Cuban human rights examined by UN council

June 20, 2009

Here's something you won't hear from the corporate media: Cuba's human rights record was examined by the United Nation's Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and the country came out looking pretty good.

There was a great deal of praise, some constructive criticism and relatively few intransigent issues.

Such reports are rarely covered in meaningful terms. The corporate media, generally looking for a single story line, spin it their own way or ignore it — especially if the news does not suit their pre-determine dstereotypes.

Since 2006, Cuba has participated more freely in the UNHRC as it has become a more equitable process than the old UN Commission on Human Rights. The voting structure allows a wider range of countries to participate and the main accountability process is the "universal periodic review" (UPR), which applies to all countries.

The big powers no longer pick and choose their favourite "human rights offenders" for UN scrutiny, as they did under the old commission. The US tried to target Cuba (particularly during the administration of that great champion of human rights, George Bush Jr).

For this reason, Cuba refused to fully cooperate. Since the restructuring in 2006, however, things have changed.

At the 11th session, it was Cuba's turn for a UPR, and the little socialist country faced scrutiny from all participating countries plus a wide range of NGOs.

The structure of a UPR leads to the subject state either accepting, considering or rejecting submissions. The UNHRC report on Cuba, like all UPR reports, summarises the scrutiny process and sets out the state's responses to the criticism or praise.

The UN summarised the responses as follows: 60 of the recommendations by other states were supported by Cuba; 17 recommendations would be "examined" and responded to by Cuba; and 11 recommendations "did not enjoy the support of Cuba".

The most positive responses came from underdeveloped countries. Several urged Cuba to "continue in the path towards the building of socialism", others praised its remarkable solidarity efforts and domestic achievements, especially in health and education.

Cuba accepted recommendations to strengthen its treaty commitments, anti-discrimination programs, human rights education, youth programs, disabled support, gender equality, disaster management and general cooperation with UN agencies.

Bolivia, the major recipient of Cuban health sector assistance (with more than 5000 young Bolivians on Cuban medical scholarships) urged Cuba to keep sharing its experiences in health, science and cooperation.

Others also praised Cuba's sustained efforts in health cooperation.

Cuba accepted the recommendation of Brazil to maintain its moratorium on the death penalty (suspended since 2003), and of Mexico to strengthen national capacities to assist the victims of domestic violence.

It also accepted the Russian and Pakistani recommendations to maintain its efforts in support of religious freedom, respect and tolerance.

Cuba accepted recommendations from several delegations, including Palestine's, to continue to promote and defend international self-determination and right to development initiatives. It agreed to "promote the active participation of civil society" in preparing the country's national human rights reports.

Cuba did not accept 11 recommendations from Israel and several European powers. It said these were either based on false premises or interfered with sovereign rights.

For example, Israel and Britain urged the repeal of laws by which citizens can be charged with collaborating with a foreign power to subvert the constitution. They also urged the immediate release of "unlawfully imprisoned human rights defenders, journalists and others".

Cuba says those referred to have been tried under legitimate sovereign law.

Canada urged Cuba to lift restrictions on the media (for example, allowing the domination enjoyed elsewhere by private media companies) and several states urged the "unconditional" release of a group of "political prisoners".

Many of these prisoners were arrested in 2003 and charged with collaboration with the Bush administration in the prelude to a feared invasion of Cuba in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion.

Cuba says these convictions were based on evidence of payments to those charged via US programs working to overthrow the constitution of Cuba, against the will of the Cuban people.

The evidence was presented in open court proceedings and published in several reports and books.

There were several complaints about mistreatment of prisoners and poor health facilities in prison, but Cuba rejected the claims.

Cuba took away to consider and respond to the recommendations that they: "ratify and implement" several human rights treaties they have recently signed; consider acceding to the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court; establish a national human rights institution; invite more UN special rapporteurs; open further to independent international organisations such as the Red Cross; establish a UN led review of their prison system; review trial processes and travel permit arrangements to ensure they are consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and move towards complete abolition of the death penalty.

No country raised any of the most serious human rights violations in relation to Cuba — such as torture, detention without trial, disappearances and kidnappings, death squads, wars of aggression, war crimes and rape by soldiers.

The same cannot be said about some of Cuba's close neighbours.

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