Cuba Signs Two Treaties on Rights
Cuba Signs Two Treaties on Rights
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
Published: March 1, 2008
HAVANA — Just days after Raúl Castro took office as president of Cuba,
its Communist government signed two important international human rights
treaties that Fidel Castro had long opposed, another sign the new
administration may be willing to set a new course.
It remains to be seen whether the government will live up to the accords
and what the signing of the two pacts will mean for political prisoners
on the island. The foreign minister, Felipe Pérez Roque, said after a
signing ceremony in New York on Thursday that the government still had
reservations about some provisions.
Elizardo Sánchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and
National Reconciliation, a nongovernmental group, said the signing was
"positive news because the signing of these pacts is an old demand from
inside Cuba and from the international community."
"I hope Cuba honors the letter and spirit of the law of these pacts, but
I am not sure it will," Mr. Sánchez told The Associated Press.
In a statement published here on Friday, Mr. Pérez Roque maintained that
the Cuban government had always upheld the rights outlined in the two
international agreements, since the moment Fidel Castro seized power in
1959 and then established a one-party totalitarian state.
"This signing formalizes and reaffirms the rights protected by each
agreement, which my country has systematically been upholding since the
triumph of the revolution," he said.
One of the pacts, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, guarantees
"civil and political freedom," including the right to
self-determination, peaceful assembly, freedom of religion, privacy,
freedom to leave a country, and equal protection before the law. Cuba
severely restricts the travel of its citizens, bans any political
parties other than the Communist Party and prohibits independent
Mr. Sánchez's rights group estimates there are at least 230 political
prisoners in Cuba's network of 200 jails and detention centers. Amnesty
International has said there are at least 58 "prisoners of conscience"
on the island, making Cuba one of the most repressive governments in the
world regarding free speech.
The other pact signed Thursday, the International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights, requires countries to ensure the right to
work, fair wages, freedom to form and join trade unions, social
security, education and the highest attainable standard of physical and
In 2001, Fidel Castro criticized that covenant, saying it "could serve
as a weapon and a pretext for imperialism to try to divide and fracture
the workers, create artificial unions, and decrease their political and
social power and influence."
Mr. Pérez Roque said Cuba had not dropped its opposition to independent
labor unions. He said the country was signing the covenants now because
the old United Nations Human Rights Commission had been replaced by a
new Human Rights Council in 2006. The new council dropped Cuba last year
from the list of countries whose rights records warranted investigation,
a move the United States opposed.
The Cuban foreign minister accused the United States of having used the
old commission for "brutal pressure and blackmail" against Cuba.
While human rights advocates say it is premature to tell whether Raúl
Castro will liberate political prisoners, there have been some small
signs that the new president favors greater freedom of speech.
Raúl Castro, Fidel's younger brother, has openly encouraged more debate
and criticism in society. Some free-speech advocates took it as a good
sign that the government held back in punishing a group of students who
sharply questioned the president of the National Assembly recently over
the travel ban.
Though human rights advocates welcomed the prisoners' release, most said
Cuba had a long way to go before people could speak their minds freely.