Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque took the occasion of World Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, to announce that early next year Cuba will sign the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and a similar treaty on civil and political rights. The day marked the 59th anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Perez Roque told reporters that Cuba was acting only because last year the United Nations ended its Commission on Human Rights, which Cuba had viewed as a venue for the U.S. government to stage a yearly “inquisitorial tribunal” to persecute countries opting out of imperial domination. Cuba is pleased, he asserted, to work with the commission’s successor, the UN Council on Human Rights, to which Cuba was elected earlier this year by a two-thirds vote.

The Cuban foreign minister insisted that “Cuba never has and never will act through imposed pressures,” but rather in response to considerations of “our national sovereignty and the right of the Cuban people to self-determination.”

In fact, Cuba’s commitment to the deepening of human rights is long-standing, according to Perez Roque, and will be exercised wholeheartedly within the UN context as long as Cuba is not unjustly singled out for special political conditions. As token of a new spirit of cooperation, he cited the recent visit to Cuba by the UN rapporteur on the right of food adequacy and Cuba’s intention to provide data and to cooperate with a UN human rights review scheduled for Cuba in 2009.

Perez Roque took the occasion to demand an end to the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba, a halt to torture at its Guantanamo naval base in Cuba, U.S. departure from Guantanamo, either a trial for terrorist Luis Posada or his extradition, as requested, to Venezuela, and, lastly, freedom for five unjustly imprisoned Cuban men — and until then, visiting rights for two of their wives, denied for nine years.

The foreign minister noted that the 300-member Cuban medical brigade in Nicaragua recently received that nation’s National Human Rights Prize. He observed that 37,000 Cuban health professionals, 18,000 of them physicians, are working in 79 countries, that almost 1 million people from 32 nations have received sight-restoring eye operations from Cuban health workers, that 32,000 students from 121 countries, almost all from poor families, are studying in Cuba, and that 23,000 of them are preparing to be medical doctors.

He added that 35,000 African students have graduated from Cuban educational centers and that almost 3 million people in 22 countries have gained literacy skills recently through Cuban methods.

Also on Human Rights Day, Susan McDade, representative in Cuba of the UN Development Program, congratulated the Cuban people on their respect for human rights. She particularly recognized the universal availability of health care in Cuba and equal access to education at all levels. In addition, she cited Cuba’s commitment to adequate nutrition for its entire population.