Results of U.S. and Cuba’s First Talks About Human Rights

On March 31st the U.S. and Cuba held their first talks about human rights. [1]

Afterwards the head of the Cuban delegation, Foreign Ministry official Pedro Luis Pedroso, said a decision on holding future talks would be reached during traditional diplomatic channels. Another Cuban delegate said the two sides held “a respectful, professional, civilized conversation.” Nevertheless, Anaysansi Rodriguez Camejo, Cuba’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, told Cuban state television that the session underlined “that there are differences” on issues of human rights.

More specifically, Senor Pedroso said Cuba had expressed concern about the U.S. guarantees and protection of human rights and drew attention to alleged persistent patterns of discrimination, racism and police brutality in the U.S. Cuba also raised the issues of alleged U.S. limitations on the exercise of labor rights and trade union freedoms and the alleged U.S. violations of human rights in the so-called fight against terrorism, including torture, extrajudicial executions and the use of drones, spying and offshore surveillance as well as the legal limbo of prisoners at the “illegal” Guantanamo Naval Base.

Pedroso also asserted that human rights are universal and indivisible and no one has more value than another. The realization of social and cultural rights is a fundamental basis for the effective exercise of civil and political rights.

According to the U.S. State Department, the discussion concerned “the methodology, topics, and structure of a future human rights dialogue. The atmosphere of the meeting was professional, and there was broad agreement on the way forward for a future substantive dialogue, the timing and location of which will be determined through diplomatic channels. Each side raised concerns about human rights issues, and both sides expressed willingness to discuss a wide range of topics in future substantive talks.”

“This preliminary meeting reflects our continued focus on human rights and democratic principles in Cuba,” a State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Human rights are a priority.”

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[1] This post is based upon the following sources: Assoc. Press, Cuba Delegate Reports ‘Civilized’ Talks on Rights with US, N.Y. Times (Mar. 31, 2015); Reuters, U.S., Cuba Hold First Formal Talks on Human Rights, N.Y. Times (Mar. 31, 2015); U.S. Dep’t of State, Cuba: Planning Meeting for Human Rights Dialogue (Mar. 31, 2015); Gomez, Cuba expressed concerns about the exercise of human rights in the US, Granma (Mar. 31, 2105); Gomez, Cuba and USA argued civilized conversation on human rights, despite differences, Granma (Mar. 31, 2015); Cuban Foreign Ministry, Press release about the first meeting between Cuba and the US human rights, Granma (Mar. 31, 2015).

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Nature of the UPR Process [1]

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

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

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

Most Recent UPR of Cuba [2]

The most recent UPR of Cuba occurred in 2013.

1. The Report of  the Working Group.

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

I. Summary of the proceedings of the review process

A. Presentation by the State under review

B. Interactive dialogue and response by the State under review

II. Conclusions and Recommendations

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

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

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

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

2. Cuba’s Responses to the Recommendations.

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

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

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

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

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

Criticism of the Recent UPR of Cuba

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba and U.S. To Discuss Human Rights

Tom Malinowski
Tom Malinowski

On March 26 Cuba announced that the U.S. and Cuba will commence their discussions regarding human rights on March 31 in Washington, D.C. The next day the U.S. Department of State confirmed that date and location with Under Secretary of State Tom Malinowski as the leader of the U.S. delegation. This meeting’s purpose will be “to discuss the structure and the methodology of future human rights talks” or “the composition of delegations and the topics to be discussed.” [1]

This post will review that announcement, and subsequent posts will provide previews of the issues of Cuban and U.S. human rights that probably will be on the agenda for further talks.

Pedro Luis Pedroso
Pedro Luis Pedroso

Although these negotiations were first suggested by the U.S. as an essential part of the re-establishment of normal diplomatic relations, Cuba now is the one apparently pressing the discussion of this issue. A Cuban foreign ministry official, Pedro Luis Pedroso, the Deputy Director General of Multilateral Affairs and International Law, said,”These talks are an indication of Cuba’s willingness to address any subject with the [U.S.], despite our differences, based on equality and reciprocity.”

Pedroso added that the planned dialogue is expected to “develop in a constructive environment and on a reciprocal basis, without conditions or discriminatory treatment, and full respect for the sovereign equality, independence and non-interference in the internal affairs of the parties. There are different political systems and models for democracy. … We live in a plural world and that pluralism should apply to the case of Cuba as well.”

According to Pedroso, Cuba will “demonstrate its achievements in the promotion and protection of all human rights, not only of its people but also those of many nations with which it has cooperated in areas such as health and education.” This includes “the recognition Cuba received at the last Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council, where the international community commended Cuban achievements in areas such as education, health and access to cultural rights, and the contribution the island has made in those same areas in other countries.”

Nevertheless, Cuba admits that it is not perfect and still has areas to improve.

The talks will not only be concerned with Cuban human rights. Pedroso said Cuba will “raise its concerns regarding the human rights situation in the U.S. and elsewhere where [the U.S.] has a direct impact.”

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[1] This post is based upon the following sources: Reuters, Cuba Proposes Quick Start to Human Rights Dialogue with U.S., N.Y. Times (Mar. 26, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cuba, US to Launch Human Rights Dialogue Tuesday, N.Y. Times (Mar. 26, 2015); Gomez, Cuba and the US hold talks on human rights, Granma (Mar. 27, 2015); Foreign Ministry: Cuba expects respectful dialogue with US Human Rights next March 31, CubaDebate (Mar. 26, 2015); U.S. Dep’t of State, Daily Press Briefing (Mar. 27, 2015).