CubaBrief: Vote next week at the UN to extend Cuba’s membership on the UN Human Rights Council for three more years.

Rogues gallery of despots from China, Cuba, and Russia running for the UN Human Rights Council.

Cuba, a dictatorship now holding over 1,000 political prisoners after 64 years in power, seeks another term on the United Nations Human Rights Council that will extend its existing tenure for another three years ( 2024 to 2026).

The vote is scheduled to take place next week on October 10th in New York City at the United Nations General Assembly.  Cuban allies and human rights violators Russia and China are also running for spots on the Council.

Havana is aggressively lobbying for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

There is competition in the Latin American group, with the communist dictatorship of Cuba running against the democracies of Brazil, Dominican Republic and Peru for three available seats. This was not the case last time. In October 2020 the Castro regime was elected unopposed to the UN Human Rights Council in a process where there were only three candidates for three spots. 

Placing the Castro regime on the United Nations Human Rights Council is the equivalent of placing Jack the Ripper on the committee to end knife violence in London. Like Jack the Ripper, the Castro regime murders innocents and with its membership on the UN Human Rights Council “consistently obstructs the body’s human rights mechanisms when it seeks answers.”

“Regrettably,” says Hillel Neuer of UN Watch, “the EU has not said a word about hypocritical candidacies that only undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the UN human rights system. By turning a blind eye as human rights violators easily join and subvert the council, leading democracies will be complicit in the world body’s moral decline.”

This is why we are circulating a petition to expel Cuba from the UN Human Rights Council, and ask you to reach out to your elected representatives for them to reach out to their Foreign Ministry or its equivalent in their country to ask them to vote for the three democracies running for seats on the Council, and not the dictatorship that systematically violated human rights at home, abroad, and backs Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine.

Below is Rosa María Payá Acevedo’s statement on October 9, 2020 at UN Watch’s press conference about the then upcoming UN Human Rights Council elections. This presentation remains relevant today.

The Hill, September 27, 2023

Cuba, Nicaragua can no longer whitewash their religious freedom violations

by Teo Babun, Opinion Contributor – 09/27/23

For authoritarian states around the globe, the United Nations has sadly long served as a place where they can whitewash or deflect the world’s attention from their human rights abuses.

We see this in the cases of Cuba and Nicaragua, whose dictators have worked assiduously to manipulate the UN system to their advantage. This is especially so true of Cuba, which currently sits on the UN Human Rights Council.

Cuba’s diplomatic corps at the UN not only frequently engages in underhanded and even juvenile tactics to deflect or block attention from its regime’s abuses, but its also consistently obstructs the body’s human rights mechanisms when it seeks answers.

For example, in recent years, Cuba has responded to official UN communications sent by independent human rights experts by rejecting all allegations and obfuscating the issues. In addition, Cuba refused to allow the previous UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, to visit the country to assess religious freedom conditions, despite numerous requests to do so by the mandate-holder.

Last week, during the 54th session of the Human Rights Council, my organization, Outreach Aid to the Americas, the UK-based freedom of religion advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide, hosted an event highlighting the experiences of two prominent victims of these authoritarian dictatorships.

Félix Maradiaga, a Nicaraguan opposition leader and former presidential candidate, and Enrique de Jesús Fundora, a Cuban pastor, shared their harrowing testimonies of the ongoing and severe abuses perpetrated by Cuba’s Communist Party and the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua against the faith community.

Maradiaga was jailed in 2021 along with six other presidential candidates for the supposed crime of challenging Ortega at the ballot box. Félix spent 20 months in the notorious El Chipote prison, where he was often prevented from being visited by his family and was denied access to a Bible. (He is a devout Catholic.) Félix was one of 222 Nicaraguan political prisoners freed in February and, like others, was stripped of his citizenship and property, and forcibly exiled to the U.S.

In Cuba, evangelical Pastor Fundora spoke out in support of those imprisoned unjustly, including many faith leaders, for participating in the historic mass protests of July 11, 2021. He and his church provided material support to families of the prisoners and for these acts, Cuban officials gave him and his family one week to leave Cuba or face imprisonment for “sedition and criminal incitement.”

The testimonies of Félix and Pastor Fundora are supported by the facts. Numerous studies demonstrate that Cubans either have been targeted or know someone who has been targeted because of their faith or religious activities. In our 2022 survey of Cuban leaders of diverse religions, an overwhelming majority said they suffer acts of state repression monthly or even weekly, that the government limits religious freedom rights in violation of constitutional guarantees, and that the state prevents churches from carrying out social services.

In the case of Nicaragua, civil rights lawyer and researcher Martha Patricia Molina has documented 529 attacks on the Catholic Church in the last five years. These attacks include imprisoning and forcibly exiling clergy, shutting down and confiscating the assets of churches and religious educational institutions and charities, and prohibiting Catholics from holding or participating in popular religious festivals and events such as processions. 

Ortega continues his attacks on the Catholic Church, last month declaring the Jesuit order illegal and confiscating the Jesuit-run University of Central America, just as he has done with other private schools and universities.

In Geneva, Felix Maradiaga said, “What is happening in Nicaragua is unprecedented. We saw it before in the Soviet Union, in North Korea, and in Cuba.  The international community must act with all the weight it can muster to stop what is happening in Nicaragua.”

This is not hyperbole. Last year, the U.S. Department of State designated Cuba and Nicaragua as “countries of particular concern” for “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” This was the first time the two countries received this designation.

Last month, the president of the University of Notre Dame, Rev. John Jenkins, said that “Ortega’s attempt to extinguish Catholicism in Nicaragua merits world condemnation on a much larger and louder scale.” The same must continue to be said about the Cuban dictatorship’s cruel repression of religious leaders and communities. Thanks to their courageous advocacy at the UN, Félix Maradiaga and Pastor Fundora did much to advance this objective.

Now it is up to the rest of us to take action to hold these dictatorships accountable. The U.S., the European community, and neighboring states in Latin America should continue to loudly denounce the Cuban and Nicaraguan dictators for their flagrant abuses. We have seen even left-wing leaders such as Chilean President Gabriel Boric do so; this is highly welcome.

In addition, those responsible for perpetrating abuses should be subject to continued targeted sanctions and they and their families should be cut off from taking advantage of travel and educational opportunities in the U.S. and Europe, as they have brazenly done.

Maradiaga, Fundora, and others like them who are taking their stories to the world, at risk of reprisals to themselves and their families, have stepped up to the plate. Are we going to back them up?

Dr. Teo A. Babun is president and CEO of Outreach Aid to the Americas.

UN Watch, September 15, 2023

Report: China, Russia, Cuba Running for Seats on U.N. Human Rights Council

NEW YORK, September 15, 2023 – Ahead of the UN General Assembly annual opening next week, activists are urging the world body to oppose Russia, China, Cuba, Burundi and Kuwait in upcoming elections to the 47-nation Human Rights Council, deeming them “unqualified” due to their human rights records as well as their voting records on UN resolutions concerning human rights.

Abuses by those candidates are detailed in a new joint NGO report published today by UN Watch, Human Rights Foundation and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, independent non-governmental human rights organizations based in Switzerland, the U.S. and Canada.

“Electing the dictatorships of China, Russia and Cuba as UN judges on human rights is like making a gang of arsonists into the fire brigade,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, an independent non-governmental human rights group based in Geneva.

“It will be slap in the face to their thousands of political prisoners, and to millions of their other citizens subjected to repression, if the UN makes gross abusers into global judges and guardians of human rights,” said Neuer.

“When the UN’s highest human rights body becomes a case of the foxes guarding the henhouse, the world’s victims suffer.”

Because there is no competition in the Asian and African regional groups, with each fielding four candidates for four available seats, China, Burundi and Kuwait are almost guaranteed to win, despite their poor records on human rights.

Fortunately, there is competition in the Latin American group, with police state Cuba vying against Brazil, Dominican Republic and Peru for three available seats, and in the East European group, where Russia is competing with Albania and Bulgaria for two open seats.

“We need to hear the US and EU member states lead the call to oppose the worst abusers. So far, at least in the public arena, they have been silent.”

The report also listed Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Malawi and Peru as having “questionable” credentials, due to problematic human rights and UN voting records that should be improved.

Currently, more than two-thirds of UNHRC members are non-democracies, including Qatar, Sudan, Eritrea, Algeria, Somalia, Vietnam, Pakistan and Kazakhstan.

Call to Reform Election System

UN Watch is proposing a major reform to the election system. “If our own democracies continue to disregard the election criteria by voting for abusers,” said Neuer, “then we should just scrap elections altogether, and make every country a member, as is the case in the General Assembly’s own human rights committee. Non-democracies could no longer hold up their UNHRC election as a shield of international legitimacy to cover up the abuses of their regime.”

“Regrettably,” said Neuer, “the EU has not said a word about hypocritical candidacies that only undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the UN human rights system. By turning a blind eye as human rights violators easily join and subvert the council, leading democracies will be complicit in the world body’s moral decline.”

Click for Report

The Hill, September 13, 2023

Cuba, holding 1,000 political prisoners, wants to be on the UN Human Rights Council

by Arturo McFields, Opinion Contributor

Cuba, a dictatorship holding 1,000 political prisoners after 64 years in power, has announced its candidacy to join the UN Human Rights Council for the period of 2024 to 2026.

The Human Rights Council election will take place in October. Among the candidates are multiple countries that trample on democracy and disregard basic civil rights — Cuba, China, Russia and Côte d’Ivoire are among them.

The Cuban regime has been repressing, imprisoning and exiling its own people for 64 years. According to the Cuban Human Rights Observatory, in 2022, 5,499 attacks by the regime upon activists and dissidents were documented.

The dictatorships of Cuba and Nicaragua are leading one of the most vicious attacks on religious freedom in the Americas. Both regimes launched more than 1,400 attacks on preachers and parishioners last year. The goal is to strangle the prophetic voice of the church.

But it is a measure of this regime’s failure that it has to harass people of faith in this manner, and to confine so many political prisoners, more than six decades after it promised a workers’ paradise.

Prisoners Defenders, a human rights organization based in Spain, reports that the Cuban regime practices prison torture, including deprivation of medical attention, forced labor, solitary confinement, intentional disorientation and sleep disturbance, among other atrocities.

Cuba gets rid of independent activists by repressing and even killing them. It subjects human rights defenders to violence, harassment, surveillance, attempts upon their lives and — as in the cases of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero — murder.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights identified serious and sufficient evidence to conclude that state agents participated in the 2012 death of Payá and Cepero in a car crash. What happened to the victims was framed in the context of persecution and state repression that exists on the island.

Cuba is also one of the few countries in the world that implements capital punishment as a legally established standard of punishment. The regime even renewed this legal provision in its Penal Code approved in 2022.

Cuba’s dictatorship also practices a form of slavery. Its medical brigades began in 1963. The Cuban Ministry of Health has said that the medical brigades have served in 165 countries with more than 605,698 “collaborators.” Many of the doctors do not know where they are going, and the government confiscates up to 80 percent of their earnings. In 2019, the United Nations also ruled on the forced labor of this and other “volunteer brigades” in Cuba, addressing abundant historical and current complaints about this form of modern slavery.

As for the doctors’ good works, they only begin to offset all the violence and death that the Cuban regime has exported, particularly in Latin America and Africa, in the form of ideologues, military trainers, intelligence agents and “solidarity guerrillas.”

Cuba is a warlike regime. The allegations of Cuban mercenaries fighting for Russia in Ukraine are nothing new. Since its beginning, the Cuban dictatorship has sent military troops to countries such as Angola, Ethiopia, NicaraguaGrenada and many more. In those days, the regime did not hide behind a narrative about “human trafficking,” but openly exported violence in the name of “solidarity.”

The people also pay a huge price domestically. Finding a medical specialist in Cuba is nearly impossible. All or almost all qualified doctors have gone to other countries. During the pandemic, Mexico disbursed $6 million for “volunteer” doctors sent by the Marxist dictatorship.

The U.S. government has included the Cuban government on the blacklist of countries that do not meet the minimum standards to respond to human trafficking.

Organizations such as Human Rights Watch highlight that Cuba continues to repress and punish virtually all forms of dissent and public criticism, as Cubans endure a dire economic crisis affecting their rights. The regime responded with brutal, systematic repression and censorship when thousands of citizens took to the streets to protest in July 2021.

The Cuban dictatorship has been one of the main threats to democracy in Latin America and to the security of the U.S. Since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, following the Russian spy base established in Lourdes, the Bejucal facility, and finally with the 2019 chapter involving Chinese espionage, Havana’s regime has continued to open its doors to America’s most dangerous geopolitical adversaries.

The Castro-Diaz-Canel regime is the largest jailer of political prisoners on the continent. It executes prisoners, implements the dead penalty, bans free speech, promotes modern slavery and attacks religious freedom. It also maintains alliances with Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela.

Cuba’s list of human rights violations and crimes are as old as the regime. Despite this, the dictatorship seeks a seat on the UN Human Rights Council to silence the truth and change the global narrative.

Cuba is not a victim, but a victimizer — a repressive hand, responsible for countless crimes and the unjust imprisonment of more than 1,000 political prisoners who want justice and freedom.

Arturo McFields Yescas is an exiled journalist, former Nicaraguan ambassador to the OAS and former member of the Norwegian Peace Corps.

Miami Herald, July 1, 2023

Implicated in Payá’s death, Cuba should be ousted from U.N. Human Rights Council | Opinion

By Angelita Baeyens

July 1, 2023 at 7:31 PM

The Cuban regime finally is being held responsible for the murder of Oswaldo Payá, one of the country’s most prominent political dissidents and pro-democracy activists.

This long-awaited development comes more than a decade after Payá and fellow activist Harold Cepero were killed in a car crash. Payá’s family and supporters always believed the regime was behind it, but the government went to great lengths to establish a convenient — and false — narrative that their deaths resulted from negligent driving by Spanish youth activist Angel Carromero.

But an independent finding by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asserts the direct involvement of state agents in the crash.

The IACHR found “serious and sufficient evidence … to conclude that state agents participated in the death” of Payá and Cepero, and that both men were subjected to violence, harassment, threats and attempts on their lives before they died.

The Payá family knows what we — an international human-rights organization litigating the case before the IACHR — and so many others also know: Payá’s death is an example of how far the Cuban regime is willing to go to stifle dissent and any attempt to open the doors to a more democratic, pluralistic country.

And yet, on the international level, the Cuban regime continues to enjoy an outsized influence, especially where its record is particularly abysmal: human rights. Cuba has been a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council for five consecutive three-year terms. And for those 15 years, Cuba has consistently voted against resolutions addressing the serious, systemic abuses in countries, including Nicaragua, Eritrea, Iran, Syria and Venezuela, and against resolutions to strengthen commitments ensuring civic space for individuals and groups around the world.

Further, Cuba has refused to cooperate with key U.N. Special Procedures, most notably Special Rapporteurs on torture, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and of association, and on the situation of human rights defenders. All these mandate-holders have yet to be allowed to visit Cuba despite repeated official requests to do so for years.

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