A novelty. This is the first, rigorously compiled, chronological record of the Cuban regime's misconduct in some international bodies. And it adds value showing that Cuban diplomats are not some rigorous Prussians of the Caribbean sold at diplomatic fairs.
I pause here to draw attention to the moment of change and inflection for a special reason. Until 2006, when the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights was converted into the Council of the same name, the main argument of the Cuban government for not acknowledging both the Special Rapporteur appointed for Cuba and the Commission and its reports was that they singled out Cuba (to single out is an active verb in the diplomatic defense mechanism of the regime) as part of a political design determined in the United States.
It was not true that Cuba was singled out. All States that violate human rights share the bench of the accused for their actual conduct, which is to violate the dignity of their citizens. It was true, however, that the United States, trapped by their own proceedings, played an essential role in condemning the Cuban government. In the Commission, a case would not be examined until a specific country presented it. For a long time, no democracy, other than the United States, wanted to take the initiative regarding Cuba. They would later support the resolutions and recommendations but would not, as a rule with some exceptions, initiate a draft resolution.
Hence, for a long time, the perception was that the whole human rights issue was a doubly motivated geopolitical struggle between the United States and Cuba. On one hand, geopolitics with a nationalist foundation and regional impact, and, on the other, the global geopolitics of the Cold War.
And perceptions are important. The other one, stating that the Cuban government did not cooperate or pay attention to the Commission because everything was a crude imperialist maneuver masked by the International Human Rights Charter, also worked. Not only in the left wing of the ideological spectrum.
What this report published by CADAL shows is that the imperialist excuse of the Cuban regime was only the political use of the truth (whether supposed or real) as a pretext. The Cuban government, and this is a matter of political doctrine, is not committed whatsoever to the Universal System of Human Rights.
The present Report begins its investigation at the time the Human Rights Council was born. In the current Council, no country is treated differently. They are all, and without exceptions, subject to periodic reviews, which are characterized by rigorous procedures with equal treatment for every country. The procedural change behind this approach is basic in two ways: no country is singled out, or, what is the same, they are all singled out, and the principle that democracies are not examined disappears. The equality of all States within the United Nations is strictly enforced in the Human Rights Council and the human rights situation is scrutinized globally. Because the truth is that human rights violations are committed in any of these countries.
Thus, two aspects cease to be scrutinized globally: the singling out and the possible ideologization of human rights issues. In other words, since 2006 there are no more excuses. The willingness to fully cooperate with the Human Rights Council should be clear. The United States can no longer single out, all countries are subject to scrutiny, and no country can hide their human rights violations anymore, because the rule of law and democracy do not act as guarantor of the full respect for human rights.
But where these realities no longer exist, because of the empty horror of predatory States, another one arises: cynicism.
What the Report shows is that the Cuban government has created a relatively sophisticated cynical machinery around the entire human rights system: from the narrative, to the institutions, to the behavior.
Only one year after the creation of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2006, the Cuban government occupied a debut seat. Practically without getting up. From 2007 to 2009, first term; 2010 to 2012, second term; 2012 to 2014, third term. As procedures dictate, the government took an involuntary sabbatical (2013), then returned for its fourth and fifth terms, 2014 to 2016 and 2017 to 2019 respectively. From then on it returns to its active rest, only to present itself last January for its sixth candidacy for the period 2021-2023.
The HRC has been in existence for 14 years and the Cuban government has warmed one of its seats for 12 of them. The country is almost a dean of an international body with whose guidelines it maintains an inverse proportionality. The Cuban government's fundamentally cynical link to global human rights institutions stems from that enduring but uncompromising presence.
The authors of the Report bring to the forefront the guide of conduct for all States seeking membership in the HRC. Forty-seven of them are members of the HRC, following a proportional geographical distribution, and elected by the plenary session of the General Assembly.
What is important to emphasize: joining is voluntary. No State is obliged to become a member of the HRC. This means that the willingness to participate should correspond to a willingness to contribute to the work of the body as well as to respect the commitments made once the candidature is submitted and once the State is elected. It is, in fact, one and the same willingness that goes through four phases: willingness to participate, willingness to contribute, willingness to accept the rules and willingness to make an effective commitment to them. Each of the phases is supposed to strengthen and eventually conclude the standard of behavior of the States participating in the HRC.
What hasn't the Cuban government done on the humanist roof of the United Nations?
The Resolution of the United Nations' General Assembly of March 2006, A/RES/60/251 (Resolution No. 60, onwards), which created the Human Rights Council, clearly states that the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights, and their voluntary pledges and commitments thereto, should be taken into account when they are elected into the Council. They should uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and cooperate with the Council. And crucially, by a two-thirds majority of members present and voting, the rights of membership in the Council can be suspended for any member that grossly and systematically violates human rights. This is what they call, in short, a high standard behavior in human rights matters of the States that aspire to a membership in the Council.
For the last 12 years, the Resolution No. 60 has been on stand-by for the Cuban government. And it has good chances of not being activated in October 2020.
Which are the non res (“non facts”) of the Resolution No. 60?
1. The poor cooperation with the system of special procedures, a central element of the human rights machinery. The Special Rapporteur mechanism. Only two visits in ten years.
2. Not to promote any of the suggestions made by Ms. Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a letter sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on November 2, 2018. These include inviting the special procedures of the HRC; ratifying the Human Rights Covenants; developing a national plan of action on the subject; establishing a national mechanism for the presentation and delivery of reports; harmonizing laws with human rights standards and others of special importance to the pro-democracy community and civil society in Cuba. And it is important to remember here that, by that date, the process of constitutional reform had already begun.
3. Of the 44 existing thematic mandates for 2018, the Cuban government has almost never extended an invitation to any of them. Only two were chosen to be received in Cuba. The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons (10 to 14 April 2017) and the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity (10 to 17 July 2017). Before that, the closest in time is the visit of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food (from October 28 to November 6, 2007).
4. The refusal to acknowledge the Personal Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Cuba between 2000 and 2010.
5. The silence on repeated requests for visits by various Special Rapporteurs (Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (2006) and Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (2003)).
6. The lack of follow-up actions taken after the visits of Rapporteurs or representatives in Cuba (Special Rapporteur on the right to food and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women).
7. Answering only two of the thirteen questionnaires sent by thematic mandate-holders.
8. The weak, if any, responses to the observations and recommendations received during the three cycles of the Universal Periodic Review. For eleven years, the government of Cuba has been in the process of consultations and of passing on the recommendations made. And let us bear in mind that in the second cycle alone, the government received 292 recommendations. In the third cycle, the government received already as many as 339 recommendations, of which it refused to accept thirty, all related to the nine treaties that form the hard core of human rights. Only 83 of these recommendations were noted by the government.
9. The use of hate speech and exclusion of those whose human rights should, instead, be granted.
10. Of the nine protocols to the individual communications procedure at the CHR, the Cuban government has accepted only one: the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, of March 2000. And the fact that they accept it does not mean that they promote or respect it.
11. In terms of investigative procedures, also of nine protocols or procedures, the government has only accepted two. The ones on investigation of torture (1995) and protection of all persons from enforced disappearance (2009).
12. The late submission of the reports the Cuban government did submit. Because it has not submitted all of them. The Report on the Rights of the Child, for example, was due in 1998 and was only submitted in 2009.
13. Cuba is not part of the major Treaties and/or Optional Protocols.
14. The obvious politicization of the Council. Cuba accepts recommendations according to the country making them. Thus, a recommendation is accepted if it is made by a country of the South. The same recommendation is rejected if made by a democracy. Honduras, for example, recommended adopting a strategy to change patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes that discriminate against women. When this same recommendation was made by Cyprus, the government only took notes.
Among others, these fourteen arguments, very well explained in the Report, are the ones that highlight the Cuban government's lack of commitment to the Universal System of Human Rights over the long period of the last fourteen years. Its concrete violation inside Cuba, exhaustively documented in the Island and very much alive against artists, journalists and activists in the whole field of civil society, should not be overlooked.
Like the authors, I do not believe that the Cuban government does respond to the high standards of human rights that should be required of the countries in order to take part in the Human Rights Council. Cuba should never be able to sit there again.
It seems clear that the HRC’s reforms deserve to be strengthened as part of a strategic vision of persistent and thorough spirit, which is based on three criteria. Firstly, human rights belong to the people, not to the government. Secondly, except for State secrets, civil societies may know more about a country’s situation than its own government. And thirdly, it is necessary to consider civil societies, as well as States, as part of the system and mechanisms of the Human Rights Council. The system and mechanisms are only improved by involving the victims, who are not the problem but the solution. States that do not protect them can only do one thing with human rights: violate them systematically, as in Cuba.