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Cuba must answer questions about human rights before the UN

Organizations of independent Cuban civil society denounced to the United Nations that between 2013 and 2017, 36,254 arbitrary detentions of dissidents and human rights activists took place. The Cuban government, however, alleges that the "blockade" of the United States and the US naval base at Guantánamo are the main obstacles to the improvement of human rights on the island.

It is a well-known script that will be executed again on Wednesday, when Cuba submits to the Universal Periodic Review of the situation of human rights on the island, before the Human Rights Council of the United Nations – Council of which Cuba is a member until 2019, together with countries such as Venezuela, China and Saudi Arabia.

However, this year there have been signs that the session might not be more of the same.

Cuba will have to respond to strong questions about human rights, as indicated by questions sent in advance by some countries.

"Will Cuba allow the development of the role of independent political parties, including for them to register legally and participate? in future elections? "is one of the questions that the representative of the United Kingdom will ask. Switzerland wants to know if the government has any evidence of the participation of candidates in the last elections that were not linked to an officially recognized institution on the island. Belgium wants to inquire about political prisoners on the island and Sweden for the right of Cubans to travel freely.

The report on Cuba prepared by the working group of the Human Rights Council that will be discussed on Wednesday also includes a series of criticisms and recommendations made to the Cuban government during the four years to be examined.

The report notes that the Committee against Forced Disappearance "regretted that Cuba had not established an independent national human rights institution in accordance with the principles relating to the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (Paris Principles) ) ".

The document criticizes some criminal and legal procedures in Cuba; the recruitment of minors by the Armed Forces; recommends Cuba guarantee the separation of powers and expresses the concern of the Office of the High Commissioner for "the short-term deprivation of liberty of political opponents, human rights activists and members of civil society organizations".

According to the report, UNESCO encouraged Cuba to "promote a more pluralistic and independent media environment …, enact a freedom of information law in accordance with international standards, and decriminalize defamation" .

In addition, the Commission's working group urges Cuba to sign several international legal instruments that it has so far refused to sign or ratify, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Human Rights. Civil and Political, the Protocol of 2014 concerning the Convention on Forced Labor and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, among others.

"Everything that was pointed out to Cuba in 2013, all that remains: the harassment of the opponents, the Ladies in White can no longer go to the mass in [la iglesia de] Santa Rita as they did before "said Gabriel C. Salva, director of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL), at an event held in Geneva on Tuesday, along with representatives of Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and Cubadecide.

"The Cuban political and legal system is intrinsically a violation of human rights," Salva said.

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In an unusual gesture, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights denounced in Geneva that Cuban authorities have blocked at least 14 human rights defenders from leaving the country this year and that he feared could do it again to prevent the participation of activists in activities related to the periodic review on human rights.

The documents presented for this examination by the Cuban government and Cuban civil organizations linked to the State, on the one hand, and on the other, by independent civil society organizations inside and outside Cuba, show a diametrically different view of the panorama of human rights on the island.

In its report, Cuba highlights actions taken to guarantee the right to education, health, culture and the rights of children, women and the elderly, as well as its international collaboration programs. It also ensures that promotes "the areas of participation for the people to exercise all individual freedoms and political rights."

But several organizations of independent civil society in Cuba -among them, Cubalex, the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, the Patriotic Union of Cuba and the Forum for Rights and Freedoms-, as well as other international NGOs questioned the The government's version denounced that it "continued to repress dissent and made reference to numerous acts of violence, intimidation and harassment committed by the authorities against human rights defenders, journalists, political and civil society activists and their families," a compilation of all communications received about Cuba for the periodic review.

The government countered and said in its report that the only obstacles "that prevent further promotion and protection of human rights in Cuba" are the US embargo, the naval base in Guantánamo, "the political-media campaigns against Cuba, that they distort or lie about the reality of the country "and the existence of an internal opposition, which is referred to as" agents for the subversion and destruction of the Cuban constitutional order ", supposedly recruited and financed by the United States.

Preparations for the review, which takes place every four years, demonstrate the diplomatic muscle Cuba has in the United Nations system and internationally. Hundreds of "solidarity committees" with Cuba in other countries sent reports to support the Cuban government. The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Abelardo Moreno, noted that representatives of a "record" number of 147 countries registered to speak during the session that should last three and a half hours, which would imply that the interventions, critical or not , "should be circumscribed to a maximum of 50 seconds," he wrote on Twitter.

The exercise, however, does not have major repercussions for the member countries, because each country decides what recommendations it accepts or not, and the future evaluation is based on those recommendations that the government decided to "back up", according to the jargon used in the ONU.

In the evaluation carried out in 2013, Cuba "took note" but did not accept the recommendations made by European countries, the United States and Canada to make legislative changes or take concrete measures to guarantee fundamental freedoms and free access to the Internet. Instead, the government accepted recommendations from allied governments such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Iran, Russia and North Korea as well as countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, to which Cuba has provided cooperation in areas such as health and education. .

Among the recommendations that Cuba accepted, is North Korea's suggestion to "promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among the peoples of the world."

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres


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