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Cuba and Its Brutal Crackdown on Democracy Activists

Kim R. Holmes, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs
Testimony Before the House Committee on International Relations
Washington, DC
April 16, 2003

I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on Cuba and its brutal crackdown on democracy activists. This is a timely issue and one that my office is seized with, given that the Cuban government began this wave of arrests even as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights was opening in Geneva. It is especially timely in that the Commission opened discussions today on a resolution on Cuba.

Cuba's arrests of more than 100 democracy activists, journalists, and economists, the closed summary proceedings used to convict over 75 of them, and the excessive sentences are an outrage. Cuba's actions rightly deserve the rebuke they are receiving in America and around the world.

As you are aware, the arrests followed searches of activists' homes that sometimes lasted up to ten hours. They began after a government radio broadcast attacking the head of our Interests Section and the outreach efforts of our diplomats in Cuba.

These actions are an affront to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that, "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression." They also are an affront to Article 9, which states that, "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile." Cuba, it must be remembered, was one of the nations voting in the United Nations General Assembly to adopt the Declaration in 1948.

In contrast, the Castro regime has already formally rejected a visit by the Personal Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as called for in last year's Commission on Human Rights resolution.

All of these distressing reminders of the regime's lack of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are meant to deal a blow against the democratic opposition. While they may slow the march of freedom in Cuba, they will never quell the Cuban people's desire for liberty nor impede its ultimate arrival.

The United States does not hesitate to speak out against Cuba's suppression of human rights. We issued a strong statement on March 19 expressing our outrage over the arrests and calling for the immediate release of those detained. The White House issued a strong statement of condemnation on March 26.

On April 1, Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, head of the U.S. delegation to the CHR [Commission on Human Rights], delivered our Item 9 statement in which she called the arrests "a glaring challenge to the Commission," an indication of increasing repression by Castro's regime," and a "brazen attempt to intimidate the growing number of Cuban citizens who dare assert their desire for more freedom."

On April 10, Secretary of State Powell eloquently called for the release of these prisoners of conscience.

On April 14, Ambassador Kirkpatrick clarified for the Commission, during deliberations on Defenders of Democracy, why Cuba's actions are repressive violations of human rights.

And just yesterday, Secretary Powell challenged the nations of the world, the 34 Western Hemisphere nations in the "Community of Democracies" who signed a set of basic principles regarding democracy, and particularly nations that will vote on the Cuba resolution, to take note of Cuba's outrageous actions toward people who merely express a point of view.

The United States had also asked the European Union to join with us in publicly deploring Cuba's actions. On March 26, the EU issued a strong statement condemning the Cuban repression and demanding the release of these "prisoners of conscience."

Most notably, at this year's Commission, the resolution to deal with Cuba's persistent violations of human rights norms was introduced by three Latin American countries -- Peru, Uruguay and Costa Rica. We firmly support and applaud their initiative to try to address this blight on human rights in our Hemisphere. Their resolution urged the Government of Cuba to adhere to the 2002 resolution and allow a visit by the High Commissioner for Human Rights' Personal Representative.

As we have done in the past, we have co-sponsored this year's resolution on Cuba. We had worked hard to strengthen it, but there is strong resistance to changing the wording. While the resolution itself may not have the language we hoped to achieve, it nevertheless is still a slap in the face for Castro and his regime from his own neighbors.

Given Cuba's continuing defiance of the Commission, the United States warmly welcomes the efforts of the Latin American members of the Commission to force their neighbor to improve its human rights record. We believe the best approaches to dealing with egregious human rights abusers like Cuba are initiatives in which the relevant regional group takes ownership of the calls for reform.

We also had actively collaborated with other countries on strategies to ensure that a resolution on Cuba would pass, sending a clear message to the Government of Cuba that it would remain under the scrutiny of the world community. The important point is that we sought to ensure the Personal Representative of the UN's High Commissioner on Human Rights had a mandate to report on the situation in Cuba.

Historically, there is precedent for our concern that a resolution on Cuba passes. In 1987, Cuba was able to win a no-action motion on text submitted by the United States by a vote of 19-18-6. We prefer a resolution and a personal representative of the High Commissioner to any of the alternatives.

Our delegation at the CHR will continue to make crystal clear our very strong opposition to Cuba's violations of human rights. And we will call upon other like-minded delegations to do the same.

As I prepared this statement, we expected the vote on Cuba to take place this morning. As you know, it did not happen. We should know the outcome of the voting tomorrow.

Let me assure this committee, the Congress, Americans, and the people of Cuba that, in the Commission and in every forum, the United States will continue to shine a spotlight on human rights abuses in Cuba to bring them to an end.

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