Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign



  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.


  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.


  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 liberties.

  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 rights.

  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 blockade policy.

  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 of it.

  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.


  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 this manoeuvre.

  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

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