Cuba Dealt Diplomatic Defeat at the UN Human Rights Council

The Cuban missions to the United Nations in New York and Geneva are among the largest and their work, mostly carried on by intelligence officers fronting as diplomats, is very active and effective. But sabotaging the UPR pre-session on Cuba unmasked the regime’s true face in the most flagrant of ways. Untold hours and millions of dollars of hard work by Cuba’s influence and propaganda apparatus were undone in 90 minutes by the regime’s own hand.


By Maria C. Werlau l April 16, 2018

U.S. Ambassador to United Nations Nikki Haley

GENEVA-Although Cuba is one of 47 Member States serving on the United Nations Human Rights Council, Cuban diplomats on Friday, April 13th were conspicuously absent as the Cuban government was strongly condemned for its treatment of human rights defenders and, particularly, for preventing two activists from traveling to Geneva to speak at the pre-session to Cuba’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

Diplomats representing 12 missions to the United Nations in Geneva (Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States) took to the floor to denounce Cuba’s arbitrary decision denying freedom of travel.

Delegates of 30 countries and many members of international NGOs witnessed a highly unusual diplomatic defeat of the Cuban dictatorship. Germany’s representative was especially poignant in stating it was time for the international community to stop paying lip service to protect human rights defenders in Cuba and do something about it.

Mona M’Bikay, the Executive Director of UPR-Info.org who moderated the session, opened the forum by explaining that the empty chairs (three out of the five expected speakers) clearly represented the arbitrary nature of the Cuban government’s action.

State delegations rely greatly on the pre-sessions to assess the human rights situation on the ground and prepare questions and recommendations for the state being reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In the history of UPR pre-sessions, only three other states, Bahrain, Sudan, and South Sudan have prevented scheduled speakers to travel. The organizers, who have coordinated over 163 of these forums, indicated that they had never witnessed such a strong condemnation of any state in a UPR pre-session.

As Executive Director of Cuba Archive, I read my statement (in Spanish). Juan Antonio Madrazo, of the Committee for Racial Integration, had prepared and followed with his own presentation in English on the Cuban state’s violations of the right-to-life. Dora Mesa, of the Cuban Association for Childhood Education, was also absent and her statement was unavailable. Juan Antonio Fornaris, of the Asociación de Libertad de Prensa, a selected speaker at the Pre-session, had not confirmed his attendance. Alejandro González Raga, of the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights based in Madrid, delivered his statement as planned.

Mr. Gonzalez and I entertained questions from the official delegates on several aspects of the human rights situation of Cuba. Among other things, I explained that this travel restriction was significant only because such an important audience was learning about this oppressive practice and that it was being divulged at the UN.

Regrettably, the silencing and reprisals that Cuban human rights defenders endure is standard fare for the totalitarian regime. In fact, it is a lesser form of reprisal given the killing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, by authorities for attempting to flee the country. Then there are the laws that restrict movement within Cuba, as well as for citizens to enter or leave their own country, in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Aside from the representatives of missions who spoke, officials from the following missions were also present: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Estonia, European Union, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Malta, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Slovakia, and Switzerland.

For human rights advocates on Cuba to have such an important hearing with unanimous solidarity from world democracies is almost unheard of at the United Nations, where Cuba has devoted huge resources for decades and cultivated great influence through all sorts of mechanisms.

The Cuban missions to the United Nations in New York and Geneva are among the largest and their work, mostly carried on by intelligence officers fronting as diplomats, is very active and effective. But sabotaging the UPR pre-session on Cuba unmasked the regime’s true face in the most flagrant of ways. Untold hours and millions of dollars of hard work by Cuba’s influence and propaganda apparatus were undone in 90 minutes by the regime’s own hand.


Maria Werlau, founder and Executive Director of the non-profit project Cuba Archive, is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the online-conservative-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.

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