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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review


5 February 2009 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record

· The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Cuba this afternoon, during which 60 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

· This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Bangladesh, following the review of the country on Tuesday, 3 February.

· Presenting the national report of Cuba was MARíA ESTHER REUS GONZÁLEZ, Minister of Justice of Cuba, who noted that the UPR of Cuba coincided with the 50th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban revolution, which made it possible to eradicate the structural injustices inherited from the colonial and neo-colonial period of domination which the country suffered from until 1959. The Cuban political system was the expression of the will of its people. The Cuban Constitution adopted in 1976 was the supreme law of the State and established the political, economic and social foundations of the State and its Government. The National Assembly of the People’s Power was the supreme body of State power and represented and expressed the sovereign will of all the people and was the only body having constituent and legislative authority. All Cuban citizens had the right to run for election to the National Assembly, which had representatives from all social sectors.

The situation of human rights in Cuba was not limited just to the Constitution; there were additional laws which afforded basic human rights in the country, the Minister stated. Cuba was a secular State which respected and guaranteed religious freedom without discrimination; there were some 400 religions and religious institutions in existence in the country. Freedom of expression and the media were respected as well. The social nature of the media provided the conditions for the enjoyment of rights. Considerable progress had been made on matters of gender equality; women represented some 46% of the work force and 66% of the technical and professional workers in the civil State sector. Cuba had made significant advancements in achieving economic, social and cultural rights. Education was universally accessible and free of charge at all teaching levels. Cuba had one teacher for every 30 inhabitants. The right to culture was available to all, as was the right to work, as enshrined in the Constitution. At the end of 2008 unemployment was at 1.6%. Moreover, child maternal health programmes were being developed.

Cuba also shared the benefits of its own achievements with other peoples throughout the world. From 1963 to 2008 Cuban cooperation abroad had included the participation of more than 341,000 civilian volunteers in 154 countries. At present almost 51,000 Cuban professionals and technicians were providing their services in 96 countries and more than 38,000 health professionals, for example were saving lives in 74 countries. The “Operation Miracle” programme helped to restore sight to more than 1.3 million people in 33 countries and the “Yes I Can” project has supported the teaching of more that 3.6 million people in 26 countries to read and write.

The Cuban prison system, which was constantly being improved, was based on the principle of permanent human improvement. All inmates were provided with free medical attention on equal footing with the rest of the population. It was also noted that Cuba was a State party to 41 international human rights instruments. In February 2008, Cuba signed both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Cuba was also proceeding to ratify the Convention on enforced or involuntary disappearances. The Special Rapporteur on the right to food visited the country and the Government has accepted a visit of the Special Rapporteur on torture.

The elimination in 2007 of the anti-Cuban mandate imposed by the United States, allowed for a qualitative deepening of the country’s traditional cooperation policy on the subject of human rights. The genocidal economic, commercial and financial blockade, aggressions and terrorist acts and the permanent anti-Cuban hostile policy of successive US administrations constituted the most serious obstacles facing Cuba to realize their human rights. Cuba was continuing to extend its revolutionary transformation with a goal of building a society that was ever more just, free, independent, equitable, democratic, solid and participative.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included Cuba’s overseas development assistance efforts; the advancements made in the health and education sector; progress made in achieving the Millennium Development Goals; the strides in eradicating illiteracy; the “Yes I Can” initiative aimed at reducing illiteracy and the “Operation Miracle” project; the signing of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; advancements made in the area of social protection, in general; progress in towards achieving gender equality; and the de facto moratorium on the death penalty.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related, among other things, the time frame for ratification of the ICCPR and the ICESCR; legal safeguards to ensure protection of human rights defenders; the provision of human rights education in the school system; the intention of the State to abolish the death penalty; the intention of the State to extend a standing invitation to United Nations Special Procedures; information on the programme to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS; plans to strengthen the independent of the judiciary; and plans to address the issue of sexual exploitation of women and girls. A large number of delegations made comments about the effects of the US embargo on Cuba, which was in place for nearly 50 years, and its impact on the realization of human rights in Cuba.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. The majority of delegations encouraged Cuba to share, with the support of the United Nations, its international development cooperation experiences, especially with regard to health; to share experiences with regard to health, in general; to share its experiences and good practices in the promotion and protection of the right to education; and to share experiences and good practices aimed at eradicating illiteracy.

Several delegations also encouraged Cuba to continue its efforts to guarantee the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights towards achieving the MDGs; to share experiences in achieving the MDGs; to pay particular attention to enhancing the right to food despite the global economic and food crisis; to adopt a general legal framework on the right to food; and to implement the recommendation of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food based on his visit to the country.

Other recommendations included: To consider acceding to the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court; to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; to ratify the International Convention on economic, social and cultural rights; and to abolish the death penalty; to extend a standing invitation to the United Nations Special Procedures; to give importance to human rights training for government officials at all levels; to give access to its prisons by independent organizations like the ICRC; to establish a recurrent system of review of its prisons by the United Nations or other relevant international observers; to ensure the right to equality before the courts and tribunals, and to a fair trial; and to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

Additionally, recommendations included: To enhance human rights education through public awareness campaigns; to lift restrictions on rights on the freedom of expression and show greater tolerance for Cubans to express opposing views peacefully; to release all remaining political prisoners and to reintegrate them into the community; to guarantee that independent journalists, human rights defenders and political dissidents had the possibility to exercise their basic freedoms without the risk of harassment, intimidation or persecution; and to refrain to using such laws such as dangerousness, enemy propaganda and contempt for authority to restrict the rights of freedom of expression and association.

Additionally, States recommended that Cuba continue programmes aimed at ensuring the human rights of disabled persons; continue programmes for the rights of the elderly; consider ratifying the Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and All Members of Their Families; address the root causes of prostitution by adopting measures enhancing women’s economic opportunities; to continue its best practices on gender equality and women’s empowerment at all levels; take the necessary measures to combat sexual exploitation by adopting legislation providing legal protection for victims of such acts, especially children; and strengthen national capacities to assist victims of domestic violence.

Another group of recommendations were: To continue efforts aimed at ensuring respect for freedom of conscience and belief for all Cubans; to protect and protect cultural rights; to continue its policy of tolerance and respect towards all religions without any distinction; to promote the active participation of civil society in the follow up to the UPR; to develop and implement an inter-agency mechanism with participation of civil society; to create a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles; to continue its commitment to support initiatives in favour of the right of peoples to self-determination, as well as in its consistent support for all efforts aiming at putting an end to all types of foreign occupation; and to share experiences and best practices in preparedness to prevent and mitigate the impacts of hurricanes and other natural disasters.

· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were the Russian Federation, Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Nicaragua, Bolivia, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, China, South Africa, Malaysia, Qatar, India, Jordan, Pakistan, Canada, France, the Philippines, Chile, Switzerland, Bahrain, Mexico, Azerbaijan, Djibouti, Bangladesh, Slovakia, Italy, the Netherlands and Ukraine.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Israel, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Venezuela, Bhutan, Iran, Libya, Sri Lanka, Panama, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Jamaica, Belarus, Serbia, Yemen, Vietnam, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Uzbekistan, Austria, Syria, Palestine, Sudan, Senegal, Honduras, Thailand, Côte d’Ivoire and the Czech Republic.

· The 20-person delegation of Cuba consisted of representatives the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Office of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the Ministry of Informatics and Communications, the University of Havana, the National Center for Sexual Education and the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the UN Office at Geneva and other International Organizations in Switzerland.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Cuba are Gabon, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Uruguay.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Cuba can be found here.

· Adoption of report on Bangladesh: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Bangladesh are Argentina, Egypt and the Philippines. Introducing the report ALBERT DUMONT (Argentina), after making slight oral amendments to the draft report, thanked the State under review for its very constructive cooperation and genuine approach to the UPR process. Representing the State under review, DEBAPRIYA BHATTACHARYA, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations Office at Geneva, recalling the remarks made by the Minister on Tuesday, said the Government of Bangladesh would duly consider all the recommendations made during the interactive discussion. Bangladesh had approached the UPR process in a forthcoming and professional manner. The resources at the disposal of the country would be used to the benefit of the people of Bangladesh toward realizing their rights.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Cuba on Monday, 9 February.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Saudi Arabia after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of the Russian Federation.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx. To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp.

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