Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Cuban Regime's International Impact on Human Rights: Syria

“Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres”. ["Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are."] - Spanish proverb

Bashar al-Assad and Raul Castro

Update: On February 5, 2012 ALBA Countries reiterated rejection of "foreign interference" in Syria's internal affairs, expressing support for President Bashar al-Assad and confidence that he would resolve the Syrian crisis. ALBA Countries include Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. Meanwhile in Syria President al-Assad has been engaged in massacres throughout the country to put down a predominantly nonviolent opposition.

On Tuesday, August 23, 2011 the Cuban government along with China, Russia and Ecuador voted against investigating gross and systematic human rights violations in Syria. Those who follow the human rights council closely would not be surprised by the behavior of the Castro regime.

The dictatorship in Cuba engages domestically in the systematic violation of human rights of the Cuban people. Over the past few months the regime has returned to the practice of beating nonviolent women peacefully attending mass and silently marching to demand that their imprisoned husbands, political prisoners be released. Internationally the regime collaborates and is allied with the worse human rights violators in seeking to subvert international human rights standards and with their position on the United Nations Human Rights Council have assisted China, Sri Lanka and other countries in avoiding accountability for gross and systematic violations in addition to attempting to make a mockery of the institution itself and in at least one case physically assaulting a human rights defender after the regime lost a vote that criticized its human rights practices.

Thankfully, yesterday the Cuban regime’s machinery and their allies lost a key vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Cuban diplomat, Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez, gave an impassioned presentation (video above in English - but also available in Spanish) saying that the available information was partial and politicized and blamed the United States and Israel as having a strategic objective to do away with the regime in Syria, and called for a special session on the "barbaric acts" of NATO in Libya. Making no mention of the massacres committed by the Cuban dictatorship's close ally Muammar Qaddafi. The diplomat for the dictatorship also brought up the issues of torture in Guantanamo and spoke of double standards. He concluded that the government and people of Syria should resolve the problems themselves and keep the international community out of it and rejected all calls to investigate the situation on the ground. His presentation was a mixture of outright fabrication combined with half-truths to avoid dealing with the substantive issues of what is taking place in Syria which was the subject of the special session held in Geneva. At the last special session human rights experts were to conduct a fact finding mission to Syria to assess the situation. It was the Syrian regime that blocked their visit.

Ms. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council is from South Africa and she has an extensive background as a human rights defender who battled the racist South African apartheid regime. She spoke at the start of the special session on Monday,August 22, 2011 (video of her statement is embedded above) her statement is reproduced, in part, below:
Allow me to recall that the Human Rights Council in its sixteenth Special Session on 29 April 2011 requested that I dispatch a fact-finding mission to Syria to investigate all alleged violations of human rights law and report on the situation of human rights in Syria to the Council during its eighteenth regular session in September. This report was released on 18 August, as you may have seen. In a closed session on the same day, I also briefed the members of the Security Council on the findings of our report and urged them to consider referring the current situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. The situation remains under consideration by the Security Council. I wish to begin today by highlighting the Mission’s key findings.
OHCHR fact-finding mission found a pattern of widespread or systematic human rights violations by Syrian security and military forces, including murder, enforced disappearances, torture, deprivation of liberty, and persecution. Although the report covered the period of 15 March to 15 July 2011, there are indications that the pattern of violations continues to this day. It is our assessment that the scale and nature of these acts may amount to crimes against humanity.

It is regrettable that the Government of Syria did not give access to the Mission, despite my repeated requests. Nonetheless, the Mission gathered credible, corroborated, and consistent accounts of violations from victims and witnesses, including military defectors, and Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.
The Mission concluded that while demonstrations have been largely peaceful, the military and security forces have resorted to an apparent “shoot-to-kill” policy. Snipers on rooftops have targeted protesters, bystanders who were trying to help the wounded, and ambulances. The Mission also documented incidents of summary execution outside the context of the demonstrations, and during house-to-house searches and in hospitals. Victims and witnesses reported widespread attempts to cover up killings by the security forces, including through the use of mass graves.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights went on to report that "over 2200 people have been killed since mass protests began in mid-March" and that the fact finding mission had also found that: "Torture and ill-treatment were found to have been widespread. Former detainees cited cases of death in custody, including that of children, as a result of torture."

Hafez al-Assad and Fidel Castro

Now the regime in Syria, like that of Cuba's, has been in power for a long time and one family has transferred power when the founding dictator became incapacitated. The father of the current dictator in Syria, Hafez al-Assad, ruled from 1971 until his death in 2000. He is credited with having carried out the bloodiest crackdown in the Middle East in modern times in 1982 when he put down an uprising in the city of Hama surrounding it with regular military troops and attacked killing between 10,000 and 25,000 Syrians. Since 2000, Bashar al-Assad took over his father's dictatorship and is currently engaged in a crackdown on a predominantly nonviolent movement in which over 2,200 people have been killed as of today.

Fidel Castro visited Syria on more than one occasion and endorsed both generations dictators with warm praise. One of the Syrian regime's propaganda sites contains pictures of Fidel Castro with Bashar al-Assad with the location and date reported as Damascus, Syria on May 16, 2001. The following text describes the encounter between the two men when Bashar had just recently assumed power following his father's death on June 10, 2000:
Cuban President Fidel Castro and his accompanying delegation visited al-Assad library and laid a wreath at late president Hafez Assad's statue.In a statement to reporters, Castro described the late President as was one of the bravest men in the world. "The Syrians, Arabs, and the world freedom-loving people would never forget President Hafez Assad. The late Assad tops all in firmness, pride, and dignity; he never surrendered in all his life. Assad, indeed, knew how to raise his cause up to the top of glory and how to build for Syria her glory.’’ President Fidel Castro of Cuba said of the late president."In President Bashar Assad, I have seen all success, an identical image of his late father in features, morals, sense of responsibility. President Bashar definitely enjoys the full support of the Syrians and would achieve the sublime status realized by his late father,’’ President Fidel Castro of Cuba said of president Bashar Assad.

Hafez al-Assad and Fidel Castro in Havana on February 9, 1979

Relations between the dictatorship in Cuba and Syria have been close throughout the rule of both the father and son with both Castro brothers. They have paid visits to each others countries over the years and maintained close diplomatic ties and relations. Bashar al-Assad visited Raul Castro in Cuba on June 28, 2010 and on the second day of his visit visited a biotechnology and genetics center in Cuba.

Raul Castro and Bashar al-Assad

Beyond the obvious desire to assist in crushing the popular aspirations of the Syrian people to avoid the Cuban people getting any ideas that they can actually free themselves of the Castro brothers dictatorship there also appears to be an international strategic dimension that will have an impact throughout the hemisphere in the future. It appears that the Castro brothers have a strategic interest in maintaining the al-Assad dictatorship and are willing to assist in the cover up of mass killing of nonviolent demonstrators by their Syrian allies.

Bashar al-Assad and Fidel Castro, Damascus May 16, 2001

There are also common links to Lukashenko in Belarus and a close relationship established with a key ally of the dictatorship in Cuba and that is with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The first country visited by al-Assad on his June 2010 visit through Latin America was Venezuela and the second was Cuba.

Bashar al-Assad and Hugo Chavez

The trouble that Syria's dictator faces is that the international environment is changing and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International are demanding that they be held accountable because there is "a growing body of crimes against humanity, the Human Rights Council should support a move which would demonstrate to Syria’s leaders that the international community intends to hold those who have committed such crimes individually criminally responsible for them. This is particularly crucial given the Syrian authorities’ ongoing failure to bring an end to such crimes in response to the international community’s repeated expressions of concern. "

Bashar al-Assad lays wreath at tomb of Jose Marti in Cuba

This is also a problem for the Castro brothers on two levels. On one level they also have a track record of having had and continuing to commit serious human rights violations including extrajudicial killings and could also find themselves before an international tribunal having to answer for their actions. Secondly, the loss of Syria is the loss of a staunch ally of the dictatorship. Add to that their public defense of mass murder in Syria and Libya the odds are that if new governments replace them they will not be as keen to develop strong relations with a regime that supported repression against the peoples of those respective countries.

Bashar al-Assad and Raul Castro during June 2010 visit to Cuba

It is a good sign for the international human rights movement that the regime in Cuba and their international allies are losing more votes at the UN Human Rights Council and that systematic human rights violators are being called to account. The vote at the council for a commission of inquiry on the events in Syria was 33 votes in favor, 9 abstentions and 4 against (China, Cuba, Russian Federation, and Ecuador).

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful to see the leaders of these two great nations together, resisting imperialism and its lies together.