).

U.S. Withdraws from U.N. Human Rights Council 

On June 19 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced that the U.S. had “withdrawn” from its membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council.[1] The Council’s current President, Ambassador Vojislav Šuc (Slovenia) immediately responded to this news.

Secretary Pompeo’s Remarks

“The Trump administration is committed to protecting and promoting the God-given dignity and freedom of every human being. Every individual has rights that are inherent and inviolable. They are given by God, and not by government. Because of that, no government must take them away.”

“For decades, the United States has led global efforts to promote human rights, often through multilateral institutions. While we have seen improvements in certain human rights situations, for far too long we have waited while that progress comes too slowly or in some cases never comes. Too many commitments have gone unfulfilled.”

“President Trump .. . has called out institutions or countries who say one thing and do another. And that’s precisely the problem at the . . . Council. As President Trump said at the UN General Assembly: “It is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the . . . Council.” In short, the Council now “is a poor defender of human rights.”

It “has become an exercise in shameless hypocrisy – with many of the world’s worst human rights abuses going ignored, and some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the council itself.” Those members include “authoritarian governments with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights records, such as China, Cuba, and Venezuela.” In addition, the Council’s “bias against Israel is unconscionable. Since its creation, the council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than against the rest of the world combined.”

Moreover, the U.S. “will not take lectures form hypocritical bodies and institution as Americans selflessly give their blood and treasure to help the defenseless.”

 Ambassador Haley’s Remarks

The Ambassador recalled her speech to the Council in June 2017 that “declared our intent to remain a part of the . . . Council if essential reforms were achieved.. . . to make the council a serious advocate for human rights.”[2]

She then provided details on how the U.S. since then unsuccessfully has endeavored to obtain such reforms. Therefore, the U.S. “is officially withdrawing from the . . . Council.”

The details of the failure of reform included: (a) the U.N. General Assembly last Fall electing as a Council member the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which “is widely known to have one of the worst human rights records in the world;” (b) the Council would not hold “a meeting on the human rights conditions in Venezuela” because it is a Council member; (c) early this year the Council passed five resolutions against Israel; (d) the U.S. effort to reform the Council was blocked by “unfree countries,” including “Russia, China, Cuba, and Egypt;” and (e) “many members that share U.S. values “were unwilling to seriously challenge the status quo.”

In contrast, she said, under U.S. leadership the U.N. Security Council this past 12 months held its “first ever . . . session dedicated to the connection between human rights and peace and security” and another session on “Iranian human rights.” In addition, last year the U.S. organized “an event on Venezuela outside the Human Rights Council chambers in Geneva.” And the Ambassador herself has traveled “to UN refugee and internally displaced persons camps in Ethiopia, Congo, Turkey, and Jordan, and met with the victims of atrocities in those troubled regions.”

Council President Šuc’s Statement[3]

“While I recognize it is the prerogative of any member State to take such a decision [to withdraw], I wish to acknowledge that the United States has been a very active participant at the Council having engaged constructively on numerous issues aimed at improving the lives of rights holders around the globe, including the many issues which we are addressing in our current session. The Human Rights Council always stands to benefit from constructive engagement of its member States.”

“In times when the value and strength of multilateralism and human rights are being challenged on a daily basis, it is essential that we uphold a strong and vibrant Council recognizing it as a central part of the United Nations for the 21st century.”

“Over the past 12 years, the . . . Council has tackled numerous human rights situations and issues keeping them in sharp focus.  In many senses, the Council serves as an early warning system by sounding the alarm bells ahead of impending or worsening crises.  Its actions lead to meaningful results for the countless human rights victims worldwide, those the Council serves.”

“The . . . Council is the only intergovernmental body responding to human rights issues and situations worldwide, with the active participation of civil society.  It provides a unique setting to hear a wide range of views, including those which other organizations are unable or unwilling to discuss.”

Conclusion

I disagree with the U.S. decision to withdraw from its membership on the Council for several reasons.

First, the Human Rights Council does not have the power to order any Council member or any other U.N. member to do anything. Instead it is “responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and [making] recommendations on them. It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention.” In short, it is a forum for discussion or debate on these issues, and the U.S. has an important voice to raise on these issues.

Second, there are 47 Council members, and although the U.S. correctly points out that some members have horrible human rights records, there is no claim that such countries constitute a majority of the Council. Moreover, no country in the world has a perfect record on these issues, including the U.S.

Third, all Council members, including the bad actors, are subject to Universal Periodic Review (UPR) every five years. A mere summary of the latest UPRs for the countries mentioned by Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador Haley shows that each of them received many recommendations for improving their human rights records, thereby negating or diminishing the notion advanced by these two U.S. officials that those with poor records escape censure by the Council.[4]

Fourth, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has the authority and responsibility to provide the Council with his or her assessment of human rights concerns in the world. The current High Commission did just that on June 18 (the day before the previously mentioned U.S. decision to withdraw from the Council).[5] In so doing he had critical comments about  seven of the nine countries identified by Pompeo and Haley as having bad human rights records (China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Iran, Russia, Turkey and Venezuela).

Fifth, the High Commissioner had these critical fact-based criticisms of    Israel and the U.S., which both countries should be willing and able to evaluate on their merits:

  • “Israel continues to deny access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. This has been the case for three successive holders of the mandate. Access has also been denied to all of the Council’s previous Commissions of Inquiry, including on Gaza in 2014. I believe the Council’s advocacy of impartial monitoring and expert recommendations is entirely justified by the gravity of the situation, and I urge Israel to provide access to all human rights mechanisms – including the investigative body mandated last month – to enable impartial monitoring and advance accountability and justice.” (Emphasis in original.)
  • “In the United States, I am deeply concerned by recently adopted policies which punish children for their parents’ actions. In the past six weeks, nearly two thousand children have been forcibly separated from their parents. The American Association of Pediatrics has called this cruel practice ‘government-sanctioned child abuse’ which may cause ‘irreparable harm,’ with ‘lifelong consequences’. The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable. I call on the [U.S.] to immediately end the practice of forcible separation of these children, and I encourage the Government to at last ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in order to ensure that the fundamental rights of all children, whatever their administrative status, will be at the center of all domestic laws and policies.” (Emphasis in original.) [6]

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[1]  U.S. State Dep’t, Remarks on the UN Human Rights Council (June 19, 2018). The Council is made up of 47 U.N. Member States, which are elected by the majority of members of the U.N. General Assembly through direct and secret ballot. The Council’s Members serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms. The U.S. is in its second consecutive term ending  January 1, 2019.

[2] Haley, Remarks at the United Nations Human Rights Council (June 6, 2017); Haley, Remarks at the Graduate Institute of Geneva on “A Place for Conscience: the Future of the United States in the Human Rights Council” (June 6, 2017).

[3] Human Rts. Council, Press Statement by the President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Vojislav Šuc (Slovenia) (June 19, 2018)

[4] Human Rights Council: Report of the Working Group on the UPR-China (252 paragraphs of recommendations) (Dec. 4, 2013);Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Cuba (292 paragraphs of recommendations) (July 8, 2013); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Democratic Republic of Congo (229 paragraphs of recommendations) (July 7, 2014); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Ethiopia (252 paragraphs of recommendations) (July 7, 2014); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Iran (291 paragraphs of recommendations) (Dec. 22, 2014); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Jordan (173 paragraphs of recommendations) (Jan. 6, 2014); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Russian Federation (231 paragraphs of recommendations) (July 8, 2013);Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Turkey (278  paragraphs of recommendations) (April 13, 2015); Report of the Working Group on the UPR-Venezuela (274  paragraphs of recommendations) (Dec. 27, 2016).

[5]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Opening statement and global update of human rights concerns by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Hussein at 38th session of the Human Rights Council (June 18, 2018).

[6] After a firestorm of criticism by the public and politicians from both major political parties, President Trump on June 20 signed an executive order ending the policy of separating immigrant children from their immigrant parents. (Haberman & Shear, Trump Signs Executive Order to Keep Families Together, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018).)

 

 

Another U.N. General Assembly Resolution Condemns U.S. Embargo (Blockade) of Cuba                                                                                                       

On November 1, 2017, the United Nations General Assembly again overwhelmingly adopted a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba. The vote this year was 191 to 2 (the negative votes by the U.S. and Israel), as shown in the following photograph of the Assembly’s scoreboard.[1]

Preparation for Debating the Resolution[2]

The debate on the resolution was preceded by (a) Cuba’s 47-page report, dated June 2017, on the previous U.N. General Assembly Resolution on the subject and which alleges that Cuba has sustained damages from the embargo totaling $130.2 billion (at current prices); (b) the July 26, 2017, Report of the U.N. Secretary-General containing statements in support of this year’s resolution from 32 U.N. organs and agencies and from 160 U.N. member states and 2 observers, but nothing from the U.S. and Israel, which prior to 2016 opposed similar resolutions and which abstained in 2016; (c) Cuba’s report on its achievements despite the embargo (blockade); and (d) Cuba’s report on the embargo’s impact on the country’s development.

The Actual Resolution[3]

The actual resolution, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (A/RES/72/42) had two principal operative paragraphs.

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 recalled “the measures adopted by the Executive of the United States [President Obama] in 2015 and 2016 to modify several aspects of the application of the embargo, which contrast with the measures announced on 16 June 2017 [by President Trump] to reinforce its implementation.”

Cuba’s Presentation of the Resolution[4]

 The resolution was presented by Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. Here is the U.N.’s summary of his remarks:

  • The U.S. “new policy on Cuba was intended to take relations back to a past of confrontation.  Two thirds of the [U.S.] population, including Cuban immigrants living in the[U.S.], were in favor of lifting the blockade. Action to the contrary meant that the [U.S.] Government was acting in an undemocratic fashion.  He recalled that on 16 June, President Trump announced a series of measures intended to tighten the blockade in a hostile speech before an audience made up of staunch followers of the Batista regime, annexationists and terrorists.”
  • There was “total isolation of the [U.S.] in this room” and “without any evidence, it was using as a pretext the ailments affecting some diplomats in Havana and adopting new political measures against Cuba which further tightened the blockade.  President Trump does not have the least moral authority to question Cuba.  He is heading a Government of millionaires destined to implement savage measures against lower‑income families, poor people, minorities and immigrants. The [U.S.] had its own set of issues to deal with, including the country’s lack of guarantees in education and health, the assassination of African‑Americans by law enforcement and the brutal measures threatening the children of illegal aliens who grew up in the [U.S.]”
  • “Recalling the military interventions carried out by the [U.S.] against Cuba, he said that 60 years of domination had been ended by the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.  When Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz and then United States President Barack Obama made their hopeful announcement in December 2014, Mr. Obama described the blockade against Cuba as an obsolete policy which had failed to meet its goals.  However, the embargo was never recognized for what it was: a massive violation of the human rights of Cubans and an act of genocide.  Citing Cuban figures, he said between April 2016 and April 2017, losses caused by the blockade to the Cuban economy had been estimated at over $4 billion. There is not a Cuban family or social service that has not suffered the deprivations resulting from the blockade.”
  • The statements of the U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley “were disrespectful,” and the U.S. “does not have the slightest moral authority to criticize Cuba.” The U.S. Ambassador “is lying.” Now the U.S. is using “as ailments affecting some diplomats in Havana without any evidence” in order to adopt “new political measures against Cuba which further tightened the blockade.”

 Other Countries’ Statements of Support[5]

During the debate, at least 38 other countries expressed their support of the resolution.

U.S. Opposition to the Resolution

 In voting against the resolution, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, stated the following:[6]

  • “For over 55 years, the Cuban regime has used this debate in the [U.N.] General Assembly as a shiny object to distract the world’s attention from the destruction it has inflicted on its own people and on others in the Western Hemisphere.”
  • “Even during the Cuban missile crisis, when the Castro dictatorship allowed the Soviet Union to secretly install nuclear missiles in Cuba, the Cuban regime and its Soviet allies claimed that the real threat to peace wasn’t the missiles aimed at America. The real threat, they said, was the [U.S.’] discovery of these missiles. At the time, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, identified the Cuban regime’s habit of pointing fingers anywhere but at itself. He said, ‘This is the first time…I have ever heard it said that the crime is not the burglar but the discovery of the burglar – and that the threat is not the clandestine missiles in Cuba but their discovery and the limited measures taken to quarantine further infection.’”
  • “Today, the crime is the Cuban government’s continued repression of its people and failure to meet even the minimum requirements of a free and just society. Our response has been to stand with the Cuban people and their right to determine their own future. For this, each year, this Assembly’s time is wasted considering this resolution. And the [U.S.] is subjected to all manner of ridiculous claims – anything to deflect attention from the regime that is actually responsible for the suffering of the Cuban people. But the [U.S.] will not be distracted. We will not lose sight of what stands between the Cuban people and the free and democratic future that is their right.”
  • “For that reason, and for the 25th time in 26 years, the United States will vote against this resolution.”
  • “One year ago, the United States abstained when voting on the same resolution. The reason given was that the continuation of the embargo was not isolating Cuba but was in fact isolating the [U.S.] It is true that we had been left nearly alone in opposition to this annual resolution. No doubt there will be some here who do not understand how we can take such opposite positions, separated by just 12 months. They will wonder how we could passively accept this resolution last year and energetically oppose it this year.”
  • “To those who are confused as to where the [U.S.] stands, let me be clear: as is their right under our constitution, the American people have spoken. They have chosen a new president, and he has chosen a new ambassador to the [U.N.]”
  • “As long as the Cuban people continue to be deprived of their human rights and fundamental freedoms – as long as the proceeds from trade with Cuba go to prop up the dictatorial regime responsible for denying those rights – the [U.S.] does not fear isolation in this chamber or anywhere else. Our principles are not up for a vote. They are enshrined in our Constitution. They also happen to be enshrined in the Charter of the[U.N.]. As long as we are members of the [U.N.], we will stand for respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that the Member States of this body have pledged to protect, even if we have to stand alone.”
  • “The resolution before us aims to end the [U.S.’] ‘economic, commercial, and financial embargo’ against Cuba. But let’s be honest about what we really see going on here. This assembly does not have the power to end the U.S. embargo. It is based in U.S. law, which only the [U.S.] Congress can change. No, what the General Assembly is doing today – what it does every year at this time – is political theatre.”
  • “The Cuban regime is sending the warped message to the world that the sad state of its economy, the oppression of its people, and the export of its destructive ideology is not its fault.”
  • “In the spirit of sending messages, I would like to direct the rest of my comments towards the Cuban people. The American people strongly support your dreams to live in a country where you can speak freely, where you can have uncensored access to the internet, where you can provide for your families, and where you can determine your leadership. We know that many of you have been made hopeful by the opening of diplomatic relations between the [U.S.] and Cuba. That status is not changing. Our friendship and good will toward the Cuban people remain as strong as ever.”
  • “What you probably don’t know is that your government responded to this gesture of good will, not by joining in the spirit in which it was offered, but by expanding its politically motivated detentions, harassment, and violence against those who advocate for political and economic freedom in Cuba. What you cannot know because your government won’t let you know is that there were credible reports of almost 10,000 politically motivated detentions in Cuba in 2016 alone. That’s a massive increase in detentions over recent years. We had hoped our outreach to your government would be met with greater freedom for you.”
  • “Your government silences its critics. It disrupts peaceful assemblies. It censors independent journalists and rigs the economy so the government alone profits.”
  • “Your government has exported its bankrupt, destructive ideology to Venezuela. It has taught the Maduro regime how to silence journalists, crack down on the political opposition, and impoverish its people. Now, millions of Venezuelans join you in being denied their basic rights.”
  • “As we speak here today, your government is busy choosing the successor to the Castro dictatorship. It is attempting to fool you into believing you have a voice by holding local and regional so-called elections. But the process you are engaged in is not freedom. The results were determined before the first vote was cast.”
  • “When the [U.S.] abstained on this resolution last year, its decision was explained by saying, ‘We recognize that the future of the island lies in the hands of the Cuban people.’ There is a casual cruelty to that remark for which I am profoundly sorry. Regrettably, as of today, the future of Cuba is not in your hands. It remains in the hands of your dictators.”
  • “The [U.S.] opposes this resolution today in continued solidarity with the Cuban people and in the hope that they will one day be free to choose their own destiny.”
  • “We might stand alone today. But when the day of freedom comes for the Cuban people – and it will come – we will rejoice with them as only a free people can.”

The U.S. opposition was no surprise in light of the prior consistent Trump Administration’s statements supporting the embargo and the preceding request to do so from U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.[7]

Reactions to the Resolution [8]

 The day before the U.N. vote, 10 Democratic Senators wrote to President Trump urging the U.S. to abstain on the vote. The “failed embargo,” they said, has been repeatedly and publicly condemned by the international community as ineffective and harmful to the people of Cuba. The longer we maintain this outdated Cold War policy the more our international and regional credibility suffers.” Moreover, “the overwhelming majority of Americana, including Cuban-Americans, and Cubans, including Cuban entrepreneurs and many dissidents, [plus international human rights organizations] oppose the embargo and favor engagement by the [U.S.] with Cuba. These Senators were Patrick Leahy (VT), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Chris Van Hollen (MD), Sherrod Brown (OH), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Jeff Merkley (OR), Jack Reed (RI), Edward Markey (MA), Al Franken (MN) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI).

The President of Engage Cuba, a U.S. national coalition of private companies, organizations and state and local leaders working to lift the embargo, said, “”Ambassador Haley’s comments highlight the Trump administration’s misguided approach toward Cuba. If the administration spoke to real Cubans, they would know that fears for the future are rooted in what a rollback of engagement means for their businesses, communities and families. The Trump administration seems determined to stand alone in the world, supporting an archaic policy has failed for the last 55 years. And the biggest losers are the people of Cuba.”

Conclusion

As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am not pleased with the U.S. opposition to this resolution and to the very hostile tone of Ambassador Haley’s remarks. I obviously regret the U.S. abandonment of last year’s abstention by the U.S. on the prior resolution.

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, nor will the U.S. write a check for Cuba in that amount. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this claim 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.

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[1] U.N. Press Release, As General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Urging End to United States Embargo on Cuba, Delegates Voice Concern About Possible Reversal of Previous Policy (Nov. 1, 2017) [hereafter “U.N. Press Release”]; U.N., UN General Assembly again calls for lifting US embargo against Cuba (Nov. 1, 2017); Minute by Minute: The world against the Blockade, CubaDebate (Nov. 1, 2017); Reuters, U.S. Votes Against U.N. Resolution Calling for End to Cuba Embargo, N.Y. times (Nov. 1, 2017). A prior post covered the similar resolution passed in 2016 by the General Assembly, 191-0 (with abstentions by the U.S. and Israel).

[2]  Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba vs. Bloqueo: Cuba’s Report on Resolution 71/5 of the United Nations General Assembly entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (June 2017); U.N. Sec. Gen Report, Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (July 29, 2017); Cuban report on development. Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s website has a special section on the embargo (Cuba vs. Bloqueo), which includes a scorecard of the General Assembly votes on resolutions against the embargo (blockade), 1982-2016.

[3] U.N. Gen. Assembly, Resolution A/72/L.2 (Oct. 2017).

[4] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba denounces in UN force and intensification of the US blockade (Nov. 1, 2017); U.N. Press Release.

[5] U.N. Press Release.

[6] Ambassador Haley, Remarks at a UN General Assembly Meeting on Cuba, U.S. Mission to U.N. (Nov. 1, 2017). Essentially the same message was delivered the same day by the U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the U.N., Ambassador Michele J. Sison. (Sison, Explanation of Vote at a UN General Assembly Meeting on the Cuba Embargo,U.S. Mission to the U.N. (Nov. 1, 2017).

[7] E.g., White House, Remarks by President Trump at the 2017 Values Voter Summit (Oct. 13, 2017); Rubio, Letter to President Trump (Oct. 19, 2017). Unsurprisingly the State Department on October 31 announced that the U.S. would oppose the resolution. (U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-October 31, 2017.)

[8] Letter, Senators Leahy et al to President Trump (Oct. 31, 2017); Engage Cuba, Statement on U.S. Vote Against U.N. Resolution Condemning the Cuban Embargo (Nov. 1, 2017).

 

 

U.N. Human Rights Council’s Sparring Over Cuban Human Rights

This September the U.N. Human Rights Council  in Geneva, Switzerland has encountered two items relating to Cuba: (a)  a Council reprimand of Cuba for its alleged punishing some of its citizens for cooperating with the U.N. on human rights and (b) Cuba’s human rights record.

The Council’s Reprimand

On September 20 the U.N. Human Rights Council reprimanded Cuba by putting it on a list of 29 states that have “punished people, through intimidation and reprisals, for cooperating with the UN on human rights.”  Such reprisals and intimidation include travel bans, asset-freezing, detention and torture.[1]

The  29 states on the list are Algeria, Bahrain, Burundi, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Honduras, India, Iran, Israel, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Venezuela. (The nine in bold along with 38 other U.N. members are elected by the U.N. General Assembly to serve on the Council.)

The report said the  following about Cuba:

“On 18 October 2016, some mandate holders raised with the [Cuban] Government allegations of harassment and reprisals against human rights defenders and members of the Cubalex Legal Information Center for their cooperation with the United Nations in the field of human rights (see A/HRC/34/75, CUB 3/2016). The allegations were mainly in relation to advocates’ cooperation with the Human Rights Council, its special procedures and the universal periodic review mechanism, and took the form of stop and questioning at the airport and harassment by immigration agents. Additionally, on 23 September 2016, the offices of Cubalex Legal Information Center were raided (CUB 3/2016).” (Report, Section V.B.5.)[2]

The Council’s Assistant Secretary-General, Andrew Gilmour, said, “There is something grotesque and entirely contrary to the Charter and spirit of the United Nations, and particularly this Council, that people get punished, through intimidation and reprisals, for cooperating with the U.N. on human rights,”

Complaint about Cuba’s Human Rights

On September 19, under the Council’s Agenda Item 4: “Human Rights Situations Requiring Council Attention,” a U.S. diplomat expressed U.S.’ deep concern about the human rights situation in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Sudan, Myanmar, South Sudan, Russia, Iran, Democratic Republic of Congo, (North Korea), China, DPRK (North Korea), Hong Kong, Belarus, Turkey, Venezuela and Cuba. (Emphasis added.)[3]

The diplomat’s statement about Cuba was very short: “We urge Cuba to release political prisoners and cease the harassment of civil society groups.” (Emphasis in original.)

The U.S. statement about Venezuela, Cuba’s closest ally, was longer. It said, “We condemn the Maduro regime’s repressive actions to violate human rights including by suppressing dissent and peaceful protests in Venezuela.  We call on it to dissolve the illegitimate Constituent Assembly and restore Venezuela’s democratic institutions; hold free, fair, and credible elections as soon as possible; and provide humanitarian assistance for the Venezuelan people.” (Emphasis in original.)

Cuba’s Response.

The same day (September 19), Cuba’s Permanent Representative to the Council, Ambassador Pedro L. Pedroso Cuesta, made the following longer response:[4]

  • “Is it politicization, double standards and selectivity, [all] bad practices, that will end up prevailing in the work of the Human Rights Council? Many of us hope not.”
  • “However, what we have heard in the debate of this theme, as well as in others last week, suggests that some promote that this is the way to go by this body.”
  • “Several countries continue to seek to stand as paradigms for the promotion and protection of human rights and use this and other agenda items to criticize other countries, while xenophobia, racism and intolerance increase in their own territories to a highly worrying level.”
  • “How can one think they are seriously concerned about human rights situations in countries of the South, when they promote wars and interventions against them, and then ignore or keep their hands off the suffering they caused with these actions to citizens whose rights are supposedly sought to improve?”
  • “Why do they oppose implementing the right to development and thereby improve the situation of millions of people living in poverty?”
  • “Cuba rejects manipulation for political ends and double standards in the treatment of human rights. The accusations against my country made by the [U.S.] representative, as well as unfounded, are inconsistent with the need to promote an objective, non-politicized and non-discriminatory debate on human rights issues.”
  • “I must also draw attention to the fact that such statement, centered on the alleged violations of others, aims at ignoring all human rights violations occurring in its territory, and the deep international concern caused by the language of exclusion that appears in that country.”
  • “We demand the cessation of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba for more than 55 years. The measures of June 16 to reinvigorate this blockade are doomed to failure, and will not achieve their purpose of weakening the Revolution or bending the Cuban people.”
  • “We reiterate our solidarity with the Venezuelan Government and people and call for an end to all interference in the internal affairs of that country. We demand respect for the legitimate right of the Venezuelan people to continue building the social model that drives the Bolivarian Revolution.”
  • “Let us not let the failure of the defunct Commission on Human Rights repeat itself in the Council. It is our duty to work for cooperation and respectful dialogue to prevail, and politicization, selectivity and double standards disappear once and for all.”

As mentioned in a previous post, U.S. Vice President MIke Pence at the U.N. Security Council Meeting  on September 20 complained about Cuba and certain other countries being members of the U.N. Human Rights Council in light of what he said was its oppression and repression, a charge rejected by Cuba at that same meeting and by Cuba’s Foreign Minister at the General Assembly on September 22.   https://dwkcommentaries.com/2017/09/24/u-s-cuba-relations-discussed-in-u-n-proceedings/

Conclusion

These developments at the Council do not involve the potential imposition of sanctions of any kind on Cuba. Instead they are, I believe, verbal sparring on an international stage. (If I am missing some potential sanctions, please advise in a comment to this post.)

I have not seen any Cuban response to the Council’s reprimand. In any event, Cuba as soon as possible should end any harassment of Cubalex Legal Information Center and any of its officers and employees.

Any reforms of the Human Rights Council would seem to lie with the General Assembly, which I assume would only do so after significant study, analysis and voting, and I am unaware of any such study being proposed or conducted.

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[1] U.N. Human Rts. Council, Report of the Secretary-General: Cooperation with the United Nations, Its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (# A/HRC/36/31, Sept. 15, 2017)(Advance unedited version); U.N. Human Rts Council, Oral presentation by the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights of the Report of the Secretary-General on cooperation with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (No. 36/31 Sept. 20, 2017); U.N. Human Rts Council, Report highlights rising reprisals against human rights defenders cooperating with the UN (Sept. 20, 2017); Reuters, Record Number of States Punishing Human Rights Activism: U.N., N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2017).

[2] See earlier post to dwkcommentaries: Cuban Police Search and Seize Property of Independent Legal Center (Oct. 7, 2016) (CUBALEX is the Center in question); More Cuban Arrests of Dissidents ( Dec. 2, 2016) (arrest of Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo, who is ‎affiliated with Cubalex).

[3] U.S. Mission Geneva, Statement by the United States of America (Sept. 19, 2017).

[4] Cuba rejects manipulation of human rights issue in Geneva, Granma (Sept. 21, 2017).

Jesus, The Refugee

“When last we saw Jesus he had just delivered a withering homiletic critique of his neighbors in the synagogue in Nazareth. He had refuted their assumption that God’s intentions for the human family were reserved solely for them and their nation.”[1]

“The townspeople nearly throw Jesus off the cliffs outside Nazareth for saying that, but somehow he escapes.”

Jesus thereby “became a former person, a person without a home, rejected by his own people and expelled. It had happened to him before, when the Holy Family had fled to Egypt with the infant Jesus to escape the violence of King Herod. Now, when Nazareth runs him out of town, Jesus becomes a refugee again. He never returns to his hometown.”[2]

Then Jesus and the disciples walked the nine miles or so northeast of Nazareth to the village of Cana.

“When Jesus and the disciples arrived in Cana they were invited to a wedding feast [where he performed his first miracle by turning] six jugs of water  into wine.” This is the account of that event from John 2:1-11 (NRSV):

  • ‘On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘ They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘ Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has yet to come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification and holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. when the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him,’Everyone serves the fine wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have been drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.’

[This wedding scene has great significance because marriage] “is a recurring metaphor in scripture for the relationship between God and the people of God. The prophets used wedding language to describe God’s desires for the human family, especially for those who suffer. Isaiah’s words, directed to a long-ago people in exile, may have been read that day:”

  • ‘You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.’ (Isaiah 62:4)

“‘You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate.’ The marriage scene in Cana offers a counterpoint to the violence Jesus experiences in Nazareth. It opposes his dehumanization. It reaffirms God’s love for one who has been subjected to hatred. ‘For the Lord delights in you.’ ‘Jesus did this,’ John says, ‘The first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.’ (John 2:11)”

“The wine [provided by Jesus] signals something. The marriage feast with its abundant drink is a sign that God will not abandon the outcast children of God but will instead delight in them. God will contest those who seek to deny the humanity of others, in this case, Jesus, the former person from Nazareth. God uses the wedding feast to show that the degradation of humankind will be resisted, and that the resistance will be girded in joy.”

“Jesus changes the water into wine to signal God’s hospitality to those rejected by others and to reveal God’s delight in those deeemed to be former people.”

“At the wedding feast in Cana Jesus launches a movement. A movement of joyful resistance  against the baser impulses that run through each of us and through the principalities and powers of every time and place.”

“Yesterday a Jewish congregation in Illinois welcomed a Syrian family that had arrived in the U.S. on Friday, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the very day new rules excluding all refugees were issued. A day later the American Jews welcomed the Syrian Muslim family to their new town near Chicago with hugs and cheers and toys for the children. The members of the synagogue – and more than 100 were involved in supporting the family – then brought them to their new home, where they had prepared a feast, complete with a Syrian-style cake. ‘If this is the last group of refugees to get in,’ the [Illinois] rabbi said, ‘We will show them the best of America.'[3]

“It was the miracle of Cana all over again, and God’s intentions for the human family carried the day.”

“Today, in our time and in this land, the church still finds its calling in that same movement [of joyful resistance against the baser impulses].”

[We do so while recognizing that] “no religion or nation is innocent. . . . It’s what Europeans did to indigenous people and enslaved Africans. It’s happening now to Muslims and christians in Syria, in unprecedented numbers.”

“’Those of us who follow Jesus are no different from the refugees of our time. Once we were former people. Forgotten people. Displaced people. At the heart of our faith is the claim that God stands with those cast out who now dwell in the kingdom of memory, and the mandate that we stand with them, as well.”

[As 1 Peter tells us,] “’Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people,’ [and] goes on to say.

  • ‘Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to…conduct yourselves honorably…so that…they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when God comes to judge.’ (I Peter 2:10-12)”

“Judgment is a word to be used sparingly and with great caution, but in the midst of one of the greatest refugee crises in history, we as a nation, and certainly those of us who follow the refugee named Jesus, will be judged by our response. Assuring the safety and security of our country is essential, but when we indiscriminately close our borders to mothers and fathers and children fleeing violence in their homeland and when we refuse entry to people solely on the basis of religion or national origin we are no different from and no better than those across history who have forced others to become former people.”

“’Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ Emma Lazarus said in her poem written in celebration of the Statue of Liberty, which she called the Mother of Exiles, ‘The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.'”

“Remember the ship called the St. Louis carrying Jews, forced from our harbors to return to Nazi Germany? Or Japanese-Americans driven from their homes and put in camps? Or the Dakota people expelled from this state and their land? Have we learned nothing from our history?”

“We live in a nation founded by people fleeing persecution. As people of faith we cannot remain silent in the face of policies that run counter to the biblical call to ‘welcome the stranger in our midst’ and that ignore the American commitment to offer refuge.”

Reactions

I found this sermon very moving although I had these nagging concerns. Jesus’ mother Mary already was at the wedding and thus it is fair to assume the residents of Cana had heard something about Jesus’ preaching, but they probably would not have heard about Nazareth’s expulsion of Jesus. If so, then the residents did not welcome Jesus as a refugeee. I assume that Cana was a small village and that most of the residents were at the wedding celebration. Therefore, when Jesus and his 12 disciples show up, there is nowhere else for them to go. These 13 additional guests placed an unexpected burden on the wine and food for the guests, yet the 13 were invited and welcomed. I also assume that in that time and place, as is true today, wedding guests are expected to bring gifts for the bride and groom, and Jesus and the disciples had no gifts in hand. Recognizing this faux pas and the burden they were placing on the bride and groom, Jesus provided extra wine as a gift and as a thank you for being included.

Are these concerns misplaced? I solicit comments from those who have greater knowledge about the Cana story.

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[1] This blog post is an edited version of Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen’s January 29 sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, including his reference to his prior sermon that was discussed in an earlier post.  (the 1/29/17 sermon, Westminstermpls.org/2017/02/02/why-chan; the 1/29/17 bulltin, wp-content/uploads/2017/01; the bog about the 1/22/17 sermon, dwkcommentaries.com/2017/01/30/Jesus-inaugural-address.

[2] The phrase “former people” comes from historian Douglas Smith, who used the term to refer to the Russian aristocracy banished and persecuted after the Russian Revolution of 1917. (Douglas Smith, Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2013).) Smith, by the way, before college, was involved in youth activities at Westminster Church.

[3] Kantor, Warm Welcome for Syrians in a Country About to Ban Them, N.Y. Times (Jan. 28, 2017).

Cuba and Nine Other Countries Reject Accreditation of Free Press Group To Participate in U.N. Meetings 

On May 26, a United Nations committee rejected, 10 to 6, an application for accreditation to attend U.N. meetings from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international, independent group that monitors attacks on journalists around the world and campaigns for the release of those who are jailed.[1]

The 10 negative votes came from Cuba along with Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sudan and Venezuela. The yes votes came from Greece, Guinea, Israel, Mauritania, the United States and Uruguay. The abstentions were by India, Iran and Turkey, the latter two having reputations for persecuting journalists.

At the committee meeting U.S. Ambassador Sarah Mendelson made a lengthy statement advocating accreditation for CPJ, which, she said, is “a reputable non-governmental organization that promotes press freedom worldwide and defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal.” Such a group has shown that “a free press remains a critical foundation for prosperous, open, and secure societies, allowing citizens to access information and hold their governments accountable. Indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reiterates the fundamental principle that every person has the right ‘to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’”[2]

Afterwards the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, said, “It is increasingly clear that the NGO committee acts more and more like an anti-NGO committee.” She also said that the U.S. would appeal the committee’s decision to the full 54-member U.N. Economic and Social Council.

CPJ stated, “It is sad that the U.N., which has taken up the issue of press freedom through Security Council and General Assembly resolutions and through the adoption of the U.N. Action Plan, has denied accreditation to CPJ, which has deep and useful knowledge that could inform decision making. A small group of countries with poor press freedom records are using bureaucratic delaying tactics to sabotage and undermine any efforts that call their own abusive policies into high relief.”[3]

This April CPJ’s annual report ranked Cuba 10th on its list of the 10 Most Censored Countries. Key for this ranking was Cuba’s having “the most restricted climate for press freedom in the Americas. The print and broadcast media are wholly controlled by the one-party Communist state, which has been in power for more than half a century and, by law, must be ‘in accordance with the goals of the socialist society.'” In addition, CPJ stated, “The government continues to target critical journalists through harassment, surveillance, and short-term detentions.”[4]

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[1] Sengupta, Press Freedom Group’s Application for U.N. Accreditation is Rejected, N.Y. Times (May 26, 2016); Assoc. Press, UN Committee Denies Credentials to Press Freedom Group, N.Y. Times (May 26, 2016); Reuters, U.N. Panel Rejects Press Freedom Watchdog Accreditation Request, N.Y. Times (May 26, 2016).

[2] Mendelson, Remarks at the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations Regarding the Accreditation of the Committee to Protect Journalists, U.S. Mission to the U.N. (May 26, 2016).

[3] CPJ, CPJ denied ECOSOC consultative status after vote in UN NGO Committee (May 26, 2016).

[4] Cuba Gets Low Marks on Press Freedom from Committee to Protect Journalists, dwkcommentaries.com (April 18, 2016).