Advance Questions for Cuba in Its Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council

As summarized in a previous post, Cuba’s human rights record is now undergoing its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. That post also discussed Cuba’s national report, submissions by stakeholders (NGO’s and others), a summary of U.N. information about Cuba and information about a pre-session hearing. Now we look at the questions submitted to Cuba in advance of the Council’s hearing on May 16 and an unusual criticism of Cuba by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights along with additional background information about the Council and the UPR.

Advance Questions for Cuba[1]

 The following advance questions were submitted by other Council members:

Member Questions
Belgium 1. When does the Cuban government plan to ratify human rights conventions to which it is not yet party?

2. Does Cuba plan to extend an open invitation to the special procedures of the Human Rights Council?

3. Will Cuba respond favorably to requests for visits by the Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders and Freedom of Expression, which have been pending since 2015 and 2016?

4. Does Cuba now guarantee access to independent lawyers to all persons deprived of their liberty?

5. What concrete actions has Cuba taken to release persons deprived of their liberty for political reasons.?

Brazil 1.How does Cuba guarantee the rights of the LGBTI?

2.How does Cuba ensure the independence and impartiality of the judiciary?

Germany 1.Does Cuba plan to ratify the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights?

2.What will Cuba do to enable independent journalism?

3.Identify blogs and websites currently blocked and the reasons for same.

4.Will Cuba abolish travel restrictions for persons on parole or for those in certain professions, including the medical sector?

5.Will Cuba establish an independent national human rights institution?

Liechtenstein 1.Will Cuba ratify the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court in its 2010 version?

2.Will Cuba join the Code of Conduct for U.N. Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes?

Malta 1.What steps has Cuba taken to increase the effectiveness of control by the people of the activities of States bodies, elected representatives and civil servants.?
Portugal 1.How does Cuba coordinate the implementation of UPR recommendations that it accepts?

2.How does Cuba coordinate the implementation of recommendations/observations by U.N. human-rights Treaty bodies and Special Procedures and by regional mechanisms?

Slovenia 1.Provide more information on how non-governmental organizations operate in Cuba and details on any consultation process with them.
Spain 1. Is Cuba reforming its Law on Associations and the Electoral Law to promote a higher level of inclusion and social participation?

2. Which multilateral instruments on Human Rights does Cuba plan to sign and/or ratify?

Sweden 1.Provide more information on Cuba’s prevention of trafficking in persons.

2.Provide more information on Cuba’s effort to improve internet access.

3.Has Cuba denied exit visas for human rights defenders and ndependent civil society members?

4.How will Cuba secure free and unrestricted travel for all of its citizens?

Switzerland 1.What did Cuba do to guarantee free and open participation of all citizens in its last election?

2.How many Cuban citizens were candidates in the election “without being a member of an officially recognized Cuban institution [e.g. Communist Party]?

3.Is Cuba broadening the list of legal private businesses (cuentapropistas)? Is Cuba reviewing the definition of cuentapropistas to include self-declared human rights organizations, independent journalists and bloggers and community-based organizations?

4.Will Cuba amend its constitution to eliminate the subordination of the Supreme court to the National Assembly and to the Council of Ministers?

5.How is the Cuban Criminal Code’s concept of “pre-criminal social dangerousness” interpreted?

6.How do families have transparent and open information about a family member who is a temporarily detained as an alleged criminal?

United Kingdom 1.Will Cuba allow the development of independent political parties, including their legal registration and participation in future elections?

2.How does Cuba ensure that all Cubans are able to participate fully in political and electoral processes?

3.Will Cuba end laws and policies that apparently give primacy to the principle of national unity?

4.Will Cuba move towards international independent verification of the condition of its prisons and detention facilities?

5.Will Cuba bring its laws into compliance with international human rights standards on freedom of expression, association and assembly?

U.S.A. 1. Will Cuba ensure that members of the political opposition, including independent candidates, can participate freely and without threats?

2. When will Cuba allow members of Ladies in White and all other citizens to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, religion and association?

3. How does Cuba ensure that those responsible for violations and abuses of human rights and labor rights (including members of the police, military and security services) are investigated and held responsible?

4. Will Cuba respect the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of assembly, expression and association of members of the Independent Union Association of Cuba and all other workers and representatives?

5. How is Cuba promoting access to information and access to an Internet that is open, interoperable, reliable,  secure and affordable to its citizens?

 

U.N. High Commissioner’s Criticism of Cuba[2]

At a May 11 press briefing, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released statements of concerns about human rights in Cuba and four other countries. Here is what was said about Cuba:

“There are deeply worrying reports that officials in Cuba have prevented a number of human rights defenders and civil society representatives from boarding flights to travel to meetings abroad on the pretext of requiring more detailed identity checks. These measures have resulted in passengers missing their flights and therefore the meetings, which in some cases were organised by a UN entity.”

“So far this year, the UN Human Rights Office has received direct information relating to 14 cases of Cubans being told by officials that the computer system required extra screening. We are also aware of reports that dozens of other people may have been stopped in this way from travelling, allegedly with no explanation by the Cuban authorities as to why they were held up nor on whose orders”

“These cases suggest that these additional checks are being used deliberately as a form of intimidation, pressure and harassment against certain individuals. Civil society organizations have also told us that they were informed verbally by the authorities that their representatives would not be allowed to leave the island before June.”

“We have previously expressed our concern at the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders in Cuba, including the arbitrary arrest and short-term detention of individuals, particularly before, during and just after demonstrations. “

“We call on the Cuban authorities to respect everyone’s right to freedom of expression and to freedom of movement, and to ensure that human rights defenders and civil society representatives are not unjustifiably prevented from travelling, including those planning to attend UN meetings, in particular the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba on 16 May in Geneva.”

“Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, ‘everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”’Article 19 of the Universal Declaration states that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’”

“The UN Secretary-General presents an annual report to the Human Rights Council on intimidation and reprisals, and in October 2016 the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, was designated to lead the monitoring and response to reprisals for cooperation or intimidation, including that which aims to discourage or prevent future co-operation with the UN system. Cuba was among the countries named in the last two reports.”

“The UN Human Rights Office will continue to monitor such cases to ascertain whether they merit inclusion in the next report.”

U.N. Human Rights Council Membership[3]

The Council is made of 47 U.N. Member States, which are elected by the majority of members of the U.N. General Assembly through direct and secret ballot. The General Assembly takes into account the candidate States’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.

The Council’s Members serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms. The seats are allocated on the following geographical basis:

  • African States: 13 seats
  • Asia-Pacific States: 13 seats
  • Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats
  • Western European and other States: 7 seats
  • Eastern European States: 6 seats

The current members include Cuba and the United States, both of whose terms expire on December 31, 2019, while Venezuela is also a member with its term expiring on December 31, 2018.

Council’s UPR Working Group for Cuba’s UPR[4]

The UPRs are conducted by the Council’s 47 members acting as an UPR Working Group. In addition, any other U.N. Member State can take part in the review.

Each State’s review is assisted by a groups of three States, known as a “troika,” who serve as rapporteurs. The selection of the troikas for each State is done through a drawing of lots following elections for the Council membership in the General Assembly

For Cuba’s third UPR the Troika members are Egypt, Nepal and Peru.

The May 16 hearing will last three and a half hours, during which the state under review is given 70 minutes to present its report, as well as answer questions made by other states and present concluding remarks. The remaining 140 minutes are allocated to states participating in the review to ask questions, make comments and recommendations to the state under review.

The second stage of the process will be take place during the Council’s 39th period of sessions in September 2018, at which time the final report will be presented by the Troika.

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[1] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Advance Questions for Cuba (First Batch); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Advance Questions for Cuba (Second Batch); Hum. Rts. Council, Advance Questions for Cuba (Third Batch).

[2] U.N. High Comm. Hum. Rts., Press briefing note on Yemen, Cambodia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Montenegro (May 11, 2018); The UN denounces the blockade of the Cuban regime on the departure of human rights defenders, Diario de Cuba (May 11, 2018).

[3] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Background on Council Membership; U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Current Council Members.

[4] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Basic facts about the UPR; U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, List of Troikas (20th Session).

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Cuban Human Rights

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The U.S. State Department’s just-released 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices’ chapter on Cuba needs analysis.[1]

The Report’s Negative Comments about Cuban Human Rights

The Executive Summary of its chapter on Cuba has a strongly negative tone. It states the following:

  • “Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the council of state and council of ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and ‘the superior leading force of society and of the state.’ A CP candidacy commission preapproved all candidates for the February uncontested National Assembly elections, which were neither free nor fair. The national leadership that included members of the military maintained effective control over the security forces, which committed human rights abuses against civil rights activists and other citizens alike.
  • In January the government largely dropped travel restrictions that prevented citizens from leaving the island, but these reforms were not universally applied, and authorities denied passport requests for certain opposition figures or harassed them upon their return to the country.
  • The principal human rights abuses were abridgement of the right of citizens to change the government and the use of government threats, extrajudicial physical violence, intimidation, mobs, harassment, and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.
  • The following additional abuses continued: harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrest, selective prosecution, and denial of fair trial. [2] Authorities interfered with privacy, engaging in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government did not respect freedom of speech and press, severely restricted internet access and maintained a monopoly on media outlets, circumscribed academic freedom, and maintained significant restrictions on the ability of religious groups to meet and worship. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition, the government continued to prevent workers from forming independent unions and otherwise exercising their labor rights.
  • Most human rights abuses were official acts committed at the direction of the government. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”

The Report’s Positive Comments about Cuban Human Rights

This Executive Summary paints a bleak picture of Cuban human rights, and I have no doubt that many of these points are legitimate. But I still believe that it overstates the negatives.

Indeed, the Executive Summary failed to acknowledge that the Report itself stated there were “no reports that the [Cuban] government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings . . . [or] politically motivated disappearances.”

In addition, the Report itself stated in Cuba that there was “no societal pattern of child abuse;” that the government operated family counseling centers; that the government “continued to carry out media campaigns” against domestic violence; that the government “actively promoted racial integration and inclusiveness;” that a government resolution “accords persons with disabilities the right to equal employment opportunities and equal pay for equal work;” and that there was no “discrimination officially reported or permitted based on sexual orientation” accentuated by President Castro’s daughter’s promotion of LGBT rights.

With respect to Cuba’s prisoners and pretrial detainees, the Report conceded that they “had access to visitors;” that many “were able to communicate information about their living conditions through telephone calls to human rights observers and reports to family members;” that they “could practice limited religious observance;” and that “the Catholic Church and the Cuban Council of Churches reported access to prisoners during the year, with services offered in prisons and detention centers in most if not all provinces.”

On Cuban religious freedom more generally, the Report merely incorporated by reference the section on Cuba in the Department’s most recent International Religious Freedom Report that this blog previously criticized as understating the extent of religious freedom on the island.[3]

Moreover, the new overall Human Rights Report admits that “religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings than in the past;” that “[r]eligious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and even the country’s leadership without reprisals;” that the “Catholic Church operated a cultural center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants voicing different opinions about the country’s future, at which well-known dissidents were allowed to participate;” and that the “Catholic Church published two periodicals that sometimes included criticism of official social and economic policies . . . [and] a pastoral letter advocating for political and economic reforms and greater rights for citizens.”

The new overall Report also says that the “Catholic Church received permission to broadcast Christmas and Easter messages on state-run television stations . . . [while] the Council of Churches, the government-recognized Protestant umbrella organization, was authorized to host a monthly 20-minute radio broadcast;” that religious “groups reported the ability to gather in large numbers without registering or facing sanctions;” and that “[r]ecognized churches, [and] the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas . . . were . . . legally permitted to function outside the formal structure of the state, the [Communist Party], and government-organized organizations.” In addition, there were “no reports of anti-Semitic acts.”

Finally the Report concedes that the Cuban constitution and other laws prohibit abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners and provide alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders and juveniles as well as rights to seek redress for improper prison conditions and treatment. Cuban law, the Report said, also specifies reasonable procedures for investigations and prosecutions of alleged crimes.

Conclusion

Cuba’s regrettable lapses on human rights, though perhaps understandable in context, should not be a reason for continued U.S. hostility toward the island. A subsequent post will examine what this blogger sees as the implications of this report for U.S. policies regarding Cuba.


[1] A prior post reviewed the Department’s overall summary of global human rights in 2013.

[2] The most recent annual report (May 2013) from Amnesty International makes similar allegations about Cuba as did Human Rights Watch’s April 2013 submission to the U.N. Human Rights Council regarding its Universal Periodic Review of Cuba.

[3] This blog criticized the prior reports on Cuban religious freedom by the State Department and by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In addition, another post reviewed positive comments on religious freedom from religious leaders with direct experience on the island. Similar points were made on February 27th, 2014, by six Cuban Protestant Christian leaders at a congressional briefing hosted by U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (Republican of Arizona) and Representative Jim McGovern (Democrat of Massachusetts). In response, a strong supporter of current U.S. policies regarding Cuba launched an unwarranted ad hominem attack on these leaders.

 

U.S. Releases Annual Report on Human Rights in the World

On May 24, 2012, the U.S. Department of State released its annual report on human rights conditions in every other country in the world. Secretary of State Clinton said that the reports “make clear to governments around the world: We are watching and we are holding you accountable. And they make clear to citizens and activists everywhere: You are not alone. We are standing with you.” Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner added, “In too many countries, egregious human rights violations continue, including torture, arbitrary detention, denial of due process of law, disappearance, and extrajudicial killings.”

The annual U.S. reports cover internationally recognized individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and various international treaties. The U.S. Department of State submits reports on all countries receiving assistance and all United Nations member states to the U.S. Congress in accordance with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Trade Act of 1974.

The Department of State prepares these reports using information from U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, foreign government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations and published reports. U.S. diplomatic missions abroad prepared the initial drafts of the individual country reports, using information they gathered throughout the year from a variety of sources, including government officials, jurists, the armed forces, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, and labor activists.

Once the initial drafts of the individual country reports are completed, the Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, in cooperation with other Department offices, work to corroborate, analyze, and edit the reports, drawing on their own sources of information. These sources included reports provided by U.S. and other human rights groups, foreign government officials, representatives from the U.N. and other international and regional organizations and institutions, experts from academia and the media. Bureau officers also consult experts on worker rights, refugee issues, military and police topics, women’s issues, and legal matters, among many others. The guiding principle was to ensure that all information was reported objectively, thoroughly, and fairly.

As Secretary of State Clinton stated on the release of the latest report, “Congress mandated these country reports more than three decades ago to help guide lawmakers’ decisions on foreign military and economic aid, but they have evolved into something more. Today, governments, intergovernmental organizations, scholars, journalists, activists, and others around the world rely on these reports as an essential update on human rights conditions around the world – where we have seen progress, where progress has come too slowly or at great cost, and all too often, where it has been rolled back.”

In my work as a pro bono lawyer for asylum seekers in the U.S., for example, these reports were important corroborative evidence to support the claim of someone who alleges that he or she has a well founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, ethnic group, political opinion or membership in a particular social group if returned to his or her home country. In addition, my experience with some of the country reports, especially El Salvador, has shown that over time they have become increasingly more objective.

With respect to China, the new report said that human rights had deteriorated. It cites “repression and coercion” of rights advocates, tight restrictions on political dissidents, curbs on journalists and on Internet access, and “severe cultural and religious repression” of ethnic Uighurs and Tibetans.

The next day (May 25th) China said that the U.S. report was inaccurate and irresponsible. As the Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, the report was “baseless, biased and completely wrong.” In fact, the spokesman said China has made world-recognized gains in improving human rights since broad social and economic reforms were launched 30 years ago. China’s economy has grown rapidly over the last three decades, and the government marks poverty reduction as one of its greatest human rights achievements. Moreover, the person said, “The Chinese people themselves are the most qualified to judge China’s human rights condition . . . . Countries can hold talks about human rights on equal footing to increase mutual understanding and help each other improve, but should never use the relevant issue as a tool for interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.”

China simultaneously retaliated with its report on human rights in the U.S. It criticized the arrest of Occupy Wall Street protesters and other alleged U.S. violations of civil and political rights.

The Chinese report on human rights in the U.S. reflects other countries’ frequent criticism of the U.S.’ annual reports for failure to evaluate and criticize the U.S. itself. But the U.S.’ recent submission of its own human rights record to Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council, as discussed in a prior post, is another means for the U.S. to do just that with on-the-record comments and criticism by other governments.