The United Nations General Assembly elected Cuba on Tuesday as a member of the Human Rights Council despite protests by activists and civil society organizations that have denounced multiple human-rights violations committed by the Cuban regime.
Cuba got 170 votes out of 192 valid ballots.
In its candidacy statement, Cuba promised to promote “cultural rights” and highlighted its political system’s “participatory and democratic character.” But in the past two years, the one-party government headed by Miguel Díaz-Canel has intensified repression against dissidents and members of Cuban civil society and has passed several laws to criminalize freedom of expression.
The only legally recognized party in the country is the Communist Party, and dissidents are fined, frequently arrested or imprisoned. The authorities also prevent them from leaving the country.
On Saturday, the Cuban government arbitrarily detained artists, independent journalists and activists who advocated for greater freedom of expression on the island. A video posted on social media shows government sympathizers harassing the award-winning Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, and calling her “bitch” and “mercenary.”
On Tuesday, 85 civil society organizations from Cuba and other countries signed a declaration to criticize the Cuban government’s election to the U.N. human rights entity.
“This not only rewards Cuba’s poor human rights record but also undermines the integrity of the Council to hold abusive governments accountable for their actions in the region and around the world,” wrote the signatories, including Freedom House, People in Need, Pen America and several independent Cuban media.
The organizations recalled that Cuba has refused to ratify several international accords, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
On Twitter, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said that the island was elected with 88 percent of the vote and that “despite the smear campaign, Cuba’s achievements cannot be overshadowed.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the election of Cuba, Russia and China validates the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the council in 2018.
“Prior to making this decision, and after our exit, the United States has urged UN member states to take immediate action to reform the Council before it became irreparable,” Pompeo said. “Unfortunately, those calls went unheeded, and today the UN General Assembly once again elected countries with abhorrent human rights records, including China, Russia, and Cuba.”
Experts and activists believe the election to the Human Rights Council of Cuba and other countries accused of violating their citizens’ rights, such as Russia and China, further diminishes the U.N. body’s credibility. Although the Assembly could simply not vote for these countries, the nomination system by regions and of only a single candidate per seat in practice makes these elections a mere formality. According to Human Rights Watch, the secret vote also hides the traffic of favors among nations.
Candidates need a majority of 97 votes to get elected.
“The existence of a candidacy without competition of the Cuban dictatorship is not only an outrage against the Cuban people but also a shame on the governments that sit in the United Nations,” said Cuban activist Rosa María Payá at an event organized by Human Rights Watch last week. The activist has advocated before the United Nations for an independent investigation into her father’s death, the dissident Oswaldo Payá.
“Solidarity is crucial now because Cuba is in crisis,” said Payá. “Families are experiencing a deep humanitarian crisis and political repression, a crisis caused by the existence of a corrupt and criminal regime and aggravated by COVID-19.”
Despite stating that it has cooperated on human rights, the island’s government has rejected the visit of multiple U.N. experts. Cuban representatives have voted against resolutions in support of victims in Iran, Syria, North Korea and Belarus. And Cuba is the main regional ally of Nicolás Maduro, whom an independent commission by the Human Rights Council found personally responsible for having committed “crimes against humanity” in Venezuela.
Venezuela is also a member of the Council.
This is a developing story. It will be updated.