Tuesday, June 19, 2018

On human rights and wrongs in Switzerland and Nicaragua

Reflections on the US leaving the UN Human Rights Council and the continuing bloodshed in Nicaragua today.



The decision of the United States to leave the United Nations Human Rights Council today is a mistake. This is not to say that the United Nations Human Rights Council is not a flawed instrument made more ineffective by the dictatorships that sit on the international human rights body. This is not to say that UN bureaucrats have not behaved poorly and are deserving of criticism and at times ridicule, but the answer is not disengage and leave the UN Human Rights Council to all these bad actors but challenge them and present a principled alternative.

The first time the United States withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland was in 2006 and they did not return until 2009, but few remember it. So do the bad actors vying for a seat on the Council.

Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and China are currently on the UN Human Rights Council despite their horrid human rights records. North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Nicaragua have also been member of this human rights body and will be again. They will be able to further leverage their influence on a Council without the United States. It will be a tougher going for victims of repression world wide.


Speaking of victims of repression, while many focused on events in Geneva and in Washington, DC, in Central America a bloody and increasingly dangerous human rights crisis continued to unfold.

In Nicaragua since April 18, 2018 over 200 people have been killed for political reasons. It happened again today in the town of Masaya. The town was once a bastion of support for Ortega and his Sandinista rebels when they overthrew the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979, but today it has become a center of resistance to the Ortega regime.

Human rights have been in retreat worldwide for the past twelve years and things are getting worse in many quarters. The United States leaving the UN Human Rights Council does not help to change these trends and only encourages the worse actors to further cripple what was once an august human rights body.



Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Dictatorships of North Korea and Cuba: A Reflection

There is a need for moral clarity when confronting totalitarians


The spectacle in North Korea was distasteful. When the President of the United States shakes hands with a mass murderer and engages in moral equivalence the cause of liberty suffers from the lack of clarity.

Detente is a false peace that morally compromises democracies.

Nevertheless, one must recall that the current Administration returned North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2017.

On January 6, 2016 North Korea announced that it had detonated a hydrogen bomb. This wasn't supposed to happen. North Korea had been cheating on a deal it had made over 20 years earlier and brazenly announced nearly a decade earlier on October 9, 2006 that it had conducted its first underground nuclear test.

How did the United States respond? In October of 2008, the Bush Administration took North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism in the hopes that it would “salvage a fragile nuclear deal” by appeasing the totalitarian regime. George W. Bush was doubling down on the policy set by Bill Clinton. This approach continued to be a failure and on  May 25, 2009 North Korea conducted a second underground test with an explosion that was the equivalent to U.S. bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945.  North Korea had also tested a long-range missile in April of 2009.  In 2013, North Korea conducted a third nuclear test claiming to have miniaturized the bomb in order to place it on a long range missile with ability to reach the U.S. mainland.

On October 18, 1994 President Bill Clinton announced to great fanfare that his administration had achieved a long term objective for the United States in an agreement with North Korea: "an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula."

It is the same claim made by President Donald Trump in 2018 following his meeting with the North Korean tyrant. Only time will tell if President Trump's claims today will ring as hollow as President Clinton's claims in 1994.

Boneheaded political calculations are a bipartisan affair.

There is now a debate over Trump in North Korea and Obama in Cuba, but no one seems to be talking about the relationship between the Cuban dictatorship and the North Korean dictatorship.

The Cuban government was caught red handed on July 15, 2013 providing technology that could aid North Korea's efforts to develop a delivery vehicle to drop their nuclear weapons on the United States mainland.  This was confirmed by a March 6, 2014 report by a panel of experts for the United Nations Security Council that reported:
 6. In addition, various parts for three SA-2 and six SA-3 missiles were in the cargo, such as the nose cones housing proximity fuses, auto-pilots and transponders, transmitter antennas and some actuators (figure 4). 4 __________________ 4 The Panel notes that some of the SA-2 and SA-3 parts could also meet the criteria defined in the list of items, materials, equipment, goods and technology related to ballistic missile programmes (S/2012/947), whose export and import by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are prohibited. See in particular the Category II, Item 9 of S/2012/947 covering “instrumentation, navigation and direction finding”
Back in 2010, the late Fidel Castro reappeared in public warning of a possible nuclear conflict between the United States and Iran. Left out in the media coverage surrounding the story were the two times, once in 1962 and a second time in the early 1980s, when Fidel Castro lobbied the Soviet Union to launch a nuclear first strike on the United States. The Castro brothers arming their North Korean allies by smuggling tons of weapons in violation of international sanctions speaks volumes about both their agendas.

Meanwhile North Koreans suffer some of the worse human rights violations on Earth, and demand that it be a topic on the bilateral agenda between the United States and North Korea.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Amnesty International: Environmental activist sentenced to one-year in prison for contempt.

Cuban environmental activist and prisoner of conscience.


URGENT ACTION
Environmental activist imprisoned


By Amnesty International, Caribbean Team
     Americas Regional Office, International Secretariat


Dr Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, an environmental activist, was sentenced in Cuba to one-year imprisonment for contempt. He is a prisoner of conscience and must be released unconditionally and immediately.
Ariel Ruiz Urquiola is a doctor in biological sciences who previously worked as a researcher at the University of Havana. In 2015, he bought a house in the Sierra del Infierno area, in Viñales’ National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Pinar del Río province, western Cuba. After acquiring the right to farm the state land surrounding his house, in 2016 he started an environmental project with his family and friends to preserve local species and to develop sustainable agricultural projects.

On the morning of the 3 May 2018, two forest rangers (a national body in charge of the protection of “forest, wildlife and hunting”) visited Ariel’s land. According to witnesses who spoke with Amnesty International, they asked whether he had the corresponding permits for the construction of a fence around the land, for cutting trees, and for owning a chainsaw. Ariel invited them to come with him to the house to check the permits. On the way, Ariel asked the rangers to show him their identification and after one of them refused to do so, he referred to them as “rural police”. That term was interpreted by the officials as “rural guards” which has a negative connotation in Cuba since it refers to officials from the Batista dictatorship. The rangers left the area and later in the evening three police officers came with a warrant, arrested and took Ariel to the nearby police Station in Viñales.

Based on the judicial documents that Amnesty International was able to review, Ariel was charged with contempt – or disrespecting the rangers - and sentenced on 8 May to one-year imprisonment (the maximum sentence under article 144.1 of the Criminal Code) by the Municipal Court of Viñales .

The decision was confirmed on appeal by the Popular Provincial Court of Pinar del Río on 22 May. According to the family, Ariel’s lawyer only had access to the case file and to Ariel on the same day of the trial. He was first imprisoned at the Provincial Prison of Pinar del Río and on 11 June, the family was informed that he was transferred to the nearby Correctional Cayo Largo. His sister, Omara Urquiola, informed Amnesty International that prison officials threatened her to stop speaking with the international press or they would suspend Ariel’s visits and communication with his family. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola has a history of publicly criticizing Cuban authorities in relation to environmental issues.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

  • Urging the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ariel Ruiz Urquiola as he is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression;
  • Urging them to ensure that, pending his release, he is not ill-treated, intimidated or threatened; and that he is granted regular access to family and lawyers of his choosing;
  • Calling on them to guarantee the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association including for critical voices and to repeal all legislation which unduly limits these rights.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 20 July 2018 TO:
President of the Republic
Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez
Presidente de la República de Cuba
La Habana, Cuba
Fax: +41 22 758 9431 (Cuba Office in Geneva); +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)
Email: cuba_onu@cubamission.com (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Your Excellency

Attorney General
Dr. Darío Delgado Cura
Fiscal General de la República
Fiscalía General de la República
Avenida 1ra, Nº 1801 e/ 18 y 20. Reparto Miramar, Municipio Playa
La Habana, CP 11 300, Cuba
Email: relaciones@fgr.cu
Twitter: @FGR_Cuba
Salutation: Dear Attorney General

And solidarity copies to:

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola
Correccional Cayo Largo
Municipio Consolación del Sur
Provincia de Pinar del Río, Cuba
Email: omaraurquiola509@gmail.com

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola has a long history of environmental activism, but according to his family, does not identify as a political opponent of the government. In 2008, during his participation in an international seminar in Mexico as researcher of the University of Havana, he publicly expressed criticism against the alleged illegal fishing of sea turtles in Cuba. In 2009, the University’s authorities suspended his work on sea turtles. Between 2010 and 2013, he continued his work at the University of Havana but switched his research to the study of fauna in the Sierra de los Órganos’ area in the Pinar del Río province. After disagreement with management, he was first downgraded in his position and salary, and in 2016, he was dismissed from the University after alleging repeated absences. Following his dismissal, Ariel publicly criticized the decision saying his dismissal was “an abuse of power.” The dismissal was confirmed by the Municipal Popular Court of Old Havana in a judgement in 2016.

Cuban legislation provides that the state is the owner of most of the land in Cuba. However, usufruct rights on unused state-lands can be acquired by individuals giving them some right to use it for specific reasons provided under the law. In 2016, Ariel Ruiz Urquiola secured such rights over the land in the area surrounding the house that he bought in 2015.

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola’s family believe that authorities have deliberately imprisoned him as reprisal for his environmental activism and as a strategy to deprive him of the state-owned land on which he runs his environmental project. Under national legislation, a user of state-owned land loses the right to use it after being absent from the land, meaning if Ariel is imprisoned for a year he stands to lose the right to cultivate the land.

Amnesty International opposes laws prohibiting insult or disrespect of heads of state or public figures, the military or other public institutions or flags or symbols (such as lèse majesté and desacato laws). Amnesty International also opposes laws criminalizing defamation, whether of public figures or private individuals, which should be treated as a matter for civil litigation.

The offence of “desacato” (contempt) (article 144.1 of Cuba’s Criminal Code) is an undue restriction on the right to freedom of expression, as public officials should tolerate more criticism than private individuals. The use of defamation laws with the purpose or effect of inhibiting legitimate criticism of government or public officials violates the right to freedom of expression.

Name: Doctor Ariel Ruiz Urquiola
Gender m/f: male

UA: 109/18 Index: AMR 25/8541/2018 Issue Date: 11 June 2018




















Sunday, June 10, 2018

Health attacks in Cuba and China against U.S. diplomats: The mystery deepens and number of victims rise

More attacks in Cuba and similar attacks now in China

 
A State Department official told CBS News on June 8, 2018 that two more individuals from the U.S. embassy in Havana were undergoing medical evaluation, and that they could be suffering from the same type of injuries that affected 24 diplomats and family members between late 2016 and August of 2017. Equally disturbing reports have emerged in June of 2018 that U.S. diplomats in Beijing, China have suffered the same injuries along with unusual sounds.

This blog has been following this story since it went public on August 2017. Furthermore that 19 American tourists visiting Cuba were also impacted. All these signs surrounding what has occurred and the harm done is troubling.

Answers are still needed.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas posthumously honored with the Truman Reagan Medal of Freedom

Remembering the courage of those who resist. 


Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas: February 29, 1952 – July 22, 2012

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in posthumously honoring Oswaldo Payá with the Truman Reagan Medal of Freedom is bearing witness, continuing the demand for justice, and demonstrating solidarity with Cubans seeking to live in freedom.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was murdered together with Harold Cepero on July 22, 2012 by a regime that feared his civic and nonviolent message that spoke truth to power and endangered their plans for a fraudulent transition that is now underway that seeks to entrench another generation of the Castro dynasty in absolute power in Cuba. 


Rosa Maria Payá and Ofelia Acevedo accept the Medal of Freedom
Yesterday Oswaldo's daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, and widow Ofelia Acevedo received the Medal of Freedom on his behalf. The ceremony began with presentations by Lee Edwards and Marion Smith of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Rosa Maria continues her father's work in the Cuba Decide initiative.
Lee Edwards and Marion Smith of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation
Today, his successor in the Christian Liberation Movement, Eduardo Cardet is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and has been jailed since November 30, 2016. 

Past recipients of the award include: H.E. Mart Laar, Hon. Natan Sharansky, Chen Guangcheng, Hon. Lech Wałęsa, Pope John Paul II, H.E. Václav Havel, Wei Jingsheng, Elena Bonner,  and Lane Kirkland.

Below is an excerpt from the ceremony.