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.
On July 12, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing about the recently released State Department’s 2016 Human Trafficking Report. After opening statements by the Committee’s Chair, Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN), and its Ranking Member, Senator Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), the only witness was Ambassador Susan Coppedge.
“The integrity of last year’s report was called into question because of controversy over how the Tier Rankings were made regarding certain countries.”
“This report and Tier Rankings are an improvement, and we thank you for your leadership in that regard and the way inter-departmentally people worked with each other. The decisions behind certain upgrades, such as Cyprus and the Philippines, and downgrades, such as Uzbekistan, Burma, and Luxembourg, are more balanced and strategic.”
“In the past, back and forth deliberations between the TIP office and the regional bureaus have been the rule. While less pronounced this year, that pattern still shows in how certain countries, such as India, Mexico and Malaysia, are ranked.”
“Each year, the TIP report makes recommendations for progress and turns these into tailored actions for our embassies. Rigorously applied TIP action plans should inform the tough calls on the Tier Rankings.”
“We encourage you to give a fair assessment of countries efforts to address trafficking this year, and we also hope you are candid with us in describing the challenges that still exist in certain countries.”
“This year’s report focuses especially on preventing modern slavery. This is important and needs to be part of substantially increasing international efforts to end modern slavery, which this committee unanimously supports and hopefully will come to fruition very quickly.”
“Trafficking in persons is one of the great moral challenges of our time. It destroys people and corrodes communities. It distorts labor markets and undermines stability and the rule of law. Trafficking is fueled by greed, violence, and corruption. According to the International Labor Organization, there are at least 21 million victims of modern slavery in the world. Forced labor alone generates more than $150 billion in profits annually, making it one of the largest income sources for international criminals, second only to drug trafficking.”
Last year, we expressed significant concerns about the neutrality of the 2015 TIP report – primary among them, the decision to upgrade Cuba and Malaysia, from the Tier 3 designation to Tier 2 Watch List.” (Emphasis added.)
“After reviewing the 2016 TIP report, I believe it is a mixed bag. We saw some aggressive evaluations in the 2016 report; yet, we still see remnants of the exact problems we had last year — pending bilateral concerns impacting the quality of the report. Again despite little progress from Malaysia and Cuba, the State Department decided to keep both on Tier 2 Watch List this year after they were upgraded from Tier 3 in 2015. This was unnecessary and unwarranted. By contrast, for example, Uzbekistan was upgraded last year to the Tier 2 Watch List. But, as a result of continued government compelled forced labor by adults in the cotton harvest and aggressive harassment and detention of independent monitors, Uzbekistan was appropriately downgraded this year to Tier 3.”(Emphasis added.)
During the hearing Cardin later said that last year Cuba and Malaysia should not have been upgraded from Tier III to Tier II Watch List and should not have remained on that Watch List this year.
In her prepared testimony, Ambassador Coppedge stated, “Of the countries analyzed in the 2016 Report, 36 were placed on Tier 1, 78 on Tier 2, 44 on Tier 2 Watch List, and 27 on Tier 3. In all, there were 27 downgrades and 20 upgrades. No matter which tier a country is placed on, every nation can and should do more to combat human trafficking, which is why the Report offers recommendations for improvements for every country, even Tier 1 countries like the United States.”
In response to questions, the Ambassador described the process of ranking the countries, which involved collaboration among the people in U.S. embassies around the world and the TIP office at the State Department and arriving at consensus for such rankings for almost all countries. For the few instances of no consensus, the Secretary of State is presented optional rankings, and he or she chooses one of those options. She also testified that for the 2016 report there were no instances in which the Secretary rejected the consensus opinion and that there was only “a handful” of instances without a consensus view.
When Senator Menendez suggested possibly amending the governing statute to make the minimum standards stricter, the Ambassador disagreed. She said that the current statutory flexibility was desirable because of the number of issues and countries that were involved.
Most of the senatorial comments and questions focused on India and Malaysia with brief mention of Mauritania. In addition, the Ambassador summarized the reasons for this year’s downgrades of Burma, Haiti and Luxembourg.
Cuba was touched on by Senators Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Marco Rubio (Rep., FL). The Ambassador said she went to Cuba this past January and pressed officials about whether medical personnel on foreign missions were permitted to hold their own passports. She also noted, as stated in the report, that Cuba does not recognize forced labor as a problem, has no laws against that activity and no prosecutions or convictions in that area. Thus, on that issue it does not meet the U.S. statute’s “minimum standards.” Cuba, however, is making progress regarding sex trafficking, including law enforcement training, prosecutions and protection.
There also were cryptic comments about the Committee’s hearing regarding the prior year’s report and to a vigorous, closed hearing with last year’s witness, Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Senator Corker said in his opinion certain aspects of the 2015 report were driven by political considerations, rather than the TIP statute.
Immediately after the hearing Chairman Corker issued a press release. It said that he had “noted improvements over last year’s report but argued for continued progress to strengthen the integrity of the Tier Rankings that will help support global efforts to fight human trafficking and end modern slavery.“ Corker “noted that more should be done to ensure recommendations from the TIP office about a country’s progress in combating trafficking are not overruled by political appointees within the State Department based upon other diplomatic considerations.”
Prior posts have reviewed the TIP’s reports assessments of Cuba’s record regarding human trafficking in 2015 and 2016 and mounted a vigorous and, in this blogger’s opinion, effective rebuttals of the contentions that Cuba was engaged in illegal forced labor with respect to its medical personnel on foreign missions.
As those prior posts indicate, these foreign medical missions spring from a Cuban objective of being in solidarity with people in need around the world while also building a community of international allies for the island and in more recent years being a major source of revenue for the Cuban government’s exports of services.
According to Granma, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, the country’s foreign medical missions started in 1960 when a Cuban medical brigade treated the victims of an earthquake in Chile, followed by the sending of another group in 1963, to provide health care in Algeria, then recently liberated from French colonial rule.
Through May 31, 2016, a total of 325,000 Cuban health personnel have provided medical services in 158 countries. There are currently 55,000 Cubans working in 67 countries, including more than 25,000 doctors. The Granma article provides a list of all the 158 countries with the number of Cuban medical personnel who have worked there.
This year’s hearing did not examine those criticisms of the reports’ contention that Cuba was engaged in illegal forced labor on its foreign medical missions. Instead, the apparent assumption of all the senators at the hearings seemed to be that Cuba was so engaged. Nothing, however, was said at this hearing to criticize or invalidate this blogger’s contention that there is no such illegal forced labor by Cuba.
 Senator Rubio’s subsequent press release contained a transcript of his interchange with Ambassador Coppedge. (Rubio, Press Release: Rubio Presses State Department On 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (July 12, 2016).) Senator Menendez in his press release “criticized the apparent politicization of the U.S. Department of State’s annual [TIP] Report, noting that Cuba, Malaysia and other nations continue to enjoy favorable status despite failures to meet minimum legal standards prescribed by Congress.” Menendez also announced his intent to introduce a bill to change the process for preparing the TIP report. (Menendez: TIP Report Can’t Be a ‘Shell Game’ (July 12, 2016).)
 The Senate Committee’s closed hearing in 2015 with Deputy Secretary Blinken was touched on in a prior post.
On June 30, 2016, the U.S. Department of State released its 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, which is “the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking” and “ the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts.”
For this Report, “severe forms of trafficking in persons” is defined in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Victims Act (TVPA) as:
“sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
“the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”
In this Report, the Department placed 188 countries (including the United States) into the following four tiers plus “Special Cases” (Libya, Somalia and Yemen) based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” found in Section 108 of the TVPA:
TIER 2  “countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to meet those standards.”
TIER 2 WATCH LIST  “countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to meet those standards AND: a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecution, and convictions of trafficking crimes; increased assistance to victims; and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government and convictions of trafficking crimes; or c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.”
TIER 3  “countries whose governments do not fully meet the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”
Susan Coppedge, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, made remarks at the ceremony. She said the Report was the U.S.’ “principal diagnostic tool to assess government efforts across what we call the three Ps: prosecution, protection and empowerment of victims, and preventing future trafficking crimes.” She also said there had been 27 downgrades in this Report compared with the prior report and 20 upgrades. In addition, she responded to journalists’ questions, but none was asked about Cuba.
The Report’s Assessment of Cuba’s Record on Human Trafficking 
In the 2016 Report Cuba was again placed in the Tier 2 Watch List with the following explanation.
“Cuba is a source and destination country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Child sex trafficking and child sex tourism occur within Cuba. Cuban authorities report people from ages 13 to 20 are most vulnerable to human trafficking in the country. Traffickers also subject Cuban citizens to sex trafficking and forced labor in South America and the Caribbean. The government indirectly acknowledged the presence of foreign national trafficking victims in Cuba. The government is the primary employer in the Cuban economy, including in foreign medical missions that employ more than 84,000 workers and constitute a significant source of Cuban government revenue. Some participants in foreign medical missions and other sources allege Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; however, the Cuban government and some participants say the program is voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba. The government uses some high school students in rural areas to harvest crops and does not pay them for their work but claims this work is not coerced.”
“The Government of Cuba does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing antitrafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Cuba is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. The government reported continued efforts to address sex trafficking, including the prosecution and conviction of 18 sex traffickers in 2014 (the most recent available data) and the provision of services to 13 victims in those cases. The government publicly released a written report on its anti-trafficking efforts in October 2015. Multiple ministries engaged in anti-trafficking efforts, including the Ministries of Justice, Information Science and Communication, Interior, Foreign Affairs, Education, Tourism, Labor and Social Security, Culture and Health, and the attorney general’s office. The penal code does not criminalize all forms of human trafficking, although the government reported its submission of some trafficking-related penal code amendments to the National Assembly for review during the reporting period. The Cuban government was more transparent in providing details of anti trafficking efforts and the government’s overseas medical missions program. However, the government did not prohibit forced labor, report efforts to prevent forced labor, or recognize forced labor as a possible issue affecting its nationals in medical missions abroad. The government provided funding for child protection centers and guidance centers for women and families, which serve all crime victims, including trafficking victims. These centers had the ability to screen cases, make referrals to law enforcement, assist with arranging cooperation with law enforcement up to prosecution, and provide victim services.”
“RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CUBA”
“Draft and enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that prohibits and sufficiently punishes all forms of human trafficking, including forced labor, sex trafficking of children ages 16 and 17, and the full range of trafficking “acts” (recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receiving persons); vigorously investigate and prosecute both sex trafficking and forced labor offenses; provide specialized training for managers in state-owned or controlled enterprises in identifying and protecting victims of forced labor; implement policies to prohibit force, fraud, or coercion in recruiting and retaining employees in such enterprises; train those responsible for enforcing the labor code to screen for trafficking indicators and educate workers about trafficking indicators and where to report trafficking-related violations; draft and adopt a comprehensive written national anti-trafficking action plan and dedicate resources to implement it in partnership with international organizations; provide specialized victim identification and referral training for first responders; establish formal policies and procedures to guide officials in the identification of all trafficking victims and their referral to appropriate services; adopt policies that provide trafficking-specific, specialized assistance for male and female trafficking victims, including measures to ensure identified sex and labor trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor; and schedule a visit and cooperate with the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons.”
“PROSECUTION: The government sustained law enforcement efforts by prosecuting and convicting sex traffickers, but took no action to address forced labor. The penal code does not criminalize all forms of trafficking, in particular forced labor and sex trafficking of children ages 16 and 17. The government did not report any labor trafficking investigations, prosecutions, or convictions. In January 2016, the government reported it was in the process of amending the code, including submitting amendments to the National Assembly to raise the age of consent; it is unclear whether the government will make additional amendments to improve the legal framework to address trafficking. Cuba prohibits some forms of trafficking through several penal code provisions, including: article 302 (procuring and trafficking in persons); article 310.1 (corruption of minors younger than 16 for sexual purposes); article 312.1 (corruption of minors younger than 16 for begging); and article 316.1 (sale and trafficking of a child younger than 16). The penal code’s definition of sex trafficking conflates sex trafficking with prostitution and pimping. The law criminalizes inducement to or benefiting from prostitution, but treats force, coercion, and abuse of power or vulnerability as aggravating factors rather than an integral part of the crime. Legal provisions addressing “corruption of minors” criminalize many forms of child sex trafficking but define a child as an individual younger than 16 years of age; below the age set in international trafficking law, which is 18 years of age. Forced prostitution is illegal irrespective of the victim’s age, and the government has reportedly prosecuted individuals benefiting from child sex trafficking. Provisions for adult and child sex trafficking do not explicitly criminalize the acts of recruitment, transport, and receipt of persons for these purposes. In December 2013, the government amended article 346.1 of the criminal code to mandate sentences of five to 12 years’ imprisonment for various crimes, including for laundering funds obtained from trafficking in persons. Labor code article 116 prohibits entities from directly establishing labor relations with adolescents younger than age 17, even if adolescents may be authorized to join the work force.”
“In 2015, the government publicly presented official data on 147 prosecutions and convictions of sex traffickers during calendar year 2014, the most recent data available. Authorities reported 13 prosecutions and 18 convictions of sex traffickers, compared with 13 prosecutions and convictions in 2013. At least nine convictions in 2014 involved suspects accused of subjecting children to trafficking within Cuba, including the facilitation of child sex tourism in Cuba. The average sentence was seven years’ imprisonment. The government also identified a group of Cubans abroad recruiting and transporting women with false promises of employment and fraudulent work contracts in order to subject the victims to debt bondage and forced prostitution. The government has not sought extradition in this case, and therefore no prosecutions or convictions of suspected traffickers in Cuba have resulted. Students at the Ministry of Interior Academy and police assigned to tourist centers reportedly received specific anti-trafficking training and victim assistance. The government demonstrated its willingness to cooperate with other governments on investigations of possible traffickers. The government arranges for high school students in rural areas to harvest crops and allegedly forces or coerces participation in medical missions, but it denies such claims. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking in 2014.”
“PROTECTION: The government sustained efforts to protect sex trafficking victims, but did not make efforts to identify or protect victims of forced labor. Authorities identified 11 child sex trafficking victims and four adult sex trafficking victims in 2014; it did not identify any labor trafficking victims or male sex trafficking victims. Identified sex trafficking victims received government assistance; detailed information on assistance provided to the 15 identified victims was unavailable. Other government-organized NGOs, like the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the Prevention and Social Assistance Commission, and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution contributed by identifying victims of trafficking to state authorities and providing victim services. Independent members of civil society expressed concern about the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and limited information on the scope of sex trafficking and forced labor in Cuba given sparse independent monitoring by NGOs and international organizations. The government reportedly developed procedures to proactively identify sex trafficking victims, whereby first responders work with social workers to identify potential cases and refer them to law enforcement.”
“The government did not report having procedures to proactively identify victims of forced labor. Some participants in foreign medical missions and other sources allege Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; however, the government and other participants have stated the postings are voluntary. In support of their applications to receive immigration benefits from the United States, some Cubans working in missions abroad have stated Cuban authorities withheld their passports and restricted their movements. At the same time, some participants who left medical missions abroad have been able to obtain new passports from their embassies in neighboring countries. There have also been reports that Cuban authorities coerced participants to remain in the program by allegedly threatening to revoke their medical licenses or retaliate against their family members if participants leave the program. Reports of substandard working and living conditions and the presence of “minders” to monitor medical professionals outside of work also continued. Last year, Cuba reinstituted restrictions on travel for specialized doctors and some medical personnel, requiring them to obtain an exit permit from their superiors before leaving the island. On September 9, 2015, the government agreed to reinstitute medical personnel that left their positions while abroad. As of April 1, 2016, the Cuban authorities claimed that 274 medical professionals returned to Cuba and were rehired at the same salary and level of responsibility.”
“The FMC received funding from international organizations and operated centers for women and families nationwide to assist individuals harmed by violence, including victims of sex trafficking. These centers provided services such as psychological treatment, health care, skills training, and assistance in finding employment. The government reportedly developed a referral process to transfer trafficking victims to law enforcement custody, secure evidence for prosecutions, and provide victim services and follow-on care. Neither the government nor the government-organized NGOs operated shelters or provided services specifically for male trafficking victims. Police encouraged child sex trafficking victims younger than age 16 to assist in prosecutions of traffickers by gathering children’s testimony through psychologist-led videotaped interviewing, usually removing the need for children to appear in court. There were no reports of the government punishing sex trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. The government indirectly acknowledged the existence of some foreign trafficking victims in Cuba.”
“PREVENTION: The government sustained prevention efforts to combat sex trafficking; however, authorities did not make efforts to prevent or address the demand for forced labor. The attorney general’s office continued to operate a 24-hour telephone line for individuals needing legal assistance, including sex trafficking victims, and received calls related to potential trafficking cases in 2015 that led to investigations. State media continued to produce newspaper articles and television and radio programs to raise public awareness about sex trafficking. Authorities maintained an office within the Ministry of Tourism charged with monitoring Cuba’s image as a tourism destination, combating sex tourism, and addressing the demand for commercial sex acts. The Cuban government cooperated with foreign law enforcement in investigating foreign citizens suspected of sexual crimes against children, including child sex trafficking. Under Cuban law, authorities may deny entry to suspected sex tourists and expel known sex offenders, but reported no related convictions in 2014. The government did not report whether it provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. The government publicly released a written report on its anti-trafficking efforts in October 2015. In March 2015, authorities invited the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons to visit, but the visit had not been scheduled by the end of the reporting period. The government did not report specialized training for labor inspectors to screen for indicators of potential forced labor.”
Reactions to the Report
Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, attended the State Department’s ceremony for launching the Report and afterwards stated, “ the committee will closely study the report to determine the integrity of the findings. . . . In order for the TIP report to be an effective tool for holding governments accountable, all judgments must be based on measurable progress on anti-trafficking efforts. Following what were clear flaws in last year’s TIP process, the committee will carefully examine the 2016 report and conduct public hearings [this July] to determine the integrity of the findings. Senator Ben Cardin, (Dem., MD), the committee’s Ranking Member, also issued a statement approving of the Report’s upgrading Thailand from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List and the downgrading of Uzbekistan from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3. He also expressed continuing concern about Malaysia. Neither of them said anything about Cuba.”
Two other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senators Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), and Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), also issued statements. Menendez criticized the rankings for Malaysia, Cuba and unnamed other countries that “do not match the facts on the ground” and stated his expectation that “Congress . . . [will] be aggressive in its oversight and thoroughly investigate the methodology used to justify this year’s rankings. Further, I am convinced that new legislation to reform the ranking process is the only way to restore credibility to this broken system and I plan on introducing a bill to do just that.” Rubio asserted that last year’s upgrade of Cuba to Tier 2 Watch List, and by implication its maintenance of that position in this Report, “was not justified by the facts on the ground.” He also criticized China’s maintenance on the Tier 2 Watch List and Thailand’s upgrading to that List.
The comments of Senators Corker, Menendez and Rubio allude to the Senate committee’s criticism of the prior report’s upgrading of Cuba and Malaysia from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List and to the Administration’s alleged political reasons for doing so, all of which was discussed in a prior post.
At the State Department’s recent ceremony to announce the release of the 2016 Report U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry anticipatorily tried to rebut similar criticisms against this Report. He said, “The tier rankings . . . reflect our department’s best assessment of a government’s efforts to eliminate human trafficking. They don’t take into account political and other factors. As I say, they’re based on . . . [established] criteria. And in addition to the rankings, the report outlines our specific concerns as well as the ways we can improve our efforts. This is not meant to be a dunning report; it is meant to be a demarcation, an encouragement process, a process of evaluation and work towards changing rankings.”
We all will have to see what happens at the forthcoming February hearing to assess these criticisms.
In the meantime, we can, in my opinion, effectively rebut this Report’s half-hearted contention that Cuban medical professionals are engaged in forced labor when they work on the government’s foreign medical missions. Here are the bases for that conclusion:
First, the Report admits that there is conflicting information and allegations on the foreign medical mission work. Coercion is alleged by “some participants” and unnamed “other sources.” On the other hand, the Report admits, the Cuban government denies these allegations, and instead the Government and “some participants” assert the postings are “voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba.” The Report also concedes there is conflicting information on whether other means, including withholding Cuban passports, are used to coerce or force participants to remain in the program.
Second, there apparently has not been any fair adjudicative process to determine which of these conflicting sets of information is valid.
Third, the accusation of forced labor for such participants has been rejected in a study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman. He says, although there may be “some cases where . . . [Cuban medical professionals] are pressured into accepting overseas assignments, . . . most evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority are motivated by philosophical and/or pragmatic considerations. In the first instance, one needs to understand that the Cuban medical profession . . . is permeated by norms which stress self-sacrifice and service to the community, both at home and abroad. At the core of this ethos is the principle, which is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the island’s medical schools and reinforced throughout one’s career, that health care should not be seen as a business driven by a profit motive, but rather as a human right that medical personnel have an unconditional duty to protect. Such convictions often underlie participation in the medical aid brigades. There are, however, also some pragmatic factors that can come into play. Overseas service could . . . help to further one’s professional aspirations and for some assignments the total remuneration involved is more generous than what is available back in Cuba. . . . [T]hese are the considerations which apply to the vast majority of people” in such programs, not involuntary servitude.
Fourth, According to Granma, Cuba’s Communist Party’s newspaper, “Internationalist medical aid has been a longstanding part of the Cuban people’s tradition of solidarity, since the beginning of the Revolution. As early as 1960 a brigade was sent to Chile following an earthquake there, and to Algeria in 1963, to support the new country recently liberated from colonialism.” The Granma article included the reflection of four Cuban doctors who have participated in such missions and who treasure the positive impact of those experiences on their professional and personal lives.
Fifth, this Report does not cite to the relevant legal definition of “forced labor” to assess this claim. Most pertinent is Article 2(2) of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, which states, in part, ”the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include . . . any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Emphasis added.)
Moreover, as a previous post noted, a respected international journalist, Alma Guillermoprieto, recently reported that Cuban medical doctors serving on the island now earn $67 per month, but $500 per month when serving on a foreign medical mission.
The $67 monthly salary for Cuban physicians in Cuba compared with the $24 or $27 monthly income of other Cubans is a result of Cuba’s adoption of a “pyramid” compensation system whereby highly trained workers like physicians earn more than lower-skilled workers like busboys. This system, however, is being undermined by lower-skilled workers like gas-station attendants and waiters earning additional income from stealing and illegally selling gasoline and from earning tips in hard currency at restaurants and hotels serving foreign tourists. Indeed, Raúl Castro in his speech at the April 2016 Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba called this the “inverted pyramid” problem that had to be solved.
Finally all of this discussion about Cuba’s foreign medical mission program is precipitated by the U.S. Cuban Medical Personnel Parole Program that allows such personnel to apply for parole into the U.S. For reasons previously provided, this program is unjustified and should be ended as soon as possible.
On July 27 the U.S. Department of State released its 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, which upgraded Cuba from Tier 3 (a country that did “not fully comply with the [Trafficking in Persons Protection Act] minimum standards and [was] not making significant efforts to do so”) to Tier 2.Watch List (a country that did not fully comply with [that statute’s] minimum standards, but [was] making significant efforts to bring [itself] into compliance with those standards). A prior post reviewed that report’s discussion of Cuba and expressed disagreement with its assertion that Cuban medical personnel’s participation in foreign medical missions was illegal forced labor.
Since then there has been congressional criticism and concern about that report’s upgrading of several countries, including Cuba, as seen in recent congressional hearings.
The most recent hearing was on November 4, before a House of Representatives subcommittee. Most of the hearing was devoted to the report’s upgrading of Malaysia, Uzbekistan and China.
Cuba’s upgrade was the focus of the testimony at this hearing by Alex Lee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. He testified that the shift in U.S.-Cuban relations did not influence the decision on Cuba. “It was completely separate,” he told the subcommittee.
This assessment of Cuba was challenged by the testimony at this hearing of Mark Lagon, the President of Freedom House. He stated that “Freedom House ranks Cuba as ‘Not Free’” and that the Department’s “grounds for an upgrade are deeply questionable.” Indeed, Lagon said, the Department’s report itself undercuts any rationale for an upgrade when it states: (a) “The penal code does not criminalize all forms of human trafficking on paper, not to speak of enforcement.” (b) “The Cuba regime did not even dissemble and claim any ‘efforts to prevent forced labor’ nor ‘any trafficking-specific shelters.” Moreover, according to Lagon, “It is far-fetched to suppose that there is no forced labor in state enterprises or for political prisoners in one of the world’s few remaining Marxist-Leninist states. Also, a burgeoning sex industry – welcoming sex tourism – fuels exploitation, despite steps the Report notes taken by Cuba to address sex trafficking.”
The attitude towards Cuba of this subcommittee’s chair, Christopher Smith (Rep., NJ), was revealed in his press release on July 27 (the date of the release of the 2015 TIP report), when he said, “For political reasons alone, President Obama has done a grave disservice to victims of human trafficking in Cuba . . . by upgrading the human trafficking tier rankings in those countries in the annual Trafficking in Persons report.” He added, “It seems quite clear that . . . Cuba’s unchecked march to normalized relations have captured the Obama Administration’s ability to properly access the worst of the worst when it comes to fighting to protect trafficking victims and punish the thugs who mastermind this modern day slavery. It is no coincidence that earlier this year the Obama Administration also removed Cuba from the national list of state sponsors of terrorism. One-by-one this Administration is overriding human rights and national security policies for another agenda.”
The same issue of the objectivity of the TIP Report was considered on September 17 by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations at a closed briefing by Anthony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State, entitled “State Department Processes in Establishing Tier Rankings for the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.” As the briefing was closed, we do not know what happened although at another hearing on September 22 Chairman Bob Corker (Rep., TN) mentioned that after this briefing he had made a request to the State Department for three unspecified items of information about the 2015 report.
Related to the issue of the objectivity of the 2015 TIP Report was the September 22 hearing by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on the nomination of Susan Coppedge to be the Ambassador-at-Large and Director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Although her written and oral testimony did not touch on Cuba, she made certain commitments if she were confirmed by the Senate, that bear on the overall issue of the objectivity of such future reports. Those commitments included the following: (a) “to use this position passionately to advocate for the rights of individuals to be free from forced labor or sex trafficking, for victims of human trafficking to have access to comprehensive services, for survivors to be empowered to have a voice in policy, and for an end to the trafficking of human beings;” (b) “to uphold the integrity of the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report and its tier rankings, including by ensuring the facts from the field are accurately presented in the report;” and (c) “to maintain a close working relationship with Congress and with those federal agencies engaged in the fight against human trafficking.”
At the hearing all the members in attendance expressed support for the nomination, and afterwards Chairman Corker released a statement reiterating his strong support.
The issue of the objectivity of the 2015 TIP Report regarding Cuba and certain other countries still has not been resolved, and I am confident that we will hear more about this issue from Congress.
 The Tier 2 Watch List also requires that “a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.”
On July 27 the U.S. Department of State released its 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, which is “the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking” and “ the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts.”
In this Report, the Department placed 187 countries into one of the following four tiers based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” found in Section 108 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act:
“TIER 1 [Thirty-one] countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards.
TIER 2 [Eighty-nine] countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
TIER 2 WATCH LIST [Forty-four] countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND: a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.
TIER 3 [Twenty-three] countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”
At the Department’s release of this Report, Secretary of State John Kerry made comments. In part, he said, “the purpose of this document is not to scold and it’s not to name and shame. It is to enlighten and to energize, and most importantly, to empower people. . . . [We] want to bring to the public’s attention the full nature and scope of a $150 billion illicit trafficking industry. . . . We want to provide evidence and facts that will help people who are already striving to achieve reforms to alleviate suffering and to hold people accountable. We want to provide a strong incentive for governments at every level to do all that they can to prosecute trafficking and to shield at-risk populations.”
Additional comments and responses to journalists’ questions were provided at the launch of this Report by Sarah Sewell, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights. She pointed out that “in this year’s report, some 18 countries moved up in the tier rankings, some 18 countries moved down in the tier rankings” and quoted the above statutory definitions of the different rankings.
The Report’s Assessment of Cuba’s Record on Human Trafficking
In the 2015 Report Cuba was placed in the Tier 2 Watch List, which was an upgrade from the prior year’s report that had Cuba in Tier 3. The new Report states that although “information on the scope of sex trafficking and forced labor in Cuba is limited, [c]hild sex trafficking and child sex tourism occur within Cuba. Cuban authorities report people from ages 13 to 20 are most vulnerable to human trafficking in Cuba. Traffickers also subject Cuban citizens to forced prostitution in South America and the Caribbean. . . . “
As a result, the Report concludes, “The Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. For the second consecutive year, the government reported efforts to address sex trafficking, including the prosecution and conviction of 13 sex traffickers in 2013 and the provision of services to victims in those cases. The Cuban government reported at the beginning of 2015 that the Ministry of Labor and Social Security assumed the lead role in a committee responsible for combating gender and sexual violence, including sex trafficking. The penal code does not criminalize all forms of human trafficking, though the government reported continuing efforts to amend its criminal code, including bringing it into conformity with the requirements of the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, to which it acceded in July 2013. . . .”
In addition, the Report states the Cuban “government did not report any trafficking-specific shelters, but offered services to trafficking victims through centers for women and families harmed by violence. The Federation of Cuban Women, a government affiliated non-governmental organization, provided some outreach and education about human trafficking within the context of violence against women, but did not specifically address it as a crime involving sex trafficking and forced labor or affecting men and boys.”
The Report’s forced labor allegation is focused on Cuba’s “foreign medical missions, which employ more than 51,000 workers in over 67 countries and constitute a significant source of Cuban government income. Some participants in foreign medical missions as well as other sources allege that Cuban officials force or coerce participation in the program; [but] the Cuban government denies these allegations. Some Cubans participating in these work missions have stated the postings are voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba. There have also been claims that Cuban authorities coerced participants to remain in the program, including by allegedly withholding their passports, restricting their movement, or threatening to revoke their medical licenses or retaliate against their family members in Cuba if participants leave the program. There are also claims about substandard working and living conditions and the existence of ‘minders’ to monitor victims outside of work. Some medical professionals participating in the missions are in possession of their passports when they apply for and obtain special United States visa and immigration benefits, indicating passport retention is not a consistent practice across all work missions.”
Consistent with its denial that its foreign medical missions involve forced labor, the Cuban government “did not recognize forced labor as a problem within Cuba and did not report efforts to prevent forced labor.”
The Report goes on to make the following recommendations for Cuba: (1) “draft and pass a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that prohibits all forms of human trafficking, including an offense of forced labor;” (2) “vigorously investigate and prosecute sex trafficking and forced labor offenses;” (3) “schedule a visit and engage in robust discussions with the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons on all forms of human trafficking;” (4) “provide specialized training for managers in state owned or controlled enterprises in identifying and protecting victims of forced labor and implement policies to verify the absence of coercion in such enterprises;” (5) “train those responsible for enforcing the labor code to screen for trafficking indicators and educate workers about trafficking indicators and where to report trafficking-related violations;” (6) “strengthen efforts, in partnership with international organizations, to provide specialized victim identification and referral training for first responders; (7) establish formal policies and procedures to guide officials in the identification of all trafficking victims and their referral to appropriate services;” (8) “expand upon the Ministry of Labor and Social Security’s anti-trafficking responsibilities to include all forms of trafficking and male as well as female victims, and develop an action plan to address sex trafficking and forced labor for males and females;” and (9) “adopt policies that provide trafficking-specific, specialized assistance for male and female trafficking victims, including measures to ensure identified sex and labor trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor.”
Under Secretary Sewell, elaborating on this assessment of Cuba in response to a journalist’s question, said, “Cuba was upgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List because of the progress that the government’s made in addressing and prosecuting sex trafficking, as well as the commitments that the Cuban Government has made to become compliant with the minimum standards. As noted in other cases, a Tier 2 Watch List ranking does not mean that a country is free from problems or free from human trafficking.”
According to Sewell, the Cuban “government reported significant efforts to address sex trafficking, including the conviction of sex traffickers, the provision of services to sex trafficking victims, and continued efforts of the ministry of tourism to address sex tourism and the demand for commercial sex. We also recognize the commitments the government has made to reform its laws to become compliant with the UN Palermo Protocol, which is a significant step, as well as the Cuban Government’s willingness to welcome the UN special rapporteur to the island.”
Nevertheless, Sewell continued, the U.S. has “a number of concerns such as the failure to recognize forced labor as a problem or to act to combat it. And so this will be very much a topic in our dialogue with Cuban officials as we work over the next year to try to help Cuba make more concrete progress in the realm of human trafficking.”
Reactions to the Report’s Assessment of Cuba
News media immediately highlighted the Report’s upgrades of Malaysia and Cuba, and a New York Times editorial was most critical of the assessment of Malaysia. Some U.S. Senators and Representatives launched criticism of those assessments in particular. Prominent with respect to Cuba, as expected, was Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), who said that by upgrading Malaysia and Cuba the administration had “elevated politics over the most basic principles of human rights” and vowed to do all he could “from hearings to legislation to investigations” to challenge the moves.” Representative Chris Smith (Rep., NJ) was upset by the same upgrades as well as relatively lenient ratings for Vietnam and China and stated the report had “careened off into a new direction where the facts regarding each government’s actions in the fight against human trafficking are given almost no weight when put up against the president’s political agenda.” Similar criticism came from Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL). 
A Reuters investigation concluded that the State Department’s office responsible for the TIP reports was overruled by senior Department officials on 14 of the 18 upgrades, including Malaysia, Cuba, China, India, Uzbekistan and Mexico. The final decision on disputed rankings this year, said Reuters, was made in meetings attended by some of the State Department’s most senior diplomats, including Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Kerry’s Chief of Staff, Jonathan Finer.
On July 29 the Chairman (Bob Corker (Rep., TN)) and the Ranking Member (Ben Cardin (Dem., MD)) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a joint letter asked Secretary of State John Kerry for a briefing on the Report in order “to better understand” the basis for its upgrade of several countries, including Malaysia and Cuba. They added, “We recognize that U.S. policy and engagement on trafficking does not exist in a vacuum, and we appreciate the many varied and nuanced trade-offs that are necessary between competing policy issues. We also believe that it is critical that the impartial reliability of the TIP Report be safeguarded and maintained if it is to have utility on this critical issue in the future.” 
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing
On August 6 that Committee held a hearing on this subject with Under Secretary Sewell as its sole witness.
She testified that in “most cases, this assessment process [of different countries’ record on human trafficking] clearly places governments into one of the tiers; in other cases, further discussion among senior Department officials is required to clarify information and assess the totality of government efforts. This ultimately leads to the Secretary of State’s designation of Tier rankings for each country and approval of the TIP Report. Tier rankings do not assess the severity of human trafficking in a given country, but rather that government’s efforts in addressing human trafficking problems over the current reporting period compared to its own efforts in the prior year. Determinations about the direction and quality of that progress in a given country are guided by complex criteria outlined in the TVPA and described on pages 45 through 50 of the TIP Report.”
More specifically for the six countries, including Cuba, that moved up to Tier 2 Watch List this year, Sewell testified, “the Department closely evaluated the efforts those governments had made during the reporting period as well as the commitments they made for next year. Our posts are working with host governments to encourage them to implement the recommendations outlined in this year’s Report, and the TIP Office is finalizing assistance programming strategy to help make those recommendations a reality. I am receiving reports from the field on the frank and focused dialogues Embassy personnel are having with host government officials on how to overcome the challenges they face to better combat this crime and protect their citizens.”
With only Chairman Corker, Ranking Member Cardin and Senator Menendez in attendance, most of the questions focused on the upgrade of Malaysia. Corker, for example, said, “The administration’s policies toward those countries trumped any real regard for humans being trafficked.” The Department, he continued, “threw the trafficking phase under the bus to ensure that . . . [the Administration was] successful with [the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that included Malaysia].”  Menendez added a few comments and questions about the Cuba upgrade.
Sewell declined to answer questions about internal Department discussions about these upgrades and instead repeatedly emphasized that the statutory framework for tier rankings created a complex set of factors to be analyzed and that a Tier 2 Watch List ranking did not indicate a country had a great record on trafficking.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Chair Corker said it had been the “most heartless, lacking of substance” presentation and that he and the two other Senators in attendance had the strong impression that inappropriate political considerations had influenced some or all of the tier upgrades. As a result, the Committee would be asking for the Department to produce records about its internal consideration of the tier rankings. Senator Cardin also said he was interested in exploring whether Congress should amend the relevant statutes in light of what a further hearing might disclose.
After the hearing, a State Department spokesman said that the Department was waiting for the committee to submit a formal request, “but speaking generally, of course we try to be responsive to Congress.”
I agree that the annual T.I.P. reports are important tools in combatting trafficking in persons and that these reports should be free of political influence. On the other hand, I believe that the relevant statutes appropriately create a complex set of factors that require analysis in reaching conclusions about placing countries in the different tiers and that it is appropriate for senior Department officials to be involved in that process.
With respect to Cuba, for at least the following reasons I disagree with the Report’s assertion that Cuban medical personnel’s participation in foreign medical missions is illegal forced labor:
First, the Report admits that “information on the scope of . . . forced labor in Cuba is limited.”
Second, the Report admits that there is conflicting information and allegations on the foreign medical mission work. Coercion is alleged by “some participants” and “other sources.” On the other hand, the Cuban government denies these allegations, and other participants “have stated the postings are voluntary and well paid compared to jobs within Cuba.” The Report also concedes there is conflicting information on whether other means, including withholding Cuban passports, are used to coerce or force participants to remain in the program.
Third, there apparently has not been any fair adjudicative process to determine which of these conflicting sets of information is valid.
Fourth, the accusation of forced labor for such participants has been rejected in a study by Indiana State University’s Emeritus Professor of International Politics and Latin America, Dr. H. Michael Erisman. He says, although there may be “some cases where . . . [Cuban medical professionals] are pressured into accepting overseas assignments, . . . most evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority are motivated by philosophical and/or pragmatic considerations. In the first instance, one needs to understand that the Cuban medical profession . . . is permeated by norms which stress self-sacrifice and service to the community, both at home and abroad. At the core of this ethos is the principle, which is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the island’s medical schools and reinforced throughout one’s career, that health care should not be seen as a business driven by a profit motive, but rather as a human right that medical personnel have an unconditional duty to protect. Such convictions often underlie participation in the medical aid brigades. There are, however, also some pragmatic factors that can come into play. Overseas service could . . . help to further one’s professional aspirations and for some assignments the total remuneration involved is more generous than what is available back in Cuba. . . . [T]hese are the considerations which apply to the vast majority of people” in such programs, not involuntary servitude.
Fifth, the Report does not cite to the relevant legal definition of “forced labor” to assess this claim. Most pertinent is Article 2(2) of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, which states, in part, ”the term forced or compulsory labour shall notinclude . . . any work or service which forms part of the normal civic obligations of the citizens of a fully self-governing country.” (Emphasis added.)  Cuba is a “fully self-governing country” and the participants in the foreign medical missions are Cuban “citizens,” and as Professor Erisman states, such participation is regarded as “part of the normal civic obligations” of such citizens with the appropriate medical qualifications.
Sixth, relevant to this issue, but not mentioned in the Report, is the fact that medical education in Cuba (at the Latin American School of Medicine) is free. As a result requiring medical graduates to pay the country back by such participation seems entirely appropriate and may indeed be a contractual or quasi-contractual obligation. Indeed, as Professor Erisman reports, Cuban medical professionals, especially doctors, may apply to leave Cuba after they have obtained their free medical education and thereafter provided three to five years of service in the country.
We now await the Committee’s formal request for Department documents, the production of such documents and additional hearings on the subject. In the meantime, as always, I welcome comments of correction or amplification.
 Secretary of State Kerry, who was in Malaysia on the day of the hearing, categorically denied that politics had played any role in the ranking of Malaysia. “I personally signed off on it. And I had zero conversation with anybody in the administration about the Trans-Pacific Partnership relative to this decision — zero. The reason I made this decision was based on the recommendation of my team, because Malaysia has passed additional legislation in 2014, they’ve consulted with civil society, they drafted amendments to Malaysia’s anti-trafficking law in order to allow the country’s flawed victim protection regime to change.” (Assoc. Press, Kerry: Malaysia Trafficking Upgrade Not Due to Trade Talks, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2015); Reuters, Kerry Says ‘Zero Communication’ on Trade Pact and Malaysian Trafficking Record, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2015).
 The text of the U.S. statutes regarding trafficking in persons is set forth on a State Department web page and the Report contains a summary of “forced labor” without any mention of the exceptions to the definition discussed below.