New U.S. Annual Report on Human Rights Around the World

On April 20 the U.S. State Department released its 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.  Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan wrote the Preface to the Reports and made remarks upon their release while a Special Briefing on the Reports was conducted by Ambassador Michael G. Kozak, the head of the Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

These three introductions to the Reports will be discussed below, and a future post will review the report on Cuba.

Preface by Acting Secretary of State Sullivan[1]

“We are a nation founded on the belief that every person is endowed with inalienable rights. Promoting and defending these rights is central to who we are as a country.”

“The 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices . . . document the status of human rights and worker rights in nearly 200 countries and territories. These reports are required by U.S. law and are used by a variety of actors, including the U.S. Congress, the Executive branch, and the Judicial branch as a factual resource for decision-making in matters ranging from assistance to asylum.”

“The 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy recognizes that corrupt and weak governance threatens global stability and U.S. interests. Some governments are unable to maintain security and meet the basic needs of their people, while others are simply unwilling. States that restrict freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly; that allow and commit violence against members of religious, ethnic, and other minority groups; or that undermine the fundamental dignity of persons are morally reprehensible and undermine our interests. The Governments of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, for example, violate the human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis and are forces of instability as a result.”

“Our foreign policy reflects who we are and promotes freedom as a matter of principle and interest. We seek to lead other nations by example in promoting just and effective governance based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. The United States will continue to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty.”

Remarks by Acting Secretary of State  Sullivan[2]

The Acting Secretary noted that this was the 42nd year of such reports, which “are a natural outgrowth of our values as Americans. The founding documents of our country speak to unalienable rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law – revolutionary concepts at the time of our founding that are now woven into the fabric of America and its interests both at home and abroad.”

“Promoting human rights and the idea that every person has inherent dignity is a core element of this administration’s foreign policy. It also strengthens U.S. national security by fostering greater peace, stability, and prosperity around the world. The Human Rights Reports are the most comprehensive and factual accounting of the global state of human rights. They help our government and others formulate policies and encourage both friends and foes to respect the dignity of all individuals without discrimination.”

“This year, we have sharpened the focus of the report to be more responsive to statutory reporting requirements and more focused on government action or inaction with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights. For example, each executive summary includes a paragraph to note the most egregious abuses that occurred in a particular country, including those against women, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and members of religious minorities.”

Sullivan then had comments about some countries “with the most egregious human rights records:” Syria, Burma, North Korea (DPRK), China, Iran, Turkey, Venezuela and Russia. He concluded by noted three countries with improvements: Uzbekistan, Liberia and Mexico.

Briefing by Ambassador Kozak[3]

Responding to a journalist’s question whether the U.S. issuance of this report could be regarded as hypocrisy because of U.S. human rights problems, the Ambassador said that this would be an unfounded charge. The report criticizes some country’s revoking licenses of media that criticize the government and even killing journalists; the U.S. does not do that. He also said the U.S. has laws to protect foreigners from being returned to countries where they are likely to face illegal persecution.

Nozak rejected the notion that the report was weakened by President Trump’s calling the U.S. press an enemy of the people and suggesting changing U.S. libel laws to protect politicians like him from unfounded reporting. In contrast he said independent journalists in Cuba “are routinely slapped around, they also get called names, “

This year’s report omitted a special section on women’s reproductive rights because it is not a term derived from an international treaty or from the U.S. statute requiring these annual reports; the latter refers to coerced family planning, coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. In addition, the new U.S. report has a hyperlink to a WHO report on the subject.

Kozak rejected the notion that this report was undercut by President Trump’s meetings with leaders of countries with poor human rights records.

The U.S. as a matter of policy supports NGOs around the world  that are working to improve human rights.

For  North Korea, the U.S. is concerned about the nuclear issue and about human rights. The report “pretty starkly [discusses] the kinds of abuses, and over the last year or two, we’ve supported . . . a commission of inquiry on North Korea, we support NGOs that are working on North Korea and exposing the human rights abuses that occur in the camps there and so on. But some of the stories that are contained in the report are just overwhelming. There’s one about 11 people who were arrested for supposedly making a pornographic film and they were executed by shooting anti-artillery weapons at them, and then they brought out tanks and ran over the bodies, and this is supposed to be a civilized country.”

The Preface to the report calls China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as “forces of instability.”  This is not a defined term, but refers to situations where internal actions generate international problems like refugee flows and humanitarian crises.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Preface to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017 (April 20, 2018).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Remarks on the Release of the 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (April 20, 2018).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Briefing on the Release of the 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (April 20, 2018).

Developments Regarding the Summit of the Americas 

Later this week the Summit of the Americans takes place in Lima, Peru. Interesting  developments regarding the Summit have taken place from the U.S. and Cuba.

U.S. Developments[1]

On April 10 President Trump cancelled his scheduled attendance at the Summit of the Americans in Peru. The stated reason was his need to attend to the new crisis in Syria: the Syrian regime chemical weapons attack on some of its citizens and President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. was considering a military response.

The New York Times reporter, Julie Davis, said, “Scrapping the trip spared Mr. Trump potentially unpleasant interactions with leaders of Latin American nations whose citizens have been insulted by his harsh language about their countries as sources of illegal immigration, criminal gangs and illicit narcotics. White House officials said Vice President Mike Pence would attend the summit meeting in the president’s place.

“Skipping the Summit of the Americas sends a terrible message about U.S. disengagement in our hemisphere, compounding negative message of Trump’s Cuba, NAFTA and immigration policies,” was the opinion of Benjamin J. Rhodes, who served as a deputy national security adviser in Mr. Obama’s White House and who was the principal negotiator of the U.S.’ opening to Cuba in December 2014.

A similar opinion was voiced by Richard E. Feinberg, a senior Latin America fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor at the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy. He said, “Trump’s dropping out of the Lima summit is an appalling demonstration of disrespect for Latin America. “This has to be seen in the context of a president who has been ranting and railing against Latin America continually for the last several years. They’re his bête noire. They’re his scapegoat for everything that’s wrong in America, from immigration to narcotics to alleged loss of jobs from trade.”

A more nuanced opinion was offered by Christopher Sabatini, executive director of Global Americans, a group promoting better engagement in the region. He said,  “The truth is, given the level of discourse on trade, immigrants and intervention coming from this administration, not paying much attention to the region may be welcome by a number of governments as they search for their own alternatives. The question though is what it means for U.S. leadership, not just now but over the long term.”

The region’s leaders  seemed to be taking the U.S. decision in stride, reflecting some of the unease generated by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and growing economic self-confidence in a region long resentful of Washington’s dominance.

The U.S. State Department announced that Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan will accompany Vice President Mike Pence at the Summit, where the U.S. “will promote priorities of mutual interest to the region, including supporting democracy; addressing the political and humanitarian crisis and restoring democracy in Venezuela; stemming corruption and transnational crime, and promoting economic prosperity.” Sullivan will meet separately with leaders from Peru, Brazil, Haiti, Mexico, Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The State Department noted that Sullivan “will also engage with members of Cuban and Venezuelan independent civil society.” Apparently he will avoid meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro.

In another release the Department said it had “received numerous, credible reports that the Cuban government prevented, and continues to prevent, members of independent civil society from traveling to Peru to participate in the Summit . . . .  Cuban authorities prevented these individuals’ travel through arbitrary stops at the airport, short-term detentions, and visits to individuals’ homes to warn them against trying to leave the island.”

The Department’s release further stated that the U.S. “condemns these actions. We call on the Cuban government to facilitate full, robust participation in the Summit by allowing the free and unrestricted travel of its citizens, a universal human right.” As a result, the U.S. “stands with the brave activists facing repression by the Cuban regime. We are working with the Government of Peru and civil society to promote a Summit that features open, inclusive dialogue with the full participation of independent civil society representatives from Cuba and the hemisphere.”

At the Press Briefing the same day, the Department said that on April 12 Sullivan would be meeting with “with Cuban NGOs and opposition leaders,” but there was no meeting scheduled with Castro.

Cuba Developments[2]

Cuba has an official delegation of people from its purported civil society, who already are in Peru to attend the alternative Peoples Summit that has been organized by Peru’s General Confederation of Workers (CGTP). Its leader said it would express “support for the Cuban Revolution and reaffirm the commitment to progressive and left governments of Latin America and the Caribbean currently being ‘sabotaged by imperialism.”’ On April 12 they have planned an anti-imperialist rally called “Trump out of Peru,” but with Trump not coming, they will have to have a different theme.

The official Cuba delegation of civil society has criticized “attempts by mercenaries and groups with links to terrorists to pass for supposed representatives of Cuban civil society.” The official delegation’s official statement expressed their desire “to contribute the experience of the Cuban Revolution that has, over almost 60 years, constructed a consensus in favor of our political, economic, and social system, forged through participative, socialist democracy, in which human beings constitutes the highest priority, and in which government is exercised by the people.”

These Cubans vandalized a Lima billboard that said in Spanish (here in English translation): “Cuba, enough of corruption, repression and impunity, stop human rights violations.”

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[1]  Davis, Trump Cancels Trip to Latin America, Citing Crisis in Syria, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2018); Assoc. Press, Latin America Takes Trump’s Forgoing of Summit in Stride, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Acting Secretary Sullivan Travel to Lima, Peru, To Participate in the Summit of the Americas (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, On Cuba’s Restriction of Civil Society Participation in the Summit of the Americans (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-April 10, 2018.

[2] Gómez, People’s Summit kicks off in Lima, Granma (April 10, 2018); Statement from Cuban delegation to 8th Summit of the Americas parallel forums, Granma (April 9, 2018); ‘Shock troops’ of the Cuban regime in Lima vandalize the fences that denounced the repression, diario de Cuba (April 11, 2018); “CUBA in #Cumbre”, Cuba Debate.

 

Secretary of State Tillerson’s Provocative Remarks About Latin America

On February 1, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson embarked on a seven-day trip to five Latin American countries (Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Peru). Before he did so he delivered an overview of this trip in a major speech at the University of Texas, Austin entitled “U.S. Engagement in the Western Hemisphere.” In addition to talking about the countries he will be visiting, he touched on Cuba and Venezuela and, in response to a professor’s question, the Monroe Doctrine, which will be discussed below. [1].

The Secretary’s Speech and Answers to Questions

  1. Cuba

The Secretary’s prepared remarks about Cuba essentially reiterated President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum, which has been discussed in previous posts. In addition, in response to a professor’s question, Tillerson criticized President Obama’a policy of normalization’s allegedly not obtaining advantages for the U.S. “other than a clear economic opportunity for U.S. business interests, which is great.” But  “that was coming on the backs of the Cuban people, who are still very repressed.”

The Trump Administration’s policies, he claimed, are all directed to helping the Cuban people. “That’s what we want to do is help the Cuban people.” Nevertheless, at the same time, “we stay engaged with the Cuban authorities that in this transition, can they find their way to maybe a different future? I don’t know. We’ll see.”

2. Venezuela

According to Secretary Tillerson, “he corrupt and hostile regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela clings to a false dream and antiquated vision for the region that has already failed its citizens. It does not represent the vision of millions of Venezuelans – or in any way comport with the norms of our Latin American, Canadian, or Caribbean partners.”

“Our position has not changed. We urge Venezuela to return to its constitution – to return to free, open, and democratic elections – and to allow the people of Venezuela a voice in their government. We will continue to pressure the regime to return to the democratic process that made Venezuela a great country in the past. . . .”

“We encourage all nations to support the Venezuelan people. The time has come to stand with freedom-loving nations, those that support the Venezuelan people, or choose to stand with the Maduro dictatorship, if that is your choice.”

Tillerson returned to Venezuela in response to a student’s question whether the removal of President Maduro was “ necessary, and what could the U.S.’s role be in the possible regime change, especially considering the turmoil that could surmount from such a change?”

The Secretary’s response: “Well, President Maduro could choose to just leave. . . . “We have not advocated for regime change or removal of President Maduro; rather, we have advocated that they return to the constitution. We do not recognize the constituent assembly as legitimate, and they need to get back to the constitution and follow the constitution.” (Emphasis added.)

“I think there will be a change. We want it to be a peaceful change. Peaceful transitions, peaceful regime change is always better than the alternative of violent change. In the history of Venezuela and in fact the history in other Latin American and South American countries, oftentimes it’s the military that handles that, that when things are so bad that the military leadership realizes they just – they can’t serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition. Whether that will be the case here or not, I do not know. Again, our position is Maduro should get back to his constitution and follow it. And then, if he is not re-elected by the people, so be it. And if the kitchen gets a little too hot for him, I’m sure that he’s got some friends over in Cuba that can give him a nice hacienda on the beach, and he can have a nice life over there.” (Emphasis added.)

3. Monroe Doctrine

A  professor asked about Tillerson’s opinion of the Monroe Doctrine, which was a unilateral principle of U.S. foreign policy first enunciated in the 1823 State of the Union Address by President James Monroe and in 1850 became known in U.S. parlance as the Monroe Doctrine. Monroe stated that any “further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” At the same time, Monroe noted that the U.S. would recognize and not interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries.[1] 

Perhaps caught off guard by this question, Tillerson said, “Well, I think it clearly has been a success, because as I mentioned at the top, what binds us together in this hemisphere are shared democratic values, and while different countries may express that democracy not precisely the same way we practice democracy in this country, the fundamentals of it – respect for the dignity of the human being, respect for the individual to pursue life, liberty, happiness – those elements do bind us together in this hemisphere. So I think it clearly was an important commitment at the time, and I think over the years, that has continued to frame the relationship.”

Tilleson added, “it’s easy for the United States as a country, because of our size and our engagements with so many countries and regions around the world, . . . through nothing more than just perhaps a period of neglect, to let certain relationships atrophy a bit. . . . I think we’ve gone through those periods of time in our history as well, and if you look back and whether . . . by individual country or regionally as well, due to other events, sometimes I think we have forgotten about the importance of the Monroe Doctrine and what it meant to this hemisphere and maintaining those shared values. So I think it’s as relevant today as it was the day it was written.”

Cuba’s Criticism of the Secretary’s Remarks [3]

Cuba’s Criticism of the Secretary’s RemarksOn February 5, 2018, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry registered its strong objection to the Secretary’s comments about Cuba, its ally Venezuela and the Monroe Doctrine, which, Cuba said, were ones of “arrogance and contempt.”

According to Cuba Tillerson had “reiterated U.S. interference “ in Cuba’s internal affairs, on demanding from our upcoming electoral process changes that are to the liking of the United States.” He also ”aimed at undermining the unanimous repudiation of the region of the retrogressive measures and tightening of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, whose purpose is to harm the Cuban economy and people to attempt to subdue the country.”

Cuba added that “Tillerson’s comments about the history of military overthrowing elected governments in Lain America “openly instigate the overthrow, by any means, of the legitimate government of Venezuela” and are also “clearly in line with the regime change schemes that have claimed the lives of millions of innocent victims in various parts of the world and promoted violence, war, humanitarian crises and instability, demonstrating their failure.”

Moreover, said Cuba,  the Secretary’s defense of the Monroe Doctrine reiterated “the postulates of the infamous doctrine that established as a policy that the Americas were the backyard of the United States.”

In short, the Secretary’s remarks “adds a new act to what has been a pattern of successive outrages in the history of domination of our region, and confirms the sustained contempt with which the government of President Donald Trump has unequivocally referred to the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, whose peoples it denigrates whenever it has the opportunity.”

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba condemns this new attack against Cuba and Venezuela, which follows the recent disrespectful statements of President Trump in his State of the Union Address.”

“Before departing for his imperialist tour, the Secretary of State announced that 2018 will be the year of the Americas and made clear that he will seek to encourage division and submission among Latin American governments. In doing so, he will come up against the repudiation inspired by his announcements and the dignity of the peoples of the region, who bear the memory of the hundreds of thousands of dead and disappeared by the military dictatorships sponsored by the United States, and that Secretary Tillerson today calls to repeat.”

“Ours has been a continent subjected to the humiliating dominance of the U.S., interested only in extracting its resources in an unequal relationship. But Our America has awakened and it will not be so easy to crush it.”

Conclusion

Tillerson’s direct comments abut Cuba were rather limited and by themselves did not deserve Cuba’s strong rejection. However, the Trump Administration’s announced policies regarding Cuba do deserve the Cuban rebuke. Those policies also are not aimed at helping the ordinary Cuban people, especially those who are now engaged in the island’s private sector.

Although this blogger has not  carefully followed recent developments regarding Venezuela, he does believe that the country is in a horrible mess and that President Maduro’s actions are a major cause of this situation. While Tillerson did call for a peaceful solution to the country’s problems, was his unnecessary reference to military coup d’tat solutions in Latin America an implicit call for such action in Venezuela? If so, it was totally inappropriate and undiplomatic. And Cuba was right to criticize him for those remarks.

Unless Tillerson previously has been tipped off about the professor’s interest in the Monroe Doctrine, the question may have caught him off guard and the Secretary’s response obviously did not recognize the hostility throughout Latin America to the U.S. history of trying to impose its solutions to various problems upon the countries Latin America. This too deserved Cuba’s criticism.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, [Secretary’s] Travel to Texas, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, and Jamaica, February 1-7, 2018  (Feb. 1, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary of State Remarks, U.S. Engagement in the Western Hemisphere (Feb. 1, 2018).

[2] Monroe Doctrine, Wikipedia.

[3] Cuba rejects a return to the Monroe Doctrine, Granma (Feb. 5, 2018). 

 

State Department’s New Travel Advisory System for Cuba and Other Countries          

On January 10, the U.S. State Department announced its new system for travel advisories for all other countries in the world.[1] The sources in footnote 1 describe this new system. Here are the highlights from a Department briefing.

General Information

First, the Department “needed to make it more accessible to people. And that’s why in November we went to a mobile-friendly design for our website. We also needed to make sure that the information was more easily understood, putting it into plain language, making it clearer why we were ranking countries, why we were citing them as a threat or a risk, and making that very obvious to people. And finally, making the information more actionable. We often got questions from people saying, ‘Well, I’ve read your Travel Warning, but what does it mean? What am I supposed to do?’”

“We have gone to a Travel Advisory for every country . . . . And within that Travel Advisory, we have gone to a four-level ranking system, starting with a Level 1, which is ‘Exercise normal precautions’ (e.g., Aruba);  Level 2, ‘Exercise increased caution’ (e.g., Jamaica); Level 3, ‘Reconsider travel’ (e.g., Cuba); and level 4, ‘Do not travel’” (e.g., Mexican states of Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas due to crime).

“And for each country that has a Level 2 or above, we will specify what we think those risks or threats are, why is it that we’re telling people to consider – reconsider travel or to exercise caution or not to travel at all. And those risks and conditions and circumstances are going to be very clearly spelled out with icons – C for crime, T for terrorism, U for civil unrest, H for health issues, N for natural disasters, E for time-limited events such as elections or major sporting events, and O for other, which is our catch-all for the things that don’t fit into those other categories.”

 Travel Advisory for Cuba.[2]

The new Travel Advisory for Cuba  has the “Level 3: Reconsider Travel” ranking, rather than its previous warning not to go to Cuba. Here is what the new Advisory says:

“Reconsider travel to Cuba due to health attacks directed at U.S. Embassy Havana employees.”

“Over the past several months, numerous U.S. Embassy Havana employees appear to have been targeted in specific attacks. Many of these employees have suffered injuries as a consequence of these attacks. Affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms including ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, and difficulty sleeping.”

“Because our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk. Attacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and at Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri in Havana.”

“On September 29, 2017, the Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members to protect the safety of our personnel. Due to the drawdown in staff, the U.S. Embassy in Havana has limited ability to assist U.S. citizens”.

“Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.”

“If you decide to travel to Cuba:

In the State Department briefing on the new system, the spokesperson said the following about Cuba:

  • “As we were putting all this together, we did a very careful assessment. We talked to all of our experts, and this is where we came out on Cuba.” The new Advisory “eliminated a reference to the responsibility of the Cuban government to prevent attacks on U.S. diplomats, which was included in the previous one.”
  • We “have significantly reduced our staffing at our embassy in Havana. Whenever we do that, traditionally we have always issued a Travel Warning, and that has not changed. This is reflected now in the Level 3 ranking that we’ve given to Cuba.” We now “have a very small footprint in our embassy in Havana. We have very, very limited consular resources and our ability to help people in an emergency is extremely limited. So that’s another factor that plays into it.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Fact Sheet: New Travel Advisories for U.S. Travelers (Jan. 10, 2018); State Dep’t, Briefing on the Department of State’s New Travel Advisories (Jan. 10, 2018).

[2] State Dep’t, Travel Advisory: Cuba—Level 3: Reconsider Travel (Jan. 10, 2018); Torres, State Department softens travel warning to Cuba, recommends ‘reconsidering’ trip, Miami Herald (Jan. 10, 2018).

Emerging Development of Cuba’s Mariel Port 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

U.S. Continues To Suspend Part of Its Embargo of Cuba 

On July 14 U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon notified appropriate Congressional committees that the Trump Administration would suspend Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (a/k/a the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act) for a six-month period beyond August 1. The law requires Congressional notification at least 15 days before a suspension is to begin.[1]

Title III allows former owners of commercial property expropriated by Cuba to sue foreign companies and the Cuban government for using or “trafficking” in those confiscated holdings.

But ever since the enactment of the Helms-Burton Act, every president has routinely suspended Title III at six-month intervals. Such suspensions have been prompted by U.S. fear of alienating important U.S. trading partners such as Canada, Mexico, and EU countries from the filing of a potential tidal wave of lawsuits in U.S. federal courts brought by persons whose Cuban properties had been expropriated against companies from those U.S. trading partners that use Cuban tourism properties, mining operations, or seaports.[2]

This suspension by the Trump Administration is the first action on Cuba since President Trump announced his new direction on U.S.-Cuba relations during a June 16 speech in Miami. It is the latest sign that President Trump is not fully reversing President Barack Obama’s opening of relations with Cuba.[3]

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, U.S. Determination of Six-Month Suspension Under Title III of LIBERTAD (July 14, 2017); Whitefield, Trump to suspend lawsuit provision of Helms-Burton in August, Miami Herald (July 17, 2017); Assoc. Press, Trump Administration Again Suspends a Part of Cuba Embargo, N.Y. Times (July 14, 2017).

[2] After the December 17, 2014, announcement by President Obama and Castro that the two countries were embarking on a path of normalization, they have engaged in discussions or negotiations about obtaining Cuban payment of U.S. persons’ claims for expropriation, now believed, with interest, to total at least $ 8 billion. Although Cuba has recognized that it has an international legal obligation to pay such claims and has paid expropriation claims from other countries and although Cuba has an economic and political interest in paying these U.S. claims, Cuba does not have the cash to do so and instead has asserted claims against the U.S. for alleged damage from the U.S. embargo and other acts. See these posts to this blog: Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 4, 2015); Resolving U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (Dec. 13, 2015); U.S. and Cuba Discuss Their Claims Against Each Other (July 30, 2016).

 

[3] President Trump Announces Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 19, 2017).