The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) recently reviewed the human rights record of Cuba through its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. UNHRC noted positive advancements in gender equality and access to education. Concerns, however, were raised regarding Cuba’s restrictions on freedom of speech and Internet access. Nonetheless, UN Watch and other organizations questioned the veracity of the UPR findings on Cuba, claiming that Cuba manipulated the review process to conceal the true extent of its human rights violations.
The UPR is a mechanism used by the UNHRC to review the human rights situation of each UN Member State every four years. The UPR Working Group conducts all of the reviews and is composed of the UNHRC’s forty-seven members. The Working Group’s review is based on the following three key documents: (1) a national report prepared by the state under review; (2) a compilation of relevant UN information referencing various human rights treaties, UN bodies, and independent expert reports, and (3) a UN prepared summary of reports by relevant stakeholders such as NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions. These documents serve as the basis for a three-hour interactive dialogue between the state under review and Working Group members. During the dialogue, Working Group members and observer states can pose questions and make recommendations to the state under review. Relevant stakeholders can also attend the dialogue, but cannot pose questions or make recommendations. A proceedings summary is then prepared and submitted to the UNHRC for adoption, a time in which stakeholders are given another opportunity to comment.
This year, Cuba’s UPR process received a total of 454 NGO submissions. In response, UN Watch published a report on May 1, 2013, stating that Cuba interfered with the review process by strategically utilizing hundreds of fraudulent NGOs to “hijack” the UN compilation of NGO information, thereby turning the process “into a propaganda sheet for the Castro . . . regime.” Many of these NGOs are non-existent or allegedly mere pawns of the Cuban regime or its allies. Although the UN report contains reviews from genuine NGOs, these reviews are overshadowed by the large amount of fraudulent submissions. UN Watch compared the submission figures with those of the previous 28 UPRs, and found that Canada had the highest NGO submission rate with only 48 report submissions. As a result of the plethora of submissions, the NGO compilation report largely consisted of positive conclusions regarding Cuba’s human rights record.
Cuba received 292 recommendations during its recent review and approved 230 of them. Amnesty International, UN Watch, and the Jubilee Campaign each spoke out against Cuba during the UNHRC’s adoption hearing. The three organizations expressed concerns regarding Cuba’s violations of religious freedoms, harassment of journalists and human rights activists, and arbitrary detentions. Additionally, a representative from the Jubilee Campaign denounced Cuba’s manipulation of the UPR process, and its continued policy of ideological repression. However, the UNHRC subsequently adopted Cuba’s UPR on September 20, 2013.
UNHRC’s adoption of this questionable report jeopardizes one of the few mechanisms available for redressing human rights violations in Cuba. The UPR process gave the Cuban people an opportunity to express their plight on an international stage. The Cuban government’s actions are likely to have a silencing effect on human rights victims and advocates in the island.