CubaBrief: From the UN Human Rights Commission to the UN Human Rights Council: A case of from bad to worse?

PanamPost reporter Sabrina Martin is right, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council is a global “laughing stock”, but the bad joke began with its founding in 2006. Regis Iglesias, a spokesman for the Christian Liberation Movement, lamented to the Catholic News Agency that “solidarity with those who are suffering isn’t a value” in the modern world. “Relativism, the lack of values, the indifference and the lack of leadership in countries of the free world have caused in recent years, perhaps decades, international organizations and governments to unfortunately forget their commitment to the human person and the peoples suffering under dictatorial regimes,’ he said.”

UN Human Rights Commission replaced by UN Human Rights Council in 2006.

UN Human Rights Commission replaced by UN Human Rights Council in 2006.

There have been consequences to placing dictatorships on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that not only leave their citizens’ defenseless, but undermine international human rights standards. Consider the following small sample of consequences of Cuba’s membership early on at the UNHRC:

On March 28, 2008 the Castro regime’s delegation together with the Organization of Islamic Congress (OIC) successfully passed resolutions undermining international freedom of expression standards at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Reporters Without Borders described it more succinctly: “UN Human Rights Council turns special rapporteur on free expression into prosecutor.”

The non-invitation invitation of Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, by the Cuban Ambassador and the Cuban Minister of Justice in January of 2009 to visit Cuba later that same year. Only to be put off without notice again and again through 2009 and 2010 led to this expert missing opportunities to visit other countries and on June 9, 2010, made the following statement:

“I regret that in spite of its clear invitation, the Government of Cuba has not allowed me to objectively assess the situation of torture and ill-treatment in the country by collecting first-hand evidence from all available sources.”

On February 2, 2009 during the Universal Periodic Review of China the Cuban Ambassador, Juan Antonio Fernandez Palacios encouraged the Chinese regime to repress human rights defenders in China with more firmness.

The UN Human Rights Council came into existence with an immoral compromise, that in hindsight, has tainted its entire existence. The Sydney Morning Herald on June 19, 2007 reported that: ” The United Nations has dropped independent expert monitors of alleged human rights abuses in Cuba and Belarus, as part of a deal on new rules for the UN Human Rights council, officials said Tuesday.” At the time the claim was made that it was the beginning of a new era, and so it was.

Three years earlier in 2004, at the UN Human Rights Commission, after losing a vote, a young Cuban diplomat physically assaulted a 60 year old man – who was part of the American delegation – attacking him from behind in front of numerous eyewitnesses. Despite this the Castro regime was elected as a member of the new UN Human Rights Council in 2006, and Cubans were left defenseless. with the abandonment of the special rapporteur on human rights violations in Cuba.

It had helped Cubans, but this was also the product of years of courageous hard work by activists in Cuba, and the solidarity of the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush

II Administrations to press this issue at the international forum.

The Cuban Committee for Human Rights (Cuba based dissident group) was able to document human rights abuses and smuggle these reports out of the prisons and out of Cuba reaching the international community. It was their work combined with the diplomatic pressure of the Reagan Administration, and their Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, former prisoner of conscience, Dr. Armando Valladares that on March 8, 1988 the Cuban government was finally called to account for systematically denying access to Cuba’s prisons. The documentary Nobody Listened looks at Cuba through the prism of international news and human rights activism.

On March 11, 1988 Havana invited the United Nations Human Rights Commission to investigate human rights in Cuba. Over the course of the next year not only the UN Human Rights Commission, but also the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were able to enter Cuba and document the human rights violations in the island.

This was the first and last time these organizations were allowed into Cuba to visit Castro’s prisons.

Between 1991 and 2004 the Castro regime’s human rights record was studied closely by the UN special procedures system in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and regularly condemned in votes by a majority of the 53 members.

This practice ended forever in 2006 with the UN Human Rights Council and the Castro regime acted with impunity throughout the following years: murdering activists, committing other wholesale human rights violations, and successfully blocking efforts to identify and condemn human rights violations in Cuba and around the world.

Let us conclude by honoring a previous generation of Cubans who successfully pressed the Castro regime to open up to the international community between 1988 through 1989. This was possible because of the UN Human Rights Commission, and until the present there is reason to keep pushing for victims of repression in Cuba, and for more transparency. Meanwhile we must recognize the reality that human rights are in retreat around the world, and the UN Human Rights Council bears part of the responsibility.

PanamPost, October 16, 2020

UN Human Rights Council Should “Condemn Itself”

With Cuba, Russia, and China as new members, the Council has become a “bad joke” for the world

by Sabrina Martín

October 16, 2020

The election of new members of the Human Rights Council, during the General Assembly session at the agency’s headquarters in New York (EFE).

The election of new members of the Human Rights Council, during the General Assembly session at the agency’s headquarters in New York (EFE).

Spanish – The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council became a global “laughing stock:” Cuba, Russia, and China were incorporated as members of the body. The three nations, clearly identified as rights violators, are now part of the Council that should condemn them.

In fact, on Tuesday, the Cuban regime obtained 88% of the votes for its entry, while Russia and China reached 82% and 72%, respectively.

Cuba, a mockery of the victims of the Castro regime

During the presentation of his candidacy, Cuba committed itself to promote “cultural rights” and highlighted the “participatory and democratic nature” of its political system. However, on the island, the only legally recognized party is the Communist Party, while opponents are persecuted, arrested, imprisoned, and even prevented from leaving the country.

“Putting Cuba on the UN Human Rights Council is like putting Jack the Ripper on a committee to end knife violence in London,” John Suarez, director of the Center for a Free Cuba, told EFE.

Russia, another serial rights violator

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is not far behind. Recently, it was revealed that the regime had poisoned its primary opponent, Alexei Navalny- one more in a long list of rights violations.

Moreover, Putin has become a dictator seeking to perpetuate himself in power through electoral fraud. As a result of serious allegations of torture, persecution, and massive control over the media, the Economist’s Democracy Index has rated Russia as an authoritarian country.

China, a “global threat to human rights”

Likewise, the eastern country has been considered a threat to human rights. The most recent report by Human Rights Watch revealed that the Chinese regime had created a state of pervasive surveillance in pursuit of absolute social control.

“It is now using its economic and diplomatic influence to evade international actions outside its borders that call for accountability for repression. To preserve the international human rights system as an effective mechanism for countering repression, governments should close ranks in the face of attacks from Beijing,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

The official commented that Beijing has been adopting repressive measures against dissidents for quite some time. “Now the Chinese government is trying to extend that censorship to the rest of the world. To protect everyone’s future, governments must act together and resist Beijing’s assault on the international human rights system,” he added.

The UN under scrutiny

“In terms of preserving peace, security, and human rights, the UN has been marginalized,” said Diego Arria, former president of the organization’s Security Council, in a dialogue with PanAm Post.

“The UN has 193 countries that are part of the organization. According to the Economist, only 75 respect freedoms and democracy; that is the reality. The Security Council has Russia and China that are not champions of freedom. The world does not have a good picture of what the UN represents in terms of peace, freedom, and human rights,” he said.

Decisions such as those taken recently within the Human Rights Council have led to the departure of countries such as the United States since this body has become a mockery of its own values.

“The election of China, Russia, and Cuba to the UN Human Rights Council validates the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Council in 2018 and use other avenues to protect and promote universal human rights.   At the General Assembly this year, we did just that,” Mike Pompeo, head of U.S. diplomacy, noted on his Twitter account, recalling that Washington identified and punished “human rights violators in Xinjiang, Myanmar, Iran and elsewhere.

National Review, October 13, 2020


Why Dictators Will Win U.N. Human Rights Council Seats

By Jimmy Quinn

The United Nations logo is seen at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Today’s election suggests that the council is not any better than the commission that it replaced — and it might even be worse.

At the turn of this century, a number of United Nations officials lined up to criticize the organization’s Commission on Human Rights.

Even the strongest advocates of the international human-rights project were forced to admit the body’s abject failure: The world’s worst dictatorships and human-rights abusers routinely manipulated its proceedings to deflect from their own depravities. It became a tool with which to attack Western governments and human-rights defenders.

Sergio Vieira de Mello, the legendary U.N. diplomat who inspired an eponymous Netflix biopic, warned of its “use for political ends.” Former secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali raised the alarm about its manifest failings. Chief among them, he said, was “the double standards that deprive the commission of any credibility.” “In some cases,” he added, “there is concern about human rights violations, in other cases they are ignored.”

And so it was disbanded and replaced in 2006 with the U.N. Human Rights Council. The council was supposed to be different. For starters, it was founded with 47 members, six fewer than sat on the commission, so that only a more selective group of countries could serve. The U.N. resolution establishing the council also decreed that its members “shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

A Playground for Dictatorships

Needless to say, that hasn’t happened in the slightest. During the 14 years of the council’s existence, its authoritarian members have run the show. And after today’s elections to the council, many of them — China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba, among others — will re-join the world’s top human-rights advocacy forum, despite their horrendous records on these issues.

It’s a stain on the U.N.’s reputation and a disappointment that the council’s reputation is sullied by these countries and their allies. Truth be told, the council can at times do important work and fulfill its mandate to promote and protect human rights. It oversees a system of U.N. rights experts that by-and-large do excellent work; in fact, this year, close to 50 of them called for an investigation into the Chinese Communist Party’s actions in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. And during its current session, after U.N. experts released a report detailing the Maduro regime’s “crimes against humanity,” the council held an urgent session on the situation in Belarus.

On the other hand, Venezuela is a current member of the council, with the right to vote on any of the body’s resolutions. The council has also held a special debate on racism in the United States — which is undoubtedly a problem, but one that should be addressed within a liberal-democratic system, not by some of the most openly and deliberately racist regimes in the world. And as the Western world prepares sanctions on the Belarusian government’s crackdown, a Belarusian academic holds the post of special rapporteur on “unilateral coercive measures” (which is to say sanctions). She’s taken up the PR campaign, initiated by authoritarian countries decades ago and accelerated recently, that claims Western sanctions targeting human-rights abusers are the true human-rights abuses that the U.N. system must combat.

And this — the merging of the authoritarian narrative stream with concrete legal argumentation — is the most acute threat posed by the U.N. Human Rights Council. At the UNHRC, what begins as narrative can become the basis for political action. Nowhere is this clearer than in the council’s longtime hostility toward sanctioning human-rights abusers. “Cuba is extremely active at the Human Rights Council in adopting numerous resolutions on behalf of dictatorships that seek to undermine the idea of individual human rights, accountability, and to promote a narrative that the dictatorships, that human rights abusers are victims of Western sanctions,” said Hillel Neuer, the director of U.N. Watch, a non-governmental organization that tracks the council’s activities, during a press conference on Friday.

The primary problem with the UNHRC sometimes appears to be that it’s a farce of an organization, or a tragically missed opportunity to promote human rights. But it has also inflicted great harm on the cause of human-rights promotion.

Take the debate over sanctions. During negotiations on a broad-ranging U.N. resolution on the international coronavirus response last month, the Cuban delegation was at the last minute able to add a paragraph that calls on member states to remove their sanctions. That — and a call for such a measure by U.N. rights experts in June — demonstrates the wild success of the efforts to delegitimize economic sanctions on the world stage.

The Chinese delegation has taken up this talking point, too. When China presented a letter signed by 26 countries complaining of alleged human-rights abuses committed by Western countries, it cited that General Assembly resolution as one of these alleged rights violations (Cuba was a signatory). In this way, statements build off of resolutions, authoritarian-friendly expert posts lend legitimacy to these efforts, and all of this opens the door to new resolutions and political outcomes favorable to such regimes.

Along the way, these governments silence their critics in Geneva, many of whom went to great lengths to share their story. “I personally have been publicly interrupted, attacked, and even threatened by the ambassadors of the dictatorship in coordination with the representatives of other regimes, such as the Russian, the Chinese, or the Venezuelan, while addressing the plenary session of the Human Rights Council,” said Rosa Maria Paya, a Cuban dissident, during the Friday press conference. “All of these regimes act in gangs, conspiring in packs to cover their backs and empty the mission of the Human Rights Council of content and effectiveness.”

Uncontested Elections

Much of this is made possible by the council’s procedures for these elections, which take place every year. About a third of the council’s seats are allocated each October, and any U.N. member may run for them — there’s no vetting process, no qualifications necessary. These seats are allocated by region. In today’s election, there are four seats for Africa, four more for Asia, three for Latin America, and two for Western Europe, and two for Eastern Europe up for grabs.

With only slightly over a dozen seats up for election each year, one would expect there to be more competition for them. Russia, China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia are all widely known to hold in contempt the very concept of political liberty, and each has left in its wake a trail of the bodies of dissidents, journalists, political opponents, and religious and ethnic minorities. In a race for a human-rights body where respect for human rights was actually a qualification for candidacy, none of these countries would qualify. In fact, many of the other countries running for seats today, such as Uzbekistan and Pakistan, would also fail to clear that bar. An analysis by U.N. Watch, the Human Rights Foundation, and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights that examines the domestic human-rights situation and U.N. voting records of the 16 candidates finds that only two of them — France and the United Kingdom — are actually qualified to serve on the council.

However, because election for UNHRC seats is split into regional slates, the political maneuvering that takes place allows influential but authoritarian governments to work their way onto the council. Although no country is permitted to serve more than two consecutive terms on the Human Rights Council, some foresight and planning goes a long way. China has been absent from the council in 2020, but since 2006, it has sat on the council for four terms.

As long as a country gets 97 votes in the General Assembly, it can join the council. Most of the time, as is the case today, regions will also run “clean slates,” where the number of candidates will match the number of open seats. In today’s contest, only the Asian group has one more candidate than the number of available seats. In the lead up to the election, human-rights groups have led a campaign to convince countries to vote against China and other human-rights abusers. Well-founded as this effort might be, it’s not likely to have a significant impact on the final result. These countries will still probably win seats.

When it comes to voting for the 47 countries tasked with overseeing the U.N.’s response to human-rights violations, countries have generally been impervious to moral sentiment and respect for human-rights. What matters more are backdoor deals and political coercion. Understanding this, the results are predictable.

So what are the prospects for change? Before the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the body in 2018, U.S. officials visited Geneva to resolve the council’s failings. In addition to seeking to change a UNHRC standing agenda item that targets Israel, the administration sought to make it easier to remove members of the council. Under the present rules, suspending a council member “that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights” requires a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly. When negotiators came away from these talks empty-handed, the U.S. pulled out.

Neuer’s preferred reform to the council is a simple one: Make every member of the General Assembly a member of the Human Rights Council. That way, winning election to the Council can’t be held up as an accomplishment as it currently is: “The moment after the election happens, you will see media in all of the countries that I mentioned and other countries that have abused human rights, you will see them proudly proclaiming how wonderful they are and how the international community chose them to be on the highest human-rights body.”

In an ideal world, any of these ideas might take root, but an overhaul of the Human Rights Council is just not feasible in the present political context. Too many countries have too much to lose. And even as human-rights advocates continue to pan the Trump administration’s decision to leave the body, European governments have gotten a free pass for their silence on the current state of the body.

All of this speaks to one of the U.N. system’s fundamental weaknesses. In order to get buy-in from countries around the world, the organization is required to balance competing priorities, such as whether to give everyone a say, or just specific countries. As the past several decades of failures at the council and its predecessor, the commission, would suggest, though, allowing any country to run for a seat without so much as a debate about its qualifications has been disastrous.

Without considerable reform, the Human Rights Council, and the international human-rights architecture with it, is likely to continue down its perilous present path. Today’s election suggests that the council is not any better than the commission that it replaced — and it might even be worse.

Jimmy Quinn is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at National Review Institute. @james_t_quinn

Catholic News Agency, October 15, 2020

Addition of Cuba, China, Russia to UN Human Rights Council draws criticism

United Nations Offices in Geneva, Switzerland, home of the UNHRC. Credit: Sonia Alves-Polidori / Shutterstock

United Nations Offices in Geneva, Switzerland, home of the UNHRC. Credit: Sonia Alves-Polidori / Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Oct 15, 2020 / 04:51 pm MT (CNA).- A human rights group in Cuba criticized the election of China, Cuba, and Russia to the UN Human Rights Council, despite the history of authoritarianism and significant human rights abuses in each country.

“The undeserved election of the Cuban totalitarian regime for a seat on the Human Rights council is an undue and dangerous recognition of a failed state that exhibits an extensive history of human rights violations,” said Eduardo Cardet, national coordinator for the Christian Liberation Movement (CLM).

The CLM is a democracy and human rights advocacy group founded in Cuba in 1988 by dissident Oswaldo Paya. The group has been heavily suppressed by Cuban State Security. Paya was killed in a car crash in suspicious circumstances in 2012, and Cardet was sentenced in 2017 to three years in prison on alleged charges of “attacking law enforcement, scandal and disorderly conduct.” The CLM maintains that Cardet’s sentence was in retaliation for his criticism of the legacy of Fidel Castro.

In an October 14 statement to, Cardet criticized the decision of the UN General Assembly to elect Cuba, Russia and China among the 15 new members of the Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

According to its website, the UNHRC is “an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.”

“The fact that the Human Rights Council is made up of many of the main violators on a planetary scale is a serious threat and a strong and clear warning call to all international human rights actors,” Cardet said, adding, “it is imperative to work very hard, because we are all in danger and we cannot stop acting.”

Cardet said the selection of Cuba, Russia, and China shows “structural failure and degradation of the election criteria” within the UN’s Human Rights Council. He warned that the three nations “will form a team to distort and undermine the aims and purposes of the Council.”

Regis Iglesias, a spokesman for the Christian Liberation Movement, lamented that “solidarity with those who are suffering isn’t a value” in the modern world.

“Relativism, the lack of values, the indifference and the lack of leadership in countries of the free world have caused in recent years, perhaps decades, international organizations and governments to unfortunately forget their commitment to the human person and the peoples suffering under dictatorial regimes,” he said.

From the Archives

Freedom House, April 15, 2004

UN must condemn Cuba for beating of NGO representative

Freedom House.

NEW YORK, APRIL 15, 2004 — The beating by Cuban officials of a member of a nongovernmental organization at the United Nations in Geneva should be considered a criminal act for which the Cuban government must be censured, Freedom House said today.

After the United Nations Commission on Human Rights narrowly passed a resolution today critical of Cuba, members of Cuba’s governmental delegation attacked Frank Calzon, executive director of the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba.

The attack took place inside the United Nations building in Geneva.

Witnesses said a Cuban delegate punched Mr. Calzon, knocking him unconscious. UN guards reportedly protected him from further assault by additional members of the Cuban delegation. The attack occurred shortly after the Commission passed a resolution critical of Cuba’s human rights record.

Calzon directed Freedom House’s Cuba programs for over ten years.

Members of the Cuban delegation have also intimidated and threatened Freedom House representatives at recent meetings of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

“This type of behavior is not just a breach of diplomatic protocol, but is itself a human rights violation,” said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. “A brutal attack inside the very building where the Commission on Human Rights meets only underscores the deep crisis the Commission finds itself in today,” she said.

Countries like Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China, and Zimbabwe, enjoy membership on the Commission. They and other repressive regimes lobby aggressively to prevent passage of condemnatory resolutions.

“The climate of immunity and impunity that today prevails at the Human Rights Commission must end,” said Ms. Windsor. “The United Nations must make it abundantly clear to all delegations that intimidating and physically assaulting anyone on or off UN grounds is unacceptable and punishable, despite Cuba’s claims of diplomatic immunity. The credibility of the Commission and of the UN is on the line,” she said.

The 53-member Commission passed the resolution on Cuba by a vote of 22-21, with 10 abstentions. While critical of Cuba’s treatment of dissidents, the resolution does not call for the release of 75 peaceful reform advocates, jailed by the Cuban government one year ago, some for up to 28 years.

“It appears that the only way to pass a resolution against Cuba was to phrase it in mild and vague language,” said Ms. Windsor. “That a relatively weak resolution passed by only one vote is an additional item of concern.”

A Freedom House delegation recently returned from Geneva, where it presented its annual list of the “Most Repressive Societies” to the Commission on April 2. Five of the fifteen countries are members of the Commission.

The report, titled “The Worst of the Worst: The World’s Most Repressive Societies, 2004,” includes detailed summations of the dire human rights situations in Burma, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. Chechnya, Tibet, and Western Sahara are included as territories under Russian, Chinese, and Moroccan jurisdiction respectively.

The report is excerpted from Freedom House’s annual global survey, Freedom in the World 2004. The countries deemed the most repressive earn some of the worst numerical ratings according to the survey’s methodology.

Significantly, five of the fifteen most repressive governments — those of China, Cuba, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan — are members of the Commission on Human Rights, representing nearly 10 percent of the total membership.

“The influence of this group of states on the Commission’s proceedings highlights the urgent need for the democratic member states of the UN body to finally band together and create a permanent democracy caucus that would work as an effective counter-bloc,” said Ms. Windsor.

©2004 Freedom House, Inc.

The Sydney Morning Herald, June 19, 2007

UN Rights Council drops Belarus, Cuba monitors

The United Nations has dropped independent expert monitors of alleged human rights abuses in Cuba and Belarus, as part of a deal on new rules for the UN Human Rights council, officials said Tuesday.

“There is an agreement on a text which covers completely the institutional arrangements” for the functioning of the council, Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico told journalists.

“It is the beginning of a new era for the United Nations and a new culture in dealing with human rights.”

Negotiations had gone down to the Monday 2200 GMT deadline set by the UN General Assembly. Eleventh hour disputes included conflicts over the rights monitors and a demand by China for an increase in the threshold for passing a country-specific resolution to a two-thirds majority.

Despite being opposed to the dropping of the rights monitors, one diplomat said Monday they were an acceptable “price to pay” for Western countries anxious to see the council’s survival.

As part of the compromise, the 47 nations on the council agreed that current rights monitors “could continue serving, provided they have not exceeded the six’s years term limit,” according to the text.

Under that rule, 10 country rights monitors had their mandates renewed. Only monitors for Belarus and Cuba were not renewed, as they have served over six years.

The experts or “rapporteurs” on human rights, who probe allegations of abuse in particular countries or examine areas of concerns such as torture, are regarded as the eyes and ears of the United Nations’ system of human rights protection.

“Decisions to create, review or discontinue country mandates should also take into account the principles of cooperation and genuine dialogue aimed at strengthening the capacity of member states to comply with their human rights obligations,” said the new rules.

Western countries had strongly opposed China’s demand for two-thirds majority for country-specific resolutions, and according to diplomats Beijing withdrew its demand, instead securing tougher language for action on such resolutions.

“Proposers of a country resolution have the responsibility to secure the broadest possible support for their initiative (preferably 15 members), before action is taken,” read the new rules.

Western countries — who account form only a minority of the council’s members — had vowed to uphold the independence of the rapporteurs, while African, Islamic and other nations had sought to impose further controls.

According to Western diplomats, the new rules will make it virtually impossible to appoint new experts to monitor human rights in specific countries.

However, the new rules call for periodic reviews of all countries, first and foremost the 47 members of the council.

Cuba should therefore be reviewed before its term on the council expires in 2009, which raises the possibility of a new monitor being appointed, said the independent group Human Rights Watch.

In his bid to reach a compromise, De Alba had proposed at the weekend the rule scrapping the monitors for Cuba and Belarus, and warned that trying to reopen debate would scupper chances of reaching a deal.

The move came despite criticisms of both Havana and Minsk from the experts — France’s Christine Chanet and Romania’s Adrian Severin respectively — in their presentations to the council last week.

Severin told the council last Tuesday that the situation of human rights had deteriorated during 2006 in the former Soviet republic ruled by authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko.

He listed a litany of violations including political repression, a government stranglehold on the judiciary and media, excessive use of force by police, disproportionate punishment, reports of torture, and restrictions on religious belief and trade unions.

The special rapporteur for Cuba was equally downbeat in her assessment and even suggested her mandate should be ended because of Havana’s intransigence.

“I have never been able to be in touch with Cuban authorities,” Chanet said, underlining that it was time to take note of the fact that “this mandate is leading to a sort of impasse.”

The council was set up last year to replace the widely discredited Human Rights Commission, which was attacked for being overly partial, political, and inefficient.

The New York Times, March 24, 1987


WASHINGTON TALK; Reagan’s Mighty Effort to Condemn Cuba

By Elaine Sciolino

  • For months, until it was narrowly defeated the other day, what seemed like an obscure, United States-sponsored resolution in the United Nations to condemn Cuba for human rights abuses consumed much of the time and attention of top Reagan Administration officials.

    President Reagan stressed its urgency in personal notes to other heads of state, while his chief delegate to the United Nations, Vernon A. Walters, gave impassioned speeches calling it ”an appeal to the conscience of man.” Ambassadors in 42 capitals called on Foreign Ministry officials, and other Administration officials sent out more than 400 cables urging support.

    On the face of it, the issue was not anything so weighty as the reinterpretation of the Antiballistic Missile treaty or the removal of medium-range missiles from Europe. But Administration officials say the effort represented a high-water mark in cooperation among the White House, the State Department and the National Security Council.

    ”Everybody got on board,” said E. Robert Wallach, a veteran trial lawyer who was chosen to head the United States delegation to the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Commission, the body that debated and ultimately defeated the resolution. ”There was a deep sense of commitment to the cause.”

    Some delegates from other nations hold another view of the effort, which they say was marked by threats and heavy-handed lobbying. ‘Let’s Say, Not Very Diplomatic’

    ”It was an extraordinary effort, something that was never done before,” said a European delegate to the commission. ”The Americans deployed their forces so intensively that it was at times, let’s say, not very diplomatic.”

    The idea of the Administration attacking Cuba at the United Nations is nothing new, and if the Reagan Administration were to compile a list of its foreign policy initiatives, it would not be at the top. But Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the former chief delegate to the United Nations, made Cuba a favorite target in her battle to counter similar attacks from the Soviet bloc and the developing world against United States friends like El Salvador. And her successor, Mr. Walters, a fervent anti-Communist, has kept alive the crusade, comparing the lack of attention to human rights abuses in Cuba with the world’s silence about the first reports of Nazi death camps. Combined with what some Administration officials describe as Mr. Reagan’s ”obsession” with the Communist presence in the Western hemisphere, the issue won wide support in the Administration.

  • The campaign began last December when the United States introduced a resolution critical of Cuba’s human rights record in the regular session of the General Assembly. But the effort was poorly planned and executed, Administration officials admit, and was dropped only two days after the United States promised to pursue the issue in all United Nations forums.

    In February the Administration tried again, introducing a resolution at the annual meeting of the 43-country Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The resolution, expressing ”deep concern” for the killing and torture of political prisoners and the denial of basic freedoms in Cuba, urged the commission to investigate.

    What struck many members of the commission as extraordinary was the amount of energy that went into a nonbinding resolution that would have no practical effect on the course of events. ”It was very difficult to understand why all of a sudden there was all this pressure for this issue this year and never before,” said one Latin American delegate.

    The United States flew 18 Cubans, all former political prisoners, to Geneva to testify, including Armando Valladares, a poet, whose recent book details the 22 years he spent in Cuban prisons. Extensive Portfolios

    In Washington, the State Department prepared extensive portfolios documenting Cuba’s human rights record, and Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams and other officials urged foreign ambassadors to accept Washington’s position. United States ambassadors in crucial capitals were instructed to seek audiences with high-ranking Foreign Ministry officials.

    In the six-week session in Geneva, virtually every breakfast, lunch and dinner was spent lobbying for the resolution. Mr. Walters personally had contact with five Latin American heads of state.

    When Fidel Castro himself began lobbying against the resolution in phone calls from Cuba, Mr. Reagan joined the fray. According to Mr. Wallach, at one particularly tense moment, he sent ”very personalized messages” to President Francois Mitterrand of France and President Abdou Diouf of Senegal pleading for their votes. In the French case, the pressure worked and Mr. Mitterrand voted with the United States; Senegal abstained, which neither helped nor hurt the resolution.

    So intense was the pressure that delegates from the developing world complained that the United States had threatened to halt deliveries of aid, such as wheat shipments, to some developing countries if they did not go along.

    United States delegates also indicated that if they won, Washington might be more willing to pay some of its back dues to the United Nations, these delegates said. ‘Pushed People Into Corners’

    ”The Americans pushed people into corners and twisted arms wherever they could,” said one Western delegate.

    United States officials deny that the pressure on various countries was anything more than vigorous diplomacy.

    On March 13, minutes before the vote, delegates from both Colombia and Venezuela said they were voting against the United States. And the issue lost, by one vote, as the commission decided, 19 to 18, with six abstentions, not to hear the resolution.

    Mr. Walters, vowing to return to the commission next year, said later, ”Obviously we didn’t put enough energy into it this year.”

    A version of this article appears in print on March 24, 1987, Section A, Page 28 of the National edition with the headline: WASHINGTON TALK; Reagan’s Mighty Effort to Condemn Cuba.