If scant Internet postings and newspaper coverage indicate anything, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Dec. 10 — designated each year as Human Rights Day — passed almost unnoticed in the United States.
Cuba staged a workshop attended by 200 people from many countries, looking at “Sixty Years After.” In inaugural remarks contrasting U.S. and Cuban stewardship of human rights, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque cited U.S. torture at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons, the existence of the Guantanamo prison and base, disappearances and murders by former Latin American dictators favored by Washington, and the safe haven given criminal Luis Posada Carriles, who organized the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976 that killed 73 people.
He could have added “extraordinary rendition” — one way the U.S. government transports torture victims — and the case of Jose Padilla. For almost four years the Bush administration denied that U.S. citizen a civilian trial. For him and for over 1,000 Muslims rounded up in the United States soon after Sept. 11, 2001, habeas corpus did not apply.
Perez Roque castigated U.S. handling of the case of “Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, René, and Fernando.” The five Cuban men, subjected to flawed prosecutorial and judicial processes, are serving long prison terms for the supposed crime of monitoring private, Florida-based paramilitary groups carrying out murderous attacks on the Cuban people.
The conduct of their prosecution, trial and sentencing violated Declaration prescriptions on judicial norms. Articles 7 through 11 refer to “equal protection of law,” “effective remedy” through courts to correct abuses, provisions against “arbitrary arrest, detention,” and rights to an “impartial tribunal.” Perez Roque further observed, “Today there is not a single Cuban family crying over a family member disappeared over the last 50 years” or assassinated or tortured.
Taking off on an expanded definition of human rights, elaborated upon in a 1993 world conference on human rights in Vienna, Perez Roque is on sure ground: human rights signify a “people’s right to establish their own economic, political, and social system.”
The Cuban foreign minister declared, “Today no Cuban family laments that their child can’t go to school or that a sick relative can’t exercise their right to receive medical attention.” He took note of “a billion victims of hunger and malnutrition [in the world], more than 800 million who can neither read nor write, and 11 million children under five years old dying this year because of preventable and curable diseases.”
Other commentators have noted that while the amount U.S. families must pay for a public university education has risen greatly in recent years, in Cuba cost-free access to university education has contributed to university attendance by 68 percent of people 18 to 26 years old.
Some commentators have also pointed out that the UDHR itself suffers from individualism, liberalism and judicial formalism, leaving out collective rights such as people’s struggles against poverty, economic, financial and military domination.
atwhit @ roadrunner.com