Harvey Wasserman / Reader Supported News & Marjorie Cohn / Marjorie Cohn.com – 2016-03-29 00:50:00
America’s Astounding Human Rights Hypocrisy in Cuba
Harvey Wasserman / Reader Supported News
(March 23, 2016) — Our American president’s long-overdue visit to Cuba has been a great thing for many reasons. But maybe our elected officials should cease their hypocritical yapping about the human rights situation in Cuba until they come clean about whatâ€™s happening here in the United States.
To be sure, there is much to say about how this authoritarian regime has handled dissent. The details abound in the corporate media. But the idea of the United States lecturing Cuba or any other country on this planet about human rights comes down somewhere between embarrassing and nauseating.
* The US right now has the world’s largest prison population by far. There are 2.2 million citizens in prison here for offenses that include smoking pot and failing to pay off certain debts. At its peak, there were 2.5 million in Stalin’s Soviet Gulag.
* The US prison population is hugely over-filled with African-Americans and Hispanics.
* The racial bias of the prison population is directly related to a deliberate Jim Crow strategy of disenfranchisement aimed at keeping people of color from voting.
* There are more citizens in US prisons than there are prisoners in China, another authoritarian country. China’s population is 4 to 5 times as large as that of the US. They do not have an alleged Bill of Rights.
* The American prison population currently represents almost a quarter of the entire population of Cuba.
* Rape, torture, extended solitary confinement, and other human rights offenses are common in US prisons. In many cases, decent medical care is notably lacking, resulting in avoidable illness and death.
* More than 500,000 Americans are in prison for victimless crimes relating to substances they have chosen to put in their own bodies rather than harm done anyone else.
* On the actual island of Cuba, the US holds a reserve at Guantanamo that the Cuban people want returned to them. In the interim, prisoners are held there in denial of all human rights, often without trial, in some cases being subjected to what can only be termed torture. Some have been held for years after their release has been authorized. Guantanamo is maintained on Cuban soil precisely so those held there can be denied their human rights.
* The United States still has the death penalty, which has been repeatedly used to execute human beings who later prove innocent. One former president of the United States, George W. Bush, personally authorized 152 executions while governor of Texas.
* Access to due process in the United States is significantly restricted by race and class.
* There are numerous political prisoners being held without human rights guarantees throughout the US prison system whose “offenses” are every bit as illusory as many of the prisoners held in violation of human rights in Cuba.
* Among them is Leonard Peltier, a native American wrongly convicted of murder four decades ago. Peltier has repeatedly petitioned for a new trial and been turned down by presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and now Obama, even though the evidence overwhelmingly indicates he is innocent of the two murders for which he was convicted in the mid 1970s. Peltier is now suffering from advanced diabetes.
He’s being held under extremely harsh conditions in clear violation of a wide range of laws allegedly protecting the basic human rights guaranteed all prisoners by the US criminal justice code and by international law. Peltier has grandchildren and great grandchildren he has never seen. If he were being held under the same circumstances in Cuba, the US would be screaming for his release.
* In 2001, as he was leaving office, Bill Clinton chose to pardon multi-millionaire Marc Rich, with immense direct and indirect benefits later coming to the Clintons and their various interests. Though Clinton was thoroughly and repeatedly briefed about Leonard Peltier, he chose to leave Peltier in prison, to not grant him a new trial, and to do nothing to mitigate the illegal conditions under which he’s being held.
* Since Richard Nixon’s declaration of the Drug War in 1971, various branches of the US police system have arrested more than 41 million American citizens, almost four times as many people as now live in Cuba. The arrests have been heavily weighted against people of color and low income. With the $1 trillion or more spent on this mass incarceration, all those arrested could have been sent to college.
* In recent years the incentive to incarcerate American citizens (guilty or otherwise) has been vastly accelerated by the establishment of private prisons, whose profits are based on the number of people they can lock up.
Americans charged with crimes are now viewed as “cash flow” by this for-profit prison system, which has every incentive to keep them incarcerated as long as possible, no matter how their alleged crime or violated human rights might stack up.
* Though they recently crashed the entire US economy with a stunning array of criminal activities, no banker or financier who helped devastate the livelihoods of millions of families worldwide has gone to prison.
* American police forces routinely maim and kill innocent citizens based largely on race and class, with little or no legal recourse.
* In the name of fighting terrorism and the Drug War, US police forces now regularly confiscate cash and other property from innocent citizens without due process or reasonable legal recourse. The funds are often used for the personal benefit of the officers involved.
* A nationwide program of electronic spying on private citizens has been in place in the US for many years, leaving the Fourth Amendment right to privacy in shambles.
There is, of course, much more. But at very least we hope that President Obama will admit to some or all of the above amidst his cringe-worthy lectures to the Cubans on the sacred nature of human rights.
Harvey Wasserman’s America at the Brink of Rebirth: The Organic Spiral of Us History can be had via www.solartopia.org. The Strip & Flip Selection of 2016: Five Jim Crows & Electronic Election Theft, co-written with Bob Fitrakis, is at www.freepress.org.
Stop Lecturing Cuba and Lift the Blockade
Marjorie Cohn / Marjorie Cohn.com
(March 18, 2016) — Surrounding President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba on March 20, there is speculation about whether he can pressure Cuba to improve its human rights. But a comparison of Cuba’s human rights record with that of the United States shows that the US should be taking lessons from Cuba.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains two different categories of human rights: civil and political rights on the one hand; and economic, social and cultural rights on the other.
Civil and political rights include the rights to life, free expression, freedom of religion, fair trial, self-determination; and to be free from torture, cruel treatment, and arbitrary detention.
Economic, social, and cultural rights comprise the rights to education, healthcare, social security, unemployment insurance, paid maternity leave, equal pay for equal work, reduction of infant mortality; to prevention, treatment, and control of diseases; and to form and join unions and strike.
These human rights are enshrined in two treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
The United States has ratified the ICCPR. But the US refuses to ratify the ICESCR. Since the Reagan administration, it has been US policy to define human rights only as civil and political rights. Economic, social and cultural rights are dismissed as akin to social welfare, or socialism.
The US government criticizes civil and political rights in Cuba while disregarding the Cubans’ superior access to universal housing, healthcare, education, and Cuba’s guarantee of paid maternity leave and equal pay rates.
Meanwhile, the US government has committed serious human rights violations on Cuban soil, including torture, cruel treatment, and arbitrary detention at Guantanamo. And since 1960, the United States has expressly interfered with Cuba’s economic rights and its right to self-determination through the economic embargo.
The US embargo of Cuba, now a blockade, was initiated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the Cold War in response to a 1960 memo written by a senior State Department official. The memo proposed “a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
That goal has failed, but the punishing blockade has made life difficult in Cuba. In spite of that inhumane effort, however, Cuba guarantees its people a remarkable panoply of human rights.
Unlike in the United States, healthcare is considered a right in Cuba. Universal healthcare is free to all. Cuba has one of the highest ratios of doctors to patients in the world at 6.7 per 1,000 people. The 2014 infant mortality rate was 4.2 per 1,000 live births — one of the lowest in the world.
Healthcare in Cuba emphasizes prevention, rather than relying only on medicine, partly due to the limited access to medicines occasioned by the US blockade. In 2014, the Lancet journal said, “If the accomplishments of Cuba could be reproduced across a broad range of poor and middle-income countries, the health of the world’s population would be transformed.”
Cuba has developed pioneering medicines to treat and prevent lung cancer and prevent diabetic amputations. Because of the blockade, however, we in the United States cannot take advantage of them.
Free education is a universal right up to and including higher education. Cuba spends a larger proportion of its GDP on education than almost any other country in the world. “Mobile teachers” are deployed to homes if children are unable to attend school.
Many schools provide free morning and after-school care for working parents who have no extended family. It is free to train to be a doctor in Cuba. There are 22 medical schools in Cuba, up from only 3 in 1959 before the Cuban Revolution.
Elections to Cuba’s national parliament (the National Assembly) take place every five years and elections to regional Municipal Assemblies every 2.5 years. Delegates to the National Assembly then elect the Council of State, which in turn appoints the Council of Ministers from which the President is elected.
As of 2018 (the date of the next general election in Cuba), there will be a limit of no more than two five-year terms for all senior elected positions, including the President. Anyone can be nominated to be a candidate. It is not required that one be a member of the Communist Party (CP).
No money can be spent promoting candidates and no political parties (including the CP) are permitted to campaign during elections. Military personnel are not on duty at polling stations; school children guard the ballot boxes.
Cuban law guarantees the right to voluntarily form and join trade unions. Unions are legally independent and financially autonomous, independent of the CP and the state, funded by members’ subscriptions. Workers’ rights protected by unions include a written contract, a 40-44-hour week, and 30 days’ paid annual leave in the state sector.
Unions have the right to stop work they consider dangerous. They have the right to participate in company management, to receive management information, to office space and materials, and to facility time for representatives.
Union agreement is required for layoffs, changes in patterns of working hours, overtime, and the annual safety report. Unions also have a political role in Cuba and have a constitutional right to be consulted about employment law. They also have the right to propose new laws to the National Assembly.
Women make up the majority of Cuban judges, attorneys, lawyers, scientists, technical workers, public health workers and professionals. Cuba is ranked first in Save the Children’s “Less Developed Countries” Mothers Index.
With over 48% women MPs, Cuba has the third highest percentage of female parliamentarians in the world. Women receive 18 weeks of full salary during paid maternity leave,followed by 40 weeks at 60% of full salary. The government subsidizes abortion and family planning, places a high value on pre-natal care, and offers “maternity housing” to women before giving birth.
In 2013, the World Health Organization listed life expectancy for women in Cuba at 80; the figure was 77 for men. The probability of dying between ages 15 and 60 years per 1,000 people in the population was 115 for men and 73 for women in Cuba.
During the same period, life expectancy for women in the United Stateswas 81 for women and 76 for men. The probability of dying between 15 and 60 per 1,000 people was 128 for men and 76 for women in the United States.
A study by Cornell Law School found no one under sentence of death in Cuba and no one on death row in October 2015: “On December 28, 2010, Cuba’s Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of Cuba’s last remaining death row inmate, a Cuban-American convicted of a murder carried out during a 1994 terrorist invasion of the island. No new death sentences are known to have been imposed” since that time.
By contrast, as of January 1, 2016, 2,943 people were on death row in state facilities in the United States. And 62 were on federal death row as of March 16, 2016, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
In 2006, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a leading global environmental organization, found that Cuba was the only country in the world to have achieved sustainable development.
Jonathan Loh, one of the authors of the WWF report, said, “Cuba has reached a good level of development according to United Nations’ criteria, thanks to its high literacy level and a very high life expectancy, while the ecological footprint is not large since it is a country with low energy consumption.”
Stop Lecturing Cuba and Lift the Blockade
When Cuba and the US held talks about human rights a year ago, Pedro Luis Pedroso, head of the Cuban delegation, said, “We expressed our concerns regarding discrimination and racism patterns in US society, the worsening of police brutality, torture acts and extrajudicial executions in the fight on terror and the legal limbo of prisoners at the US prison camp in Guantanamo.”
The hypocrisy of the US government in lecturing Cuba about its human rights while denying many basic human rights to the American people is glaring. The United States should lift the blockade. Obama should close Guantanamo and return it to Cuba.
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Follow her on Twitter @marjoriecohn.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 General Assembly resolution 217 A as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected.
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,
Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.
(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.
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