Memorandum from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign
FCO HUMAN RIGHTS ANNUAL REPORT AND UK POLICY
1. Cuba Solidarity Campaign is grateful
to the Foreign Affairs Committee for the opportunity of being
able to make this representation which we hope will be the first
of many such interchanges between the Committee and the CSC on
the issue of UK policy towards Cuba. CSC would further welcome
the opportunity to provide expert witnesses to provide oral evidence
when the sessions are arranged.
2. CSC is a voluntary organisation of individuals
and affiliated organisations. CSC has more than 3,000 individual
members throughout the UK and some 600 affiliated organisations.
CSC has the affiliation at national level of 29 trade unions including
some of the largest donors to the Labour Party, including UNISON,
the GMB and the Transport and General Workers' Union.
3. All CSC members are of the opinion that
the United States' policy of economic blockade against Cuba is
legally and morally wrong and should be ceased immediately and
unconditionally. CSC defends the Cuban people's right to self-determination
and Cuba's right to sovereignty.
4. To this end CSC also takes issue with
the current UK and EU policy of "constructive engagement"
as encapsulated in the so-called Common Position. By making increased
economic and political relations with Cuba conditional on the
Cuban government making changes to its political system, CSC believes
the policy to be an infringement of the island's sovereignty.
In addition, CSC believes the policy to be mistaken. CSC fails
to see that the policy is in either Europe's or the UK's own interests.
Furthermore, CSC believes the policy actually is failing to achieve
its stated aim of furthering the cause of political or civil rights
in Cuba. In this context, the EU and the UK's support each year
for a resolution condemning Cuba's human rights record at the
Geneva UN Commission on Human Rights merits particular scrutiny.
This memorandum concentrates on this aspect of the current UK/EU
policy towards Cuba. However, CSC would reserve the opportunity
to put other arguments either in writing or orally regarding the
Common Position at another date.
US POLICY IS
5. In 1999, our members raised a petition
of 25,000 signatures calling for an end to the US blockade of
Cuba and for the UK government to do more to help bring this about.
It is perhaps indicative of the extent to which the issue of the
US Blockade of Cuba has now reached opinion formers in British
society, that last year, a ballot of the National Union of Journalists
produced a 2:1 vote in favour of affiliation to CSC.
6. Journalists have a way of encapsulating
sometimes complex and arcane arguments in short, pithy headlines
and sound bites. In reporting on the vote in favour of affiliation
at the NUJ annual conference in 2000, the NUJ magazine The Journalist
summed up the debate with the headline: Freedom of speech? Free
Cuba first, says NUJ.
7. This headline refers to the fact that
the majority of delegates of the Union recognised that while there
are undeniable limits to the freedom of speech and expression
in Cuba, these must be understood in the context of the economic
blockade policy adopted by the United States. They accepted that
any improvements on the question of civil liberties in Cuba cannot
take place unless and until the US removes its threat to the island.
8. The US policy is now universally rejected.
It was condemned by the UK along with 167 other countries at the
2000 UN General Assembly. It has also been condemned by respected
Human Rights NGOs. Human Rights Watch, in its report on Cuba published
in 2000, says the US policy is now "counterproductive"
in bringing about improvements in human rights on the island and
makes the following recommendation:
8.1 To the United States Government
The US government should terminate the economic
embargo on Cuba. The embargo is not a calibrated policy intended
to produce human rights reforms, but a sledgehammer approach aimed
at nothing short of overthrowing the government. While failing
at its central objective, the embargo's indiscriminate nature
has hurt the population as a whole [. . .]. The embargo's restrictions
on the free exchange of ideas through travel violate human rights
[. . .]. The U.S. should repeal those provisions of the Helms-Burton
law that restrict the rights to free expression and the freedom
to travel between the US and Cuba, in violation of Article 19
of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
9. CSC is of the opinion that the US blockade
policy is not only a violation of US citizens' rights but is also
a denial of the fundamental right to life of the Cuban people
as laid down in the Universal Declaration and the Cuban nation's
right to development as laid down in the Convention of that name.
US ABUSE OF
10. However, despite repeated and overwhelming
condemnations of the policy in those terms by the UN General Assembly,
the United States continues to charge Cuba with violations of
human rights and seeks to justify its continued embargo in those
terms. Thus the United States seeks every year to bring a resolution
to the UN Commission on Human Rights condemning Cuba. Since 1998,
when the resolution was lost for the only time in the last 12
years, the US has refrained from tabling the resolution itself,
preferring instead to leave the task to friendly surrogates, most
notably Poland and the Czech Republic.
11. CSC lobbied HM Government prior to the
57th Commission on Human Rights meeting in Geneva in April urging
that the Government consider carefully the consequences of supporting
a Czech resolution condemning Cuba's record on political and civil
12. In the event, as the FCO's Human Rights
Annual Report shows, the UK once again voted in favour of the
resolution. At a meeting on October 29 at the FCO with Baroness
Amos, the Minister in charge of Cuban relations, a CSC delegation
was told that at the 58th HRC next April, the UK will once again
look favourably on another resolution condemning Cuba if "it
is worded reasonably".
13. CSC is aware that the United States
is once again seeking sponsors and support for another resolution
condemning Cuba for alleged violations of civil and political
14. This year, despite using all kinds of
blackmail and threats towards countries of the Third World represented
at the UN Human Rights Commission, the US could only garner 22
votes out of 53 for its resolution attacking the Cuban government.
20 countries voted against the resolution with 10 abstentions.
15. The resolution was passed by a majority
of only two votes with 10 abstentions. In 2000, the majority was
three with 14 abstentions and in 1999, a similar resolution only
passed by one vote with 12 abstentions.
16. What these votes show is that these
resolutions are by no means universally supported by the Commission.
There are many member states that have misgivings about them.
Indeed, if one adds the number of abstentions to the number of
votes against it is evident that a clear majority of the member
states are unwilling to support them.
17. This is a matter of serious concern,
not only to Cuba but the United Nations itself. The voting illustrates
that the issue of Cuba's human rights record is highly politicised.
18. CSC is of the opinion that the resolution
is ill-intentioned. It is not in fact genuinely aimed at bringing
about an improvement in the Cuban people's human rights, but is
aimed merely at creating an international pretext in order for
the US to continue to justify its coercive and illegal economic
19. CSC does not deny that the Government
may have reasons for concern about human rights issues in Cuba.
CSC does not regard Cuba as a paragon of virtue. However, CSC
does not accept that this resolution is the correct way to go
about promoting human rights in Cuba. This is because the treatment
of Cuba in this way is singular and disproportionate and as such
does nothing more than arouse indignation on the part of the Cuban
government, making it less rather than more likely that it will
co-operate with the UK or any other of the resolution's supporters.
20. While the UNCHR passes a number of resolutions
each year expressing concern about the situation of human rights
in different countries around the world, Cuba is unique in the
fact that every year since 1990 a resolution has been brought
against it in this way. It is unique in the fact that this resolution
has always had its origins in the US.
21. Furthermore, there are countries which
have appreciably far worse situations of concern within their
borders that have never been subject to this annual vilification.
Let us give two examples of close allies of the UK: Singapore
and The United Arab Emirates.
22. Singapore is similar to Cuba in that
it has had one party in government since 1959. While it has an
electoral system it is effectively a one party state. There are
extremely severe restrictions on the right to dissent, freedom
of expression and association. However, Singapore is a far more
repressive state than Cuba. For example, there are limits on the
freedom of belief which does not occur in Cuba. In 2000, according
to Amnesty International, 32 Jehovah's Witnesses were jailed there.
Unlike Cuba, public caning, including of minors as young as 14
years of age, is used as a common punishment.
23. In The United Arab Emirates, there is
no elected parliament at all. They are ruled by Sheikhs who inherit
their office. Execution and floggings are commonly administered.
The death penalty is inappropriately applied to many crimes including,
for example, the illegal dumping of toxic waste. The United Arab
Emirates has not ratified a single UNCHR convention.
24. The CSC could have chosen at least a
dozen more examples of countries with records on human rights
far worse than Cuba's who have not been subject to an annual resolution
at the UNCHR.
25. This is why CSC believes that the resolution
on Cuba is singularly discriminatory and should not be supported.
26. This year, it was widely known at the
Commission that the Czech resolution had been in fact written
at the United States' Department and that in the prelude to the
vote, considerable pressure had been brought to bear on a number
of countries by the U.S. Secretary of State and indeed personally
by the President himself in order that they should vote in favour
27. The result was that an unsuitable and
disproportionate resolution passed again.
28. If once again next year, Cuba is subjected
to this singular treatment, there is considerable concern that
the institution of the UNCHR will become seriously devalued.
29. What is apparent is that this organisation,
the only inter-governmental institution dedicated to the improvement
of human rights world-wide, is being cynically manipulated by
the United States in order to attack Cuba.
30. This is a matter which has obviously
little to do with alleged human rights abuses. In truth, the United
States justifies its illegal policy of economic blockade against
Cuba by reference to alleged abuses of human rights there. It
therefore has an interest in ensuring that the island is singled
out for attack in international fora such as the UNCHR.
A THREAT TO
31. What is of serious concern is that this
is now presenting a real danger of destroying the UNCHR's credibility
because so many countries are willing to tolerate and even support
32. Another draft resolution against Cuba
next year is likely to unleash another upsurge of indignation,
particularly among those countries of the so-called Third World
who sympathise with the Caribbean island and are among those who
voted last year against the resolution.
33. Respected Human Rights organisations
such as Amnesty International have voiced their criticisms about
this and other examples of bias in the proceedings of the UNCHR.
Alan Hogarth of Amnesty International in a letter to CSC prior
the vote this year for example agrees that the Cuba resolution
is a bad idea:
". . . current proposals for a CHR resolution
are widely perceived as a US-driven initiative. A resolution that
is perceived as coloured by a bilateral relationship may not be
the best means to further the protection of human rights in Cuba."
The fear is that polarisation will produce a
poisoned atmosphere that will severely undermine the spirit of
co-operation necessary for the Commission to do its work. Should
such a development occur, then the cause of human rights will
be set back around the globe.
34. Despite protestations to the contrary,
Cuba is not a country that refuses to participate constructively
in the international arena. Cuba takes the work of the UNCHR extremely
seriously. In June 1999, the island welcomed Mrs Radhika Coomaraswamy,
the CHR rapporteur on Violence Against Women on a visit. In September
of the same year the CHR rapporteur on the use of mercenaries,
Mr Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, also visited the island. In addition,
the Cuban government has co-operated with all inquiries that have
been made through the CHR concerning human rights violations in
the island and has complied with all its commitments to the Commission.
35. It has been said that Cuba "refuses
to respect the machinery" of the UNCHR. This is a false accusation.
Cuba has only refused to abide by previous resolutions passed
against it which are obviously biased and the work of the United
States. In all other matters it co-operates and participates fully.
It has been said that Cuba has refused to allow rapporteurs to
visit the island. This is true when they have been called for
under the contested resolutions. When that resolution fell in
1998, Cuba immediately allowed in the two rapporteurs mentioned
above. Thus, the experience of this resolution is that when it
fails, Cuba responds positively. This is why CSC urges the UK
government to reconsider its position. By supporting another anti-Cuba
resolution at the next UNCHR, the UK will only make it less likely
that Cuba will co-operate.
36. A way must be found out of this vicious
circle and the only way is to reverse this policy of supporting
this US instigated measure.
37. CSC believes Her Majesty's Government
is mistaken in voting against Cuba at the UNCHR. These resolutions
are not in the interests of furthering human rights in Cuba, but
merely in the intersts of justifying the US illegal and immoral
blockade of the island. The resolutions are clearly a discriminatory
and disproportionate treatment of Cuba and as such they represent
a retrograde policy which only exacerbates the question they purport
to address. In addition, these resolutions amount to an abuse
of the UNCHR itself and are therefore undermining its stature.
Unless this treatment of the UNCHR ceases there is a danger that
is work will be impaired.
Cuba Solidarity Campaign
27 November 2001