Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Watch the 10th edition of the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy over live stream

"Truth-tellers arrive at the United Nations, unite to confront dictatorships." - The Geneva Summit

Geneva Summit for Democracy and Human Rights 2018
Yesterday at the United Nations Human Rights Council a group of human rights defenders and victims of repression gathered to denounces what is going on in their respective countries. Today, beginning at 9:00am and for entire day these activists will be gathered along with hundreds of registered participants to attend and participate in the 10th edition of the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. Watch it here over live stream, and get involved providing your commentary, questions and hashtags over social media. Please use the hashtag #GS18 and #GenevaSummit so that your comments can be readily found and share the live stream link with others.

Over the past couple of days have taken a look back to the beginning when the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy came into existence and also speculate on its future.  Today will look at some of the highlights from yesterday, from around the world and look forward to commenting over twitter during the event. Former Venezuelan prisoner of conscience Antonio Ledezma tweeted: "Three years ago I was forcibly abducted for thinking differently from the narco-regime of Venezuela. I will not stop my struggle to defend the freedom and human rights of our Venezuelan brothers." UN Watch highlighted the plight of Cuban prisoner of conscience Eduardo Cardet.






Centrist Democrat International calls for the release of Cuban prisoner of conscience Eduardo Cardet

The Centrist Democrat International, an international organization of  Christian Democratic political parties demonstrated its solidarity with Cuban prisoner of conscience Eduardo Cardet on February 19, 2018 over twitter. Below the text is reproduced with the tweet at the end of the blog entry.

Resolution on the EU-Cuba Agreement and the release of Eduardo Cardet

The Centrist Democrat International (CDI-IDC )cautiously welcomes the entry into force on November 1st, 2017, of the Agreement on Political Dialogue and Cooperation between Cuba and the European Union, aimed at strengthening the political dialogue, cooperation and sectorial dialogue, including commercial agreements. This agreement should provide the opening of a new page in relations between the EU and Cuba.

Calls on both sides to act with absolute coherence, and assure the effective and practical implementation of this agreement for dialogue. Denounces the interference of Cuba in other countries such as Venezuela and Colombia.

Emphasizes the need for the International Community, civil society and the Cuban people to closely observe the practical realization of these agreements so that they will benefit the Cuban people as soon as possible.

Recalls that this dialogue and previous agreements should always include full respect for human rights, freedom and the rule of law. These principles should be on top of the agenda of the High Representative of the EU for External Relations and Security Policies, Federica Mogherini, given that the pillars of democracy such as freedom of association, a multi-party system, freedom of the press, the existence of political prisoners, freedom of commerce, the separation of power are still not fully respected, and that a dialogue of this type cannot be sustained with countries under dictatorship.

Denounces the fact that in recent years there has been an increase in the number of political prisoners to 140, the 4821 arbitrary detentions (source Amnesty International), acts of physical aggression, of hostility and of repudiation. We demand the immediate and unconditional liberation of the coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) of Cuba and human rights defender, Eduardo Cardet, arbitrarily detained, recognized as political prisoner and sentenced to three years of prison, stressing our preoccupation with his fragile state of health as a result of deplorable penitentiary conditions.

We therefore urge that he be attended urgently by health workers of his free choice.

Requests to support the civil right to return and live in Cuba for the MCL’s spokesman, Regis Iglesias, former political prisoner of conscience and for of all Cuban exiles as well as the recognition of Cuban citizens to elect and be elected, as demanded by the initiative "Un Cubano, Un Voto" (“One Cuban, one vote).

Urges to support the initiatives that civil society and the opposition forces of the country demand towards peaceful transition to a more democratic political regime in Cuba and the recovery of civil rights to guarantee the participation of all Cubans in the construction of a path towards freedom and reconciliation.

Urges all members of the IDC-CDI to deliver the resolution to the Embassies of Cuba of their respective countries urging the release of the prisoners of conscience.

Budapest 16/02/2018

Monday, February 19, 2018

Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy at 10 years: Looking forward

"The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it." - Albert Einstein

The 10th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy convenes in Switzerland tomorrow on February 20, 2018 at 9:00am and is open to the public. The opening address will be given by Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), who has revived the relevance of the OAS by calling attention to the unfolding crisis in Venezuela and taking leadership in pursuing solutions.

There is still much more to do.

Over the past decade human rights have been in decline worldwide and democracy in recession. Long time democracies, such as Venezuela, and Turkey have slid into dictatorship. Communist China is ascendant offering an alternative development path without freedom.

In 2013 I was thinking of the failures of states and the Human Rights Council to defend and protect human rights. Now with the Oxfam scandal realize that even NGOs can also fail abysmally.
 When even Amnesty International gets caught up in scandal, shoddy dealings and violating its own commitment to freedom of expression. One looks around at the crisis of institutions: international organizations, government, civil society, and religious institutions all with scandal and challenges.

Andrew MacLeod, who was chief of operations at the United Nation’s Emergency Coordination Center, estimated in The Times on February 14, 2018 that UN staff in the past decade carried out 60,000 rapes "with 3,300 pedophiles working in the organization and its agencies." The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is in the midst of a scandal with former UNICEF consultant Peter Newell who was jailed for raping a 13 year old boy.

The international human rights consensus has been shattered while contradictions have emerged that threaten its very foundations.

Restoring the dynamic tension to the human rights conversation
In 1961 Amnesty International was founded by Peter Benenson and consisted of a board of trustees that included all the major British political parties: Labour, Conservative, Liberal and religions: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Jewish and Humanist.  

If human rights are to regain their relevance and end its worldwide decline then all parties (and this includes religions) must be invited to the table and not censored beforehand because it does not serve a particular political agenda. Furthermore the right to life, enshrined in both Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 1 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man should apply to all, at all stages of life. Competing rights claims need to be weighed and measured carefully, but recognizing the transcendent importance of the person. 

Finally, human rights defenders instead of focusing on what divides us by race, sex, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and religion should seek to recognize our common humanity with a focus on the dignity of the person. Identity politics is a dangerous and divisive dead end.

The change for the better begins with each one of us and the challenge to be better and to do better. This also means a return to first principles and a rejection of identity politics. Everyone must be welcome to the conversation regardless of background and ideas and arguments should rule the day.  

It is time for self-examination and a reawakening to the consensus achieved 70 years ago in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. The Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy is a space where this conversation is taking place and can lead to important and positive changes over the next decade and beyond.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Ten Years of the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy: Reflections on the first decade

Reflection on ten years of summits and a call to attend the next one

The 10th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy convenes in Switzerland on February 20, 2018. Over the past decade this summit has been a vital space for dissenting voices to gather and engage in this important conversation to diagnose the problems challenging human rights and dignity and to do better and be better in order to turn the global decline of human rights around.

The first edition was held on April 19, 2009, "one day before the international community gather[ed] in Geneva to address racism, intolerance and persecution in the High-Level Segment of the UN Durban Review Conference (DRC)" and it had a longer title, "Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy" and the tag line, "Stop Discrimination, Go for Human Rights." UN Watch, a Geneva based NGO whose mission is "to monitor the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter", brought together an international coalition of nineteen organizations to co-sponsor the summit.

The founding members of the Coalition are: The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), AVEGA (Rwanda), CADAL (Argentina), Directorio (Cuba), Darfur Peace and Development Center (Sudan), Fondation Généreuse Développement (Cameroon), Freedom House (USA), Freedom Now (USA ), Groupe des Anciens Etudiants Réscapés du Genocide (Rwanda), Global Zimbabwe Forum (Zimbabwe), Human Rights Without Frontiers (Belgium),  International Federation of Liberal Youth, (United Kingdom), Ingenieurs du Monde (Switzerland) LICRA (France), SOS Racisme (France), Stop Child Executions (Canada), Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (USA), East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (Uganda), UN Watch (Switzerland). Ten year later the partners coalition has grown to 26.

Arielle Herzog, Leon Saltiel, Hillel C. Neuer and other UN Watch staff were the chief organizers of the first six editions and responsible for their great success and establishing this space for dialogue. UN Watch today continues to lead this coalition and build on this great legacy, but it is important to return to the beginning to see how we arrived were we are today.

The UN Durban Review Conference (DRC) of 2009 was one more example of the ongoing moral bankruptcy of the United Nations. The star speaker, and apparently the only head of state invited to speak, was Iran's notorious president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who engages in holocaust denial and has called for the destruction of Israel. This conference, ostensibly to confront the problem of racism, began a gathering point of the worse dictatorships on the planet to legitimize themselves.

Meanwhile, in marked contrast, the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy was held at the Centre International de Conférences Genève, just down the street from the Palais des Nations UN compound were the DRC was being held. Human rights defenders, victims of repression and political dissidents gathered to share their experiences, bear witness and attempt to wield real political force from the power of human conscience. This is what the martyred Czech dissident and philosopher Jan Patočka called the "solidarity of the shaken'. This coalition called for an end to discrimination and for human rights promotion.

The first summit's inaugural speech was given by by Iranian Activist and President of Stop Child Executions, Nazanin Afshin Jam, who outlined the human rights situation in Iran. She addressed that under Iranian laws the life of a woman is worth half of a man's and other sexist practices, the execution of homosexuals, and the executions of minors. The Iranian activist also gave an overview of the summit that began at 9:00am and ended at 6:30pm.

The inaugural summit was divided into four sessions that were tied into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Session I was titled "Racism, Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity: Assessing the Genocide Convention After 60 Years" and the panel was made up by Irwin Cotler, Counsel for genocide victims and dissidents, Canadian MP, Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch and International Association of Genocide Scholars, Ester Murawajo, Tutsi survivor, founder of AVEGA and Dominique Sopo, President of SOS Racisme.  

Session II was titled "Resisting Authoritarianism: Human Rights, Democracy, and the Dissident Movement" with speakers Bo Kyi, Burmese dissident and winner of the Human Rights Prize from Human Rights Watch, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Egyptian dissident, José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, Cuban dissident and prisoner of conscience, and Esra'a Al Shafei, dissident blogger, Mideast Youth - Thinking Ahead.

Session III was titled "Torture and Cruel and Inhuman Treatment" with speakers Nazanin Afshin-Jam, president of Stop Child Execution,  Parvez Sharma, Producer of the documentary Jihad for Love, and Ahmad Batebi, Iranian dissident.

Session IV was titled "Freedom of Expression and 'Defamation of Religion'" with panelists  Mohamed Sifaoui, Journalist, Algeria, Floyd Abrams, U.S. advocate for First Amendment press freedom,  Patrick Gaubert, President of LICRA and Member of the European Parliament.

The 2nd Geneva Summit was held on March 8-9, 2010, strategically timed to coincide with the main annual session of the U.N. Human Rights Council. The objective of the 2010 Geneva Summit was to give voice to victims of the world’s worst abusers, empowering those who suffer repression under closed systems of government.

The program featured plenary sessions, workshops and training sessions over two days. A large portion of the program was dedicated to presentations—personal and compelling testimony—from victims of the world’s worst abusers.

On March 8, 2010 gave the opening address on behalf of the Geneva Summit Coalition for the second edition of the Geneva Summit. Sadly, these words remain relevant today, but now the global decline in political freedoms and civil liberties has expanded from four to thirteen years in a row.
Regrettably, the chief international body charged with protecting human rights is failing to live up to its mission to stop these and other abuses. The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council—as acknowledged in a recent report by 17 of its 47 member states, supported by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists—falls short in its handling of country situations, in the efficiency of the process involved in highlighting violations, and in its reactivity to crisis situations. Strong politicization of the Council, driven by bloc-based voting patterns, has led to inaction in face of atrocity and abuse. We saw this sad spectacle last week within the Council, first with the secretary general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights denying the documented and rampant instances of torture, executions, and mass detentions of Iranians followed by the Cuban Foreign Minister’s speech who echoing his Iranian colleague also denied Cuba’s horrible human rights record and to add insult to injury went on to blame the United States for the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo as well as slander the deceased Cuban prisoner of conscience as a criminal.

Little wonder that the March 1st magazine issue of Newsweek contains an article titled “The Downfall of Human Rights.” The article highlights Freedom House's report "Freedom in the World," released in January, and reveals a global decline in political freedoms and civil liberties for the fourth year in a row, the longest drop in the almost 40 years that the survey has been produced.
According to Summit organizers, "[m]ore then 800 people registered to attend the summit and over 1600 watched the live webcast. 35 dissidents and human rights activists took the floor to condemn and testify about some of the worst human rights situations around the world and issued a joint call for Internet Freedom around the world."

Cuban dissident Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina was denied an exit visa by the Castro regime despite being invited to attend the Geneva Summit, but the coalition did not stop there and started a campaign for him to attend.
30 NGOs from this Summit called on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to intervene on behalf of Cuban human rights defender Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina barred by the Cuban dictatorship from attending this meeting. The Cuban ambassador protested loudly when Hillel Neuer of UN Watch raised the matter in an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner, but Nestor on the other hand was grateful that the UN Watch representative spoke up for his human rights.
In the end Nestor addressed the summit by phone, and would attend and address the 2012 Summit in person. Still remember the powerful and haunting testimony of Caspian Makan, human rights activist, and fiancé of Neda Agha-Soltan, who was murdered in Iran by pro-regime agents months earlier on June 20, 2009. Another speaker who made a powerful impression was Yang Jianli, activist in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest, a former political prisoner, and founder of Initiatives for China and today a friend. The Geneva Summit created network of activists that remain in contact and continue to collaborate.

Cuban human rights defenders and victims of repression have had a voice at this gathering over the past decade to denounce their plight and call for human rights and freedom for Cuba. Former Cuban prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo (2009, 2010), Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia (2011), Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina (2012), Regis Iglesias (2013), and Juan Francisco Sigler Amaya (2015), human rights defender and daughter of martyred actvist Rosa Maria Paya (2013, 2016), human rights defender Damarys Moya Portieles (2014), human rights defender and social democrat Manuel Cuesta Morua (2015), and former prisoner of conscience, human rights defender and artist Danilo Maldonado El Sexto (2017). 

2013 was the last time I addressed the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy during the fifth edition of the gathering and less than seven months after Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante had been murdered by State Security on July 22, 2012. Present in the room were Rosa María Payá Acevedo, and Regis Iglesias Ramírez of the Christian Liberation Movement. Both had addressed the meeting.
The 5th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy today is an opportunity for reflection. Unfortunately, the human rights situation around the world has not improved over the past five years and in many instances worsened. The question is why? Cuban democratic opposition activist, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, when awarded the Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought on December 17, 2002 observed that “The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized.” The past decade has demonstrated that he was right.
Cuban state security has worked for decades trying to discredit and silence authentic dissident voices and continues to today with their agents and agents of influence.  It is a constant struggle to frustrate their efforts. They are willing to lie, slander, assault and even murder those who have the courage to dissent. The 2012 killings of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero and the aftermath demonstrate this.

For decades Cuban victims of repression said that nobody listened, and in 1987 an award winning documentary titled "Nobody Listened" interviewed Cuban political prisoners and human rights defenders describing the lack of international solidarity.  Over the past ten years thanks to the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy their voices have been heard. 

This is the first reflection on the past decade of Geneva Summits.  The next summit begins on Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at 9:00am. For more information visit the Geneva Summit website here.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Journal of the American Medical Association: 21 U.S. Embassy Staff in Cuba had concussion-like symptoms

The mystery deepens and the injuries are serious.

U.S. Embassy in Havana
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a preliminary report on February 15, 2018 and an accompanying editorial studying health impacts on 21 U.S. government employees in Havana between December 2016 and August 2017. These individuals had severe injuries and the bottom line on medical findings are that:
Concussion-like symptoms were observed in U.S. government personnel in Cuba after they reported hearing intensely loud sounds in their homes and hotel rooms and feeling changes in air pressure caused by an unknown source. The symptoms were consistent with brain injury although there was no history of head trauma.
Castro regime officials on October of 2017 said talk of acoustic strikes was “science fiction” and accused Washington of “slander.” investigating U.S. complaints of attacks that sickened American diplomats in Havana. Denials later in October and their narrative was that the alleged noise behind the “sonic attacks” was coming from cicadas and crickets. Cuban scientists convened by the government argued that the symptoms were the product of a "mass psychogenic illness"(MPI). However the JAMA report said MPI was unlikely because some of the individuals had no idea others had been affected and it "is often associated with transient, benign symptoms with rapid onset and recovery often beginning with older individuals.”

Last month on January 9, 2018 the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on the subject of the 2016-2017 attacks on U.S. diplomats and dependents stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Senator Menendez asked when officials became aware that brain trauma was involved and Dr. Charles Rosenfarb, of the Medical Director for the Bureau of Medical Services, responded that the first patient was medically evacuated on February 6, 2017 and over the next two months evacuated 40 people.

Some Canadian diplomats were also impacted. The regime in Cuba has a long track record of outlaw behavior against foreign diplomats, but this would be an escalation. This also raises the question if concessions towards the Castro regime between 2014 and 2017 worsen the dictatorship's behavior?

The Journal of the American Medical Association
JAMA concludes that "[t]he unique circumstances of these patients and the clinical manifestations detailed in this report raise concern about a new mechanism for possible acquired brain injury from an exposure of unknown origin."

This is not to be taken lightly.