Failed Efforts To Weaken the Inter-American Human Rights System Under the Guise of Reform

A prior post discussed the March 22, 2013, resolution by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) that strengthened the Inter-American Human Rights System, especially the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“Commission”).

In so doing, the OAS rejected efforts to weaken the Commission under the guise of reform proposals that had been offered by Ecuador and other states that the Commission has criticized (Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua).

We now examine the background to that surreptitious effort to weaken that System and the debate at the March 22nd General Assembly meeting

Background

1. Multilateral Treaties and Other Instruments Regarding the Right of Free Expression.

The right of free expression by the media and others is well established in international law.

The United Nation’s General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 in Article 19 states, “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.” In 1966 this was put into legally enforceable form in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which entered into force in 1976.

To like effect is the American Convention on Human Rights, which was adopted by the OAS in 1969 and which entered into force in 1978. Its Article 13(1) says, “Everyone has  the right to freedom of thought and expression . . . [including the] freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one’s choice.” Article 13(3) goes on to say, “The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the dissemination of information, or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.”

Elaborating on this right is the Inter-American Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression of 2000.

2. Ecuador’s Hostility to Freedom of Expression.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa

Ecuador under the presidency of Rafael Correa since January 2007 has through policies and actions retaliated against journalists and media that have criticized him and his government. Correa has insulted and filed lawsuits against reporters and news outlets and promoted a series of legal measures to roll back press freedoms. His government has expropriated television channels, radio stations, newspapers and magazines.

Journalists in the country also have been subjected to physical threats and assaults with lackluster efforts by the government to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

3. The Commission and Civil Society’s Criticism of Ecuador’s Hostility to Freedom of Expression.

The Commission in 1997 created the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression “to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system and in protecting, guaranteeing, and promoting other human rights.”

This Rapporteur has been in the forefront of criticizing Ecuador for these actions against journalists and the media. Since January 1, 2009 it has issued nine press releases expressing its concern over specific criminal prosecutions and imprisonments of journalists for libel for publication of articles about corruption of public officials and for specific physical threats and assaults on journalists.

In addition, since 2006 the annual reports of the Rapporteur have had sections specifically addressing Ecuador’s conduct in this area.

For example, the latest such report (for 2011) devotes 31 pages (78-108) for a detailed, footnoted review of Ecuador’s assaults and attacks on media and journalists; legal proceedings and arrests (the “Rapporteur is concerned about the consistent tendency of high-ranking public officials to rebuke, arrest, and prosecute citizens who criticize them at public events”); presidential broadcasts and government interruptions of news programs; disparaging statements by senior state authorities against media outlets and reporters critical of the government; constitutional amendment and legislative proposals to regulate the content of all media, establish the grounds for liability and the applicable sanctions and serve as an authority on enforcement; and cloture and regulation of communications media.

Such actions also have subjected the country to similar criticism by the U.N. Human Rights Council in its Universal Periodic Review of Ecuador in the summer of 2012. One of the Council’s closing recommendations in that Review was for Ecuador to reform its legislation regarding freedom of expression with a view to bringing it in conformity with international standards and those of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In response Ecuador said that it could not agree to reform its legal framework in accordance with standards from the Commission, when it is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, not the Commission, which has judicial competency over this matter. Nor could Ecuador, it said, eliminate laws that criminalize opinion since it had no such laws.

In addition, Ecuador has been severely chastised by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which put the country on its Risk List of the 10 countries in the world where press freedom suffered the most in 2012. Similar rebukes have come from Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and the Washington Post Editorial Board.

4. Ecuador’s Campaign for Its Proposed “Reforms” of the Commission.

In response to the Special Rapporteur’s persistent and documented criticism of Ecuador, the country developed a set of proposals to “reform” the Commission. Prominent in this package were reduction in funding (and hence the work) of the Special Rapporteur and elimination of his separate annual report.

Ricardo Patino
Ricardo Patino

In early 2013 Ecuador conducted a lobbying campaign in support of these proposals. Its Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, went on a tour of Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Venezuela to promote them.  He also advocated them at a meeting of the Political Council of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) [1] and at a March 11th meeting in Guayaquil, Ecuador of the 24 states that were parties to the American Convention on Human Rights.[2]

The latter event was opened by a long speech by Ecuadorian President Correa, who emphasized that the Commission should have its headquarters in a state that has ratified said Convention (not Washington, D.C.); that the Commission should have its own budget provided only by state parties to the Convention (without voluntary contributions by outsiders like the U.S., Canadian and European governments and NGO’s);  that the Commission should not be “autonomous” and instead be controlled by said states parties; the abolition of the Commission’s rules authorizing its issuance of precautionary measures; having the Commission focus on general promotion of human rights, not investigating and deciding on alleged violations of human rights; and elimination of the separate annual report of the Special Rapporteur for Free Expression and instead including such a report in a comprehensive report for all of the rapporteurships.

The Ecuador meeting resulted in the Declaration of Guayaquil whereby the 24 states parties agreed that at the March 22nd meeting of the OAS General Assembly they would support the following: a group of their foreign ministers would press the U.S., Canada and other non-parties to the Convention to ratify or accede to same; the Commission would be refocused on promotion of human rights through national systems; financing of the Commission would be increased by states parties and by “neutral” others; all rapporteurships would be treated equally; an analysis of the costs of the OAS Human Rights System would be obtained; the Commission’s headquarters would be moved to a state party; and annual conferences about reforming the System would be held.

Opposition to such proposals came forward from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who urged the OAS members “to strengthen its exemplary human rights system, by promoting universal access for citizens . . ., respecting the Commission’s autonomy to progressively improve its policy and practices in response to the needs of victims and concerns of member states, and providing the necessary resources [to the System].” Similar concerns were voiced by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, a group of 98 prominent Latin Americans and a coalition of 700 hemispheric human rights organizations.

Another opponent of Ecuador’s campaign was Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, a former president of Colombia and past secretary general of the OAS. He said that the so called “reforms” of the Commission put forward by Ecuador would “severely weaken the [C]omission and make it easier for governments to ignore basic rights and limit free speech.” They would “drastically curtail [the Commission’s] autonomy” and put a “financial stranglehold” on its operations, including a “devastating impact” on the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. [3]

The March 22nd OAS General Assembly Meeting

Jose Miguel Insulza, OAS Secretary General
Jose Miguel Insulza, OAS Secretary General

In opening remarks that day, the OAS Secretary General, Jose Miguel Insulza from Chile, stressed that the autonomy of the System needed to be maintained. He also said that strengthening some of the Commission’s rapporteurships “cannot mean that others are weakened” and that the Special Rapporteurship on Freedom of Expression should be strengthened “with a program of ample defense of [such] freedom . . . . ” This would include “issues relating to the curtailment of that freedom by public authorities . . .  as well as the threats and crimes to which journalists and the social media are increasingly subjected in our region and the obligation of states to protect them.”

William J. Burns, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
William J. Burns, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State

Similar remarks were made by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, William J. Burns. He noted that even though the U.S. was not a party to the American Convention on Human Rights, the U.S. still collaborates with the Commission when it challenges the U.S. on such issues as the death penalty, the human rights of migrants and children and the status of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He added, “We must be vigilant against efforts to weaken the Commission under the guise of reform. [Such efforts] . . . seek to undermine the Commission’s ability to hold governments accountable when they erode democratic checks and balances and concentrate power through illiberal manipulation of democratic processes.”

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Patino in his remarks accused the opposition and the media of distorting his government’s proposals. He also accused the Commission of improperly assuming the power to issue precautionary measures. Its decisions were independent, he said, but the Commission was not autonomous. He rhetorically asked, the Commission is autonomous and independent of whom? Sotto voce, a Spanish journalist answered, “You,” causing laughter by those around the journalist.

The resolution adopted by acclamation at the midnight conclusion of the March 22nd meeting already has been discussed. It clearly did not adopt all of the items in Ecuador’s package.

This resolution emerged after a long day in which the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Chile lead the opposition to the proposals from Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua. A Human Rights Watch observer said, “It was a resounding victory for the Commission, and a major defeat for the Venezuela-Ecuador bloc. It became evident that [the latter] . . . were totally isolated, without the support they were expecting from other countries.”

Towards the end of the meeting Ecuador and Bolivia threatened to withdraw from the Commission and leave the meeting. To avoid such a rupture, Argentina offered a face-saving amendment to the resolution about the OAS’ Permanent Council continuing the dialogue on the “core aspects for strengthening” the System, which Ecuador and the other ALBA countries ultimately accepted.

Conclusion

Afterwards Ecuador’s Foreign Minister tried to whitewash his country’s defeat by saying that the resolution accepted its proposal to continue the debate in the future. Before the next meeting of the OAS General Assembly in June 2014, the Foreign Minister said that there would be another meeting of the states parties to the American Convention like the one on March 11th in Guayaquil to discuss these issues. He also hinted at Ecuador’s possible withdrawal from the OAS Commission by saying there was an agreement being negotiated to create a Human Rights Commission of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

Unless there are unexpected changes in regimes or policies in this Hemisphere over the next 14 months, I do not expect Ecuador and its allies will be successful at the June 2014 OAS meeting in gaining acceptance of its proposals to weaken the Inter-American Commission.[4] We will then see if this small group will leave that Commission and form its own, more limited, human rights system.


[1] ALBA is an alternative to the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas. differing from the latter in that it advocates a socially-oriented trade block rather than one strictly based on the logic of deregulated profit maximization. The only members of ALBA are Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and three small Caribbean states (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

[2]  This campaign is discussed in press releases from Ecuador’s Foreign Minister.

[3] Such a limitation on financing undoubtedly would result in a reduction of such funding and thus on the work of the Commission.

[4]  I assume that Ecuador has another burden to overcome in attempting to win support for its “reform” proposals. Its credibility within the OAS, I suspect, has been adversely affected by its recent exaggerated, alarmist call for an OAS Consultative Meeting of Foreign Ministers over the alleged United Kingdom threat to invade Ecuador’s London Embassy because of its providing diplomatic asylum in that Embassy to Julian Assange.

Organization of American States Strengthens the Inter-American System of Human Rights [1]

OAS General Assembly, 3/22/13
OAS General Assembly, 3/22/13                                                  (Photo: OEA OAS Photostream [2])
On March 22, 2013, the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS)[3] adopted by acclamation a resolution strengthening the Inter-American System of Human Rights (“the System”).[4] The resolution had the following provisions:

  1. Requested the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“Commission”), an autonomous OAS organ that promotes and protects human rights in the American hemisphere, to continue to move forward with application of its responses to suggestions for reform by a special working group and the Commission’s March 18, 2013, reform of its rules.
  2. Instructed OAS’ Permanent Council[5] to continue the dialogue on the “core aspects for strengthening” the System.
  3. Urged the Commission to put into practice pending recommendations for reform.
  4. Encouraged the Commission “to strengthen its efforts in the promotion of human rights, including through its support to national systems.”
  5. Reaffirmed the OAS General Assembly’s commitment to obtain full financing of the
    System through OAS’ Regular Fund “without prejudice to the financing of the other mandates” of the OAS.
  6. Requested the OAS Secretary General to submit to the OAS Permanent Council “a detailed, up-to-date analysis of the full operating costs” of the System.
  7. Proposed that the Commission “strengthen all its rapporteurships, including by giving consideration to granting special status to all existing rapporteurships, based on adequate financing, without prejudice to its other responsibilities.”[6]
  8. Urged “OAS member states [i.e., U.S., Canada and seven others] to ratify or accede to . . . all inter-American human rights instruments, especially the American Convention on Human Rights,” and  for the U.S., Canada and eight other states “to accept . . . the contentious jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.”[7]

Understanding the significance of this resolution requires elaboration.

1.1. Recommendations of the Special Working Group. In its December 2011 report the Special Working Group proposed changes to the Commission’s rules regarding individual petitions and cases; precautionary measures; monitoring of human rights in member states; promotion of human rights; a permanent presidency; financing and allocation of resources; and dissemination of criteria and jurisprudence.[8] The most controversial ones that were seen by many as efforts to muzzle the Commission were these:

  • Restrict the Commission’s discretion in granting “precautionary measures,” by, among other things, setting forth “precise objective criteria” for granting same and determining whether the situation was “serious and urgent.” The addition of such criteria would help states as well as alleged victims who are affected by such measures.
  • Require its annual report to cover human rights conditions in all OAS members, not just those with the most pressing problems.
  • Reduce the activities and funding of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression by eliminating its separate funding and instead requiring balanced funding of all rapporteurs as well as eliminating this one’s special report.
  • Require the Commission to devote more time and resources to the general promotion of human rights and thereby reduce its time and resources to deciding individual complaints.
  • Impose restrictions on the Commission’s decisions regarding individual complaints.

1.2. Commission’s Responses to Recommendations of Special Working Group. On October 23, 2012, the Commission issued its second response expressing agreement with most of these recommendations.

However, the Commission did disagree with the recommendation to assign balanced resources to all of its rapporteurships. It pointed out that the first source of funds for the Commission is the OAS Regular Fund, which covers only 54% of the Commission’s financial needs. This necessitates soliciting outside funds, some of which are designated for specific purposes (one of which implicitly is for the Freedom of Expression Rapporteurship). “[P]rohibitting or impeding any of [these] . . . funding sources would lead to the immediate structural weakening of the thematic rapporteurships and units, as well as [their] . . . important promotional and technical assistance activities.”

Moreover, the request for balanced or equal allocation of resources legitimately was seen as a back-door way to reduce the funding for the Rapporteurship for Free Expression and hence its work, an objective of those states that had been criticized for retaliation against journalists and media for criticism of the governments.

1.3. Commission’s Recent Changes in Its Rules and Policies. On March 18, 2013 (only four days before the OAS General Assembly was to consider the whole subject of reforming the System), the Commission adopted a resolution amending its rules and adopting certain institutional policies, effective August 1, 2013.

The rules that were changed were Rule 25 (Precautionary Measures); 28 (Requirements for the Consideration of Petitions); 29 (Initial Processing); 30 (Admissibility Procedure); 36 (Decision on Admissibility); 37 (Procedure on the Merits); 42 (Archiving of Petitions and Cases); 44 (Report on the Merits); 46 (Suspension of Time Limit to Refer the Case to the Court; 59 (Annual Report); 72 (Experts); 76 (Provisional Measures); and 79 (Amendment of the Rules of Procedure).

These changes adopted many of the suggestions made by the Special Working Group.

For example, one of the more signficant changes was to Rule 25 covering precautionary measures, which are actions the Commission requests a state to take to prevent irreparable harm to persons or to the subject matter of the proceedings in connection with a pending petition or case before its final resolution on the merits, as well as to persons under the jurisdiction of the State concerned, independently of any pending petition or case. The amended rules more precisely identifies the situations for same as “serious and urgent situations presenting a risk of irreparable harm to persons or to the subject matter of a pending petition or case before the organs of the inter-American system” and provides definitions of “serious situation,” “urgent situation” and “irreparable harm.” It also provides that decisions granting, extending, modifying such measures shall contain certain elements.

Similar changes were made to Rule 76 covering provisional measures, which are actions the Commission requests the Inter-American Court to take in cases of extreme gravity and urgency, and when necessary to avoid irreparable damage to persons. The amended rule provides for the first time the following criteria for deciding upon a request for such measures: (a) ” when the State concerned has not implemented the precautionary measures granted by the Commission;” (b) “when the precautionary measures have not been effective; ” (c) “when there is a precautionary measure connected to a case submitted to the jurisdiction of the Court;” or (d) “when the Commission considers it pertinent for the efficacy of the requested measures, to which end it shall provide its reasons.”

Foremost among the new institutional policies was the establishment of the following priorities: promotion of universal ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights and other similar instruments; promotion of economic, social and cultural rights; and development of a plan for a permanent presidency. Other adopted policies generally concerned measures to increase public transparency of the Commission’s activities.

2. Permanent Council’s Continuing Dialogue on Core Aspects of Reforming the System. Although most states and their representatives were ready to end the reform process with the adoption of the March 22nd resolution, they accepted this “open door” for further dialogue as a way to keep those states less friendly to the Commission (especially Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua) involved in the Human Rights System and not renounce the American Convention on Human Rights and other treaties.

3. Commission’s  Implementing Pending Reform  Recommendations. I do not know what is meant by “pending [reform] recommendations,” and I solicit comments explaining this point. Presumably this refers to the Commission’s March 18th adoption of amended rules and of policy priorities.

4. Commission’s Strengthening Promotion of Human Rights. This is a commendable goal. The problem arises when decisions have to be made for allocation of insufficient financing of all the things that the Commission and Court would like to do to fulfill their mandates. In my opinion, such promotion should not come at the expense of reducing efforts on resolving specific complaints about alleged violations of human rights.

5. OAS’ Obtaining Full Financing of the System. This too is a commendable goal. The problem arises when decisions have to be made for allocation of insufficient financing of all the things that the Commission and Court would like to do to fulfill their mandates.

6. Analysis of Full Operating Costs of the System. This sounds like a straight-forward cost analysis of the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (“the Court”).

7. Commission’s Strengthening of Rapporteurships. There now are the following Rapporteurships on the Rights of (i) Indigenous Peoples, (ii) Woman; (iii) Migrant Workers and Their Families; (iv) the Child; (v) Human Rights Defenders; (vi) Persons Deprived of Liberty; and (vii) Afro-Descendants and Against Racial Discrimination.

There also is a Special Rapporteurship on Freedom of Expression, which has a “general mandate to carry out activities for the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of thought and expression.”

Subject to the qualification about outside funding designated for specific purposes, there is no quarrel with the objective of strengthening all of the rapporteurships. 

8. Obtaining Universality of Ratification/Accession of the American Convention on Human Rights and Acceptance of Contentious Jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Of the 34 members of the OAS, only 9 have not ratified or acceded to the American Convention on Human Rights with the U.S. and Canada being the major exceptions. Nor have the U.S. and Canada and 10 other states accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to decide cases of their alleged violations of that Convention.[9]

The desire for universality expressed in this resolution, in my opinion, is appropriate even though I suspect it is motivated in part by the understandable resentment of the U.S. for not accepting the Convention and the Court’s jurisdiction while simultaneously criticizing other states in the Hemisphere for their violations of human rights.

Conclusion

The previously mentioned controversial recommendations by the Special Working Group were promoted by states that had been targets of individual complaints and of criticisms by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression.  Foremost among these states was Ecuador, which has become notorious for its legal claims against the media for criticism of its government and by states that understandably resent the U.S.’ not being a party to the American Convention on Human Rights and not consenting to the contentious jurisdiction of the Court. This background will be discussed in a subsequent post.


[1]  The author would like to thank Mexican attorney, Juan Carlos Arjona Estevez, for his assistance in preparing this post. Muchas gracias, amigo!

[2] This photo is subject to license with OAS.

[3] The OAS was established in 1951 to achieve among its member states “an order of peace and justice, to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration, and to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence.”  Its supreme organ is the General Assembly, which is composed of delegations of the member states.

[4] The OAS Human Rights System includes the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. A chronology of the Human Rights System reform process is available on the Commission’s website. Some of the work of the Commission has been discussed in prior posts.

[5] The OAS Permanent Council under Chapter XII of the OAS Charter is the organ that is in overall charge of its activities pursuant to delegations by the OAS General Assembly or other organs.

[6] Starting in 1990, the Commission began creating thematic rapporteurships under the leadership of an individual who is an expert in the area in order to devote attention to certain groups, communities, and peoples that are particularly at risk of human rights violations due to their state of vulnerability and the discrimination they have faced historically. The aim of creating a thematic rapporteurship is to strengthen, promote, and systematize the Commission’s own work on the issue.

[7] In footnotes to the consensus resolution, Guatemala urged the Commission to (i) move its headquarters from Washington, D.C. to San Jose, Costa Rica (which hosts the Court and the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights); (ii)  draft a proposed  protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to establish standards for precautionary measures (akin to preliminary injunctions in U.S. law); (iii) limit the Commission’s commissioners and special/thematic rapporteurs to a single term; (iv) set 2015 as the date for attaining full financing of the System; and (v) placing all rapporteurships under the leadership of the commissioners.

[8]  The Special Working Group’s report with 53 recommendations for the Commission was adopted by the OAS Permanent Council on January 25, 2012 and ratified by the OAS General Assembly on June 5, 2012.

[9] The Court’s Statute’s Article 2(1) provides that its “adjudicatory jurisdiction shall be governed by . . . Articles 61, 62 and 63 of the Convention,” and the latter’s Article 62 requires a state’s declaration “unconditionally, or on the condition of reciprocity, for a specified period, or for specific cases” that it “recognizes as binding, ipso facto, and not requiring special agreement, the jurisdiction of the Court on all matters relating to the interpretation or application of this Convention.”

Positive Developments for Improved U.S.-Cuba Relations

Two recent developments implicitly have endorsed my strong suggestion for the U.S. to rescind its designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and to seek reconciliation with Cuba.

Colombia-FARC Negotiations

President Juan Manuel Santos

Over the last week the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, has announced that this October his government will enter into new negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) seeking to end their long civil war.

Santos said that holding such talks is well worth the risk of failure because an end to the conflict would not only would end bloodletting, but also bring a “peace dividend” of up to 2% additional economic growth a year to the country’s economy.

The initial negotiations will take place in Norway and then move to Havana, Cuba. The President said that support for such negotiations by Venezuela and Cuba has been crucial in helping the two sides to reach agreement on conducting the negotiations.

Cuba’s role in this positive development for Colombia and the whole western hemisphere shows the absurdity of the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” on the ground, in part, that some members of the FARC have been living in Cuba.

Former President Carter Calls for Improved U.S.- Cuba Relations

Jimmy Carter

 

On September 6th, former President Jimmy Carter said the next U.S. president should act forcefully to improve relations with Cuba. He also called for Cuba to be removed from the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

 

 

Yet Another Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

On July 31, 2012, the U.S. Department of State issued its annual report on terrorism in the world: Country Reports on Terrorism 2011. A prior post reviewed the report as a whole.

U.S. Flag
Cuba Flag

We now examine this report‘s designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” i.e., as a country that has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” This post’s analysis is also informed by the previous U.S. reports on terrorism for 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.[1] Earlier posts analyzed and criticized the reports for 2009 and 2010.

Preliminarily I note that the latest report says that 480 of the 10,283 terrorist attacks in 2011 occurred in the Western Hemisphere and that “the vast majority of . . . [these] were ascribed to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).” There is no mention of Cuba in this statistical summary.

Nor is there any mention of Cuba in the latest report’s “Strategic Assessment” that puts all of its discussion into a worldwide context. Instead this section of the report highlights the death of Osama bin Laden and other top leaders of al-Qa’ida as putting its “network on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse.” Others specifically mentioned in this Assessment were Iran, terrorists groups in South-Asia, the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey, anarchists in Greece and Italy, dissident Republican groups in Northern Ireland and Anders Behring Breivik (the Norwegian right-wing extremist who killed 77 people last July).

Cuba As an Alleged Safe Haven for Terrorists 

The first stated basis for designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” is its allegedly providing safe havens to individuals associated with two U.S.-designated Terrorist Organizations–Spain’s Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)–and to certain fugitives from U.S. criminal proceedings. Here are direct quotations of the report on these points:

  • “Current and former members of . . . ETA continue to reside in Cuba. Three suspected ETA members were arrested in Venezuela and deported back to Cuba in September 2011 after sailing from Cuba. One of them, Jose Ignacio Echarte, is a fugitive from Spanish law and was also believed to have ties” to the FARC.
  • “Press reporting indicated that the Cuban government provided medical care and political assistance to the FARC.”
  • “The Cuban government continued to permit fugitives wanted in the United States to reside in Cuba and also provided support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals.”

Before we examine some details about these charges, it must be said that the speciousness of this charge about ETA and FARC is shown by the latest U.S. terrorism report itself. It has a separate chapter on the legitimate international problem of terrorist safe havens as “ungoverned, under-governed, or ill-governed physical areas where terrorists are able to organize, plan, raise funds, communicate, recruit, train, transit, and operate in relative security because of inadequate governance capacity, political will, or both.” The report then identifies such havens in different parts of the world. For the Western Hemisphere, it discusses Colombia, Venezuela and the Tri-Border Area (where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay come together). But there is no mention whatsoever of Cuba.

Earlier U.S. reports provide another reason for discounting these charges. They admit that “Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world” (1996, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2009 reports) and that there was no evidence that Cuba had sponsored specific acts of terrorism (1996, 1997 reports). They also report that in 2001(after 9/11) Cuba “signed all 12 UN counterterrorism conventions as well as the Ibero-American declaration on terrorism” (2001, 2002, 2003 reports).

Let us now examine details about each of these specific assertions about alleged safe haven which have been made by the U.S. since at least 1996.

1. ETA

The weakness of the U.S. charge regarding ETA implicitly is admitted by the latest report itself when it states there “was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training for” ETA.  Similar admissions were made in the U.S. reports for 2005 (“no information concerning terrorist activities of [ETA] on Cuban territory”); 2008 (“no evidence of . . . terrorist financing activities”); 2009 (“no evidence of direct financial support”); 2010 (“no evidence of direct financial or ongoing material support”).

In addition, the latest U.S. report adds that there is evidence”[suggesting ] that the Cuban government [in 2011] was trying to distance itself from ETA members living on the island by employing tactics such as not providing services including travel documents to some of them.”

Earlier U.S. reports also reflect the limited nature of this charge. There allegedly were only 20 ETA members living in Cuba (2001 report), some of whom may be there in connection with peace negotiations with Spain (2009 report). In May 2003, Cuba publicly asserted that the “presence of ETA members in Cuba arose from a request for assistance by Spain and Panama and that the issue is a bilateral matter between Cuba and Spain” (2003 report). In March 2010 Cuba “allowed Spanish Police to travel to Cuba to confirm the presence of suspected ETA members” (2010 report).

Moreover, in March 2011 the Spanish Ambassador to Cuba told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that Spain was “not concerned about the presence of members of . . .  ETA . . . in Cuba.” Indeed, the Ambassador maintained that this enhances his country’s ability to deal more effectively with ETA.  In fact, the Ambassador added, some ETA members are there at the request of the Spanish government.

2. FARC

Again the new U.S. report implicitly admits the weakness of its FARC allegations by the report’s stating there “was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training for” FARC.  Similar admissions were made in the U.S. reports for 2005 (“no information concerning terrorist activities of [FARC] on Cuban territory”); 2008 (“no evidence of . . . terrorist financing activities”); 2009 (“no evidence of direct financial support”); 2010 (“no evidence of direct financial or ongoing material support”).

In addition, the 2008 report said in July of that year “former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the FARC to release the hostages they were holding without preconditions. He has also condemned the FARC’s mistreatment of captives and of their abduction of civilian politicians who had no role in the armed conflict.”

There is no indication in the reports of the number of FARC members allegedly in Cuba, but some may be there in connection with peace negotiations with Colombia (2009 report).

Moreover, in March 2011 the Colombian Ambassador to Cuba told former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that Colombia was “not concerned about the presence of members of FARC . . . in Cuba.” Indeed, the Ambassador maintained that this enhances their ability to deal more effectively with FARC.

3. U.S. fugitives

There apparently were or are over 70 individuals living in Cuba who are fugitives from criminal charges in U.S. relating to violent acts in the 1970’s purportedly committed to advance political causes, but pursuant to a 2005 Cuban government statement, no additional U.S. fugitives have been permitted on the island. In a few instances Cuba has extradited such fugitives to the U.S. (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 reports).

None of these fugitives apparently is affiliated with U.S.-designated terrorist organizations. The issue of whether or not they will be extradited to the U.S. is an appropriate issue for bilateral negotiations between the two countries. But, in my opinion, it is not a legitimate basis for designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

Cuba’s Alleged Financial System Deficiencies

The other asserted ground in the latest U.S. report for the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” is new.

This other ground is Cuba’s having been identified by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as “having strategic AML/CFT [Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism] deficiencies.  Despite sustained and consistent overtures, Cuba has refused to substantively engage directly with the FATF.  It has not committed to FATF standards and it is not a member of a FATF-style regional body.”

According to its website, FATF “is an inter-governmental body established in 1989 by the Ministers of its Member jurisdictions. [Its] . . . objectives . . .  are to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system. The FATF is therefore a ‘policy-making body’ which works to generate the necessary political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in these areas.” Thus, it apparently is a voluntary international organization, not one established by a multilateral treaty.

FATF currently has 34 member jurisdictions (or only about 18% of the U.N. member states) plus 2 regional organizations (the European Council and the Gulf Co-Operation Council) representing most major financial centers in all parts of the globe.

Starting in 1990,”FATF has developed a series of Recommendations that [it claims] are now recognised as the international standard for combating of money laundering and the financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. They form the basis for a co-ordinated response to these threats to the integrity of the financial system and help ensure a level playing field. First issued in 1990, the FATF Recommendations were revised in 1996, 2001 [additional measures regarding terrorist financing], 2003 and 2012 to ensure that they remain up to date and relevant, and they are intended to be of universal application.”

To this end, FATF promotes the global adoption and implementation of the FATF Recommendations.

In June 2012 FATF issued a Public Statement that identified Iran and the Democratic Republic of Korea [North Korea] as jurisdictions “subject to a FATF call on its members and other jurisdictions to apply counter-measures to protect the international financial system from the on-going and substantial money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/TF) risks emanating from [these] . . . jurisdictions.”

The June 2012 Statement also listed 18 other countries, including Cuba, as jurisdictions “with strategic AML/CFT deficiencies that have not made sufficient progress in addressing the deficiencies or have not committed to an action plan developed with the FATF to address the deficiencies. The FATF calls on its members to consider the risks arising from the deficiencies associated with each jurisdiction.”

The latest U.S. terrorism report made an important concession on this point by noting that in 2011 Cuba “did attend a [FATF] meeting on Money Laundering in South America meeting as a guest and prepared an informal document describing its anti-money laundering/counterterrorist financing system.” But this U.S. concession did not go far enough, for the June 2012 FATF Statement said, “Since February 2012 Cuba has officially engaged with the FATF and has also attended [the meetings of the relevant regional organizations] CFATF [Caribbean Financial Action Task Force] and GAFISUD [Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering in Latin America] . . . . The FATF urges Cuba to continue its engagement with the FATF, and to work with the FATF to develop and agree on an action plan in order to implement an AML/CFT regime in line with international standards.”

I assume that the issues being addressed by the FATF are important ones for the international community and that its Recommendations are reasonable ones to address the real problems of money laundering and financing of terrorism. I also assume that the Cuban financial system is not as sophisticated as those in the U.S. and other international money centers and that it along with at least 17 other countries that are not “State Sponsors of Terrorism” is not in compliance with the FATF Recommendations.

But these facts, in my opinion, do not support designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” If it were, then the 17 other countries on the two FATF lists should be added to the U.S. list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism.” (Of the 20 countries on the two FATF lists, only Iran, Syria and Cuba are now U.S.-designated “State Sponsors.”)

Moreover, as noted above, the U.S. terrorism reports have indicated there was no evidence of Cuban financing of terrorism in the covered years. In addition, some of the reports reference Cuban laws permitting the tracking, blocking, or seizing terrorist assets (Cuba’s Law 93 Against Acts of Terrorism and Instruction 19 of the Superintendent of the Cuban Central Bank) (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 reports). In addition, in its response to this latest U.S. report, Cuba has asserted that it “regularly provides precise, truthful information to the appropriate United Nations bodies charged with addressing these issues and others related to confronting terrorism.”

The whole FATF issue raised in the U.S. terrorism report, in my opinion, is a “red herring.”

Conclusion

In summary, the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” is ridiculous. This conclusion is shared, in less colorful language, at least by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency; the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations; the Center for International Policy; the Latin American Working Group; the Center for Democracy in the Americas; The Atlantic magazine’s national correspondent (Jeffrey Goldberg) and a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General (John Adams).

Not surprisingly the Cuban government comes to the same conclusion. It says “the only reason Cuba is kept on this list is exposed as an attempt to justify the U.S. blockade of our country, as well as the adoption of new measures to limit our financial and commercial transactions, to strangle the Cuban economy and impose a regime which responds to U.S. interests.”

Whatever legitimate issues are raised by these U.S. reports, I submit, are appropriate subjects, among many, for the bilateral negotiations that a prior post recommended should occur between the U.S. and Cuba to the end of reconciliation and restoration of normal relations. As Cuba pointed out after this U.S. report was released, Cuba repeatedly has proposed that the two countries “agree upon a bilateral program to confront terrorism,” but the U.S. government has not responded.

More generally, Cuban President Raul Castro on July 26, 2012 (the 59th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution) reiterated his country’s willingness to engage in negotiations with the U.S. as equals. He said no topic was off limits, including U.S. concerns about democracy, freedom of the press and human rights in Cuba so as long as the U.S. was prepared to hear Cuba’s own complaints. In response the U.S. repeated its prior position: before there could be meaningful talks, Cuba had to institute democratic reforms, respect human rights and release Alan Gross, an American detained in Cuba.

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[1] Cuba has been so designated since March 1982.The U.S. terrorism reports listed above are those that are accessible on the U.S. State Department’s website. I would appreciate detailed comments from anyone with knowledge about the reports for 1982-1995 although they are less relevant due to the passage of time.

The International Criminal Court: Investigations and Prosecutions

All of the ICC’s initial six investigations come from Africa.

Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic. Three of the investigations arise from submissions to the Court by three of its African States Parties–Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. These ICC investigations have led to the issuance of 10 arrest warrants. One of the subjects from Uganda died of natural causes. Five of the subjects of these warrants remain at large. Three of the Congolese subjects (Lubanga, Katanga and Chui) are now on trial at the ICC, with the closing arguments in the ICC’s first trial (Lubanga) scheduled for this coming August. In addition, the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba for actions in the Central African Republic started this past November.[1]

Kenya. Another investigation relates to Kenya. On November 26, 2009, the Prosecutor on his own initiative asked the Pre-Trial Chamber for permission to open an investigation into post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-2008 as possible crimes against humanity. On March 31, 2010, that Chamber approved that application. A year later–March 8, 2011, the Pre-Trial Chamber authorized the issuance of summonses to six individuals.[2]

Darfur (Sudan) and Libya. The last two investigations –Darfur (Sudan) and Libya– arise from submissions to the Court by the U.N. Security Council under Article 13(b) of the Rome Statute and Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter. (The latter gives the Council responsibility for the maintenance of “international peace and security.”)

In the Darfur (Sudan) situation, the Court has issued seven arrest warrants against six persons. One of the subjects (Bahr Idriss Abu Garda) appeared voluntarily at the Court and was in pre-trial proceedings, but on February 8, 2010, the Pre-Trial Chamber declined to confirm the charges against him, thus ending his case subject to reopening by the Prosecutor if there is additional evidence to support the charges. Two others (both Darfur rebel commanders) voluntarily surrendered themselves to the ICC, and in March 2011, the Pre-Trial Chamber confirmed the charges against them and committed them to trial. Three others remain at large, and one of them (Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Al Bashir) is the current head of state.[3]

As the Security Council resolution on Darfur itself noted, the Council under Article 16 of the Rome Statute has the power to stop anyinvestigation or prosecution” by the ICC  for a period of 12 months after the Council adopts a resolution to that effect under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter and to renew such a resolution ad infinitum. Yet in the over five years after its referral of the Darfur situation to the Court, the Council has not chosen to exercise this power after being kept advised of developments by the Prosecutor’s personal biannual reports to the Council.[4] This refusal to defer the prosecution of President Bashir is despite requests to do so from African and Arab states.

The last of the six ICC investigations relates to the current situation in Libya. On February 26, 2011, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1970 that, among other things, referred the Libyan situation since February 15, 2011, to the ICC’s Prosecutor, directed the Libyan authorities to cooperate fully with the Court and Prosecutor and invited the Prosecutor to make periodic reports about his actions in this matter to the Council. The resolution also stated that “nationals, current or former officials or personnel from a State outside [Libya], which is not a party to the Rome Statute . . . shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of that State for all alleged acts or omissions arising out of or related to operations in [Libya] established or authorized by the Council, unless such exclusive jurisdiction has been expressly waived by the State.”[5]

Two days later (February 28th) the Prosecutor stated that he had to decide whether to open an investigation regarding Libya and that he was collecting information to determine whether the necessary conditions for the Court’s jurisdiction were satisfied. [6] Another four days passed, and the Prosecutor on March 3rd announced that he was opening such an investigation.[7]

On May 4th the Prosecutor will report to the Security Council on the status of his Libyan investigation, including a possible request to the Pre-Trial Chamber to issue arrest warrants against those who appear to bear the greatest responsibility for crimes in Libya.

Preliminary examinations. In addition to these six investigations, the Office of the Prosecutor has conducted or currently is conducting preliminary examinations or analyses of situations in a number of other countries to determine if requests to the Pre-Trial Chamber should be made to commence investigations. These countries include Afghanistan, Chad, Colombia, Cote d’Ivorie, Georgia, Guinea, (Gaza) Palestine, Honduras and Nigeria. With respect to Afghanistan, which is a State Party to the Rome Statute, the Prosecutor has said that his office was looking into accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Taliban and by the U.S. and its allies.[8]

The Prosecutor also has declined to commence certain investigations that had been suggested by outsiders, and under Article 15(6) of the Statute the Prosecutor publicly has stated the reasons for these declinations. Two such instances are Iraq and Venezuela.

The ICC is well on the way to establishing itself as an important actor in the interactive global struggle against impunity for the worst violators of international human rights.


[3] ICC Press Release, Pre-Trial Chamber I declines to confirm the charges against Bahar Idriss Abu Garda (Feb. 8, 2010), http://www.icc-cpi.int/menus/icc/press%20and%20media/press%20releases/news%20and%20highlights/pr495?lan=en-GB.

[4]  See AMICC, ICC Prosecutor Reports to the United Nations, http://www.amicc.org/icc_activities.html#unreports. These reports include discussions of the Prosecutor’s efforts (a) to determine whether Sudan has capable domestic institutions and procedures to handle the crimes in question and (b) to address whether the “interests of justice” call for continuation or termination of the investigations.

[5] U.N. Security Council, 6491st meeting (Feb. 26, 2011); U.N. Security Council, Resolution 1970 (2011)  ¶¶ 4-8 (Feb. 26, 2011).

[6] ICC, Statement by the Office of the Prosecutor on situation in Libya (Feb. 28, 2011).

[7]  ICC, ICC Prosecutor to open an investigation in Libya (March 2, 2011).

[8]  ICC, Office of the Prosecutor, http://www2.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/Structure+of+the+Court/Office+of+the+Prosecutor; Lauria, Court Orders Probe of Afghan Attacks, Wall St. J., Sept. 10, 2009; ICC Office of Prosecutor, Letter to Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights (Jan. 12, 2010) (alleged crimes during the conflict in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009), http://www2.icc-cpi.int/NR/rdonlyres/FF55CC8D-3E63-4D3F-B502-1DB2BC4D45FF/281439/LettertoUNHC1.pdf; ICC Office of the Prosecutor, ICC Prosecutor confirms situation in Guinea under examination (Oct. 14,  2009), http://www2.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/Structure+of+the+Court/Office+of+the+Prosecutor/Comm+and+Ref/Guinea.