Battle over human rights at the UN

The following is excerpted from a statement delivered at the 61st session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, March 16, in Geneva, Switzerland. Cuba has repeatedly accused the United States of manipulating the small, weak countries that are members of the commission to secure votes condemning Cuba. Efforts are being made this year to force a vote against alleged U.S. human rights violations at the Guantanamo prison in Cuba, in its prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the U.S. itself.

The Commission on Human Rights has lost legitimacy. We knew that it was being manipulated because the United States government and its allies have used the commission as if it were their private property. In the course of the last year, two events took place that changed the nature of our debate.

The first was the European Union’s refusal to vote in favor of the draft resolution proposing to investigate the human rights violations committed against over 500 prisoners at Guantánamo. The second event was the release of the report by a high-level group set up by the UN secretary-general. It categorically states that, “the commission cannot be credible if it is seen to be maintaining double standards in addressing human rights concerns.”

The guarantee of the enjoyment of human rights today depends on your social class and whether you live in a developed country or not. A small group of nations has already achieved the right to peace, and they are the attackers. Their peace rests on military power. They have achieved economic development from pillaging the wealth of their former colonies. In those developed countries the unemployed, the immigrants and the impoverished do not enjoy the rights guaranteed for the rich.

Can a poor person in the United States be elected senator? Do the children of the rich go to war in Iraq? None of the 1,500 American youths killed in that war was the child of a millionaire. The poor die there defending the vested interests of a minority.

In underdeveloped countries the situation is worse. The countries there have no access to markets, to new technologies; they are handcuffed by a burdensome debt. In those countries, the poor and the indigent do not even have the right to life. Every year we see the death of 11 million young, many of whom could be spared with vaccines or oral rehydration solutions — and also the death of 600,000 poor women at childbirth. They have no right to learn to read and write. It would be dangerous for the owners. They are kept in ignorance to keep them docile.

In Cuba, people strongly believe in freedom, democracy and human rights. It is a people in power. That is the difference. There cannot be democracy without social justice. There is no freedom without education and culture. Ignorance is a cumbersome shackle squeezing the poor. Being cultivated is the only way to be free!

That is what we Cubans learned and for that reason we built a different country. And we are just beginning. We have done so despite the aggressions, blockade, terrorist attacks, lies and plots to assassinate Fidel. We are a dangerous example: we are a symbol that only in a just and friendly society, that is, socialist, can there be enjoyment of all rights for all citizens.

Therefore, the government of the United States attempts to condemn us here at the Commission on Human Rights. It is afraid of our example. It is strong at the military level but weak on the moral front. And morality, not weapons, is the shield of the peoples.

Perhaps this year President Bush will find some Latin American country — of the few docile ones that are left — to present the notorious resolution against Cuba. Everybody in this hall knows that there is no reason to present a resolution against Cuba at this commission. In Cuba, there has never been a single extra-judicial execution or a “disappeared” person. Let anyone here come up with the name of a reporter killed in Cuba — and 20 of them were murdered in Latin America in 2004! Let anyone come up with the name of a prisoner abused by his keepers, a prisoner ordered down on his knees, prey to terror, in front of a dog trained to kill!

President Bush has a plan for Cuba, but we Cubans have a plan of a different sort. We Cubans have a clear idea about our course. And nobody will move us away from it. We will build an even more just, more democratic, more free, and a more cultivated society — in brief, more socialist.

And we will do so although President Bush threatens to return us to colonized Cuba, to oust Cubans from their homes, their land and their schools to turn them over to the former Batista-style owners who would come back from the United States. We will do so despite his plan to privatize health and education and make them accessible only to the elite. We will do so despite the plan to auction off our wealth and the heritage of all the people to U.S. transnational corporations.

We will not cooperate with the Representative of the High Commissioner or with her spurious resolution. Why is she not appointed Representative of the High Commissioner to the Guantánamo Naval Base? Why is she not asked to investigate the flagrant violations of the rights of five courageous Cuban young men imprisoned in the United States? Because it is about the human rights violations committed by the United States and they are untouchable.

The Commission on Human Rights illustrates the unjust and unequal world in which we live. Therefore, the Cuban delegation will not insist that we transform the commission. What we have to change is the world, go to the roots. A Commission on Human Rights without selectivity, politicization, double standards, blackmail, and hypocrisy will only be possible in a different world.

Felipe Pérez Roque is Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.