Sunday, March 2, 2008
Cuba signs on to the UN human rights regime
It took only a few days for Raúl Castro (right) to show the world he’s taking Cuba in a new direction: less than a week after taking office, Cuba met both Cuban and international community demands and signed both the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Fidel Castro had long opposed signing both conventions, stating in 2001 that the ICESCR "could serve as a weapon and a pretext for imperialism to try to divide and fracture the workers, create artificial unions, and decrease their political and social power and influence." Cuba’s foreign minister Felipe Pérez Roque claimed Friday that Cuba had nevertheless guaranteed the rights the agreements are designed to protect from the day Castro took power in 1959. A claim hard to square with the fact that Cuba (flag at left) is still a strictly one-party country that continues to oppose independent trade unions and limits citizens’ travel, while the ICESCR requires, among other things, that countries ensure the right form and join trade unions and the ICCPR guarantees rights to self-determination, peaceful assembly, freedom of religion, privacy, freedom to leave a country and equal protection before the law. The move to sign the documents was apparently prompted by the new Human Rights Council’s dropping Cuba from its list of countries whose rights records warranted investigation. The US opposed this decision, which indeed flies in the face of the “illegal but tolerated” opposition group Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation’s estimate that there are currently 230 political prisoners in Cuba and Amnesty International’s count of 58 prisoners of conscience or more. Human rights activists say there is still a long way to go, but Raúl Castro has recently indicated that he may allow greater freedom of speech. Signing on to the covenants is a move in the right direction.