Cuba committed “fraud … on a massive scale” to influence a U.N. review of its human rights record by using hundreds of “front groups” to submit comments favorable to the island, a watchdog group reported Thursday.
While 454 non-governmental organizations submitted comments for Cuba’s review, 48 NGOs commented on Canada’s — the second highest number of comments — and 32 on Russia’s, according to the report by the group UN Watch.
Although “critiques by genuine NGOs do appear, they are overwhelmed by an unprecedented amount of submissions by fraudulent ‘NGOs’ that, if they do exist, are mere puppets of Cuba and its allies abroad,” the report said.
“This is fraud committed on a massive scale,” added the report, timed to coincide with Cuba’s review this week by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. The UNHRC audits each nation every four years for its Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
“Cuba used hundreds of front groups to hijack the United Nations compilation of NGO submissions and turn it into a propaganda sheet for the Castro Communist regime,” UN Watch’s 13-page report said.
The UPR is not binding on anyone “but does have an impact because it’s a megaphone, a podium, which does shape the way people think and it’s a source of legitimacy,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch and A Canadian lawyer.
UN Watch is a Geneva-based NGO that monitors the U.N.’s work on human rights. Affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, it often criticizes the UNHRC because many of its members have poor human rights records themselves.
During a UNHRC meeting Wednesday on Cuba, Syria and North Korea praised Havana while Western nations criticized its abuses and lack of democracy. All the comments and Cuba’s responses are eventually added to the UPR.
The UN Watch report, titled “Massive fraud: The corruption of the 2013 UPR Review of Cuba,” did not directly challenge the praise heaped by the NGOs on the communist-run island. It simply listed some of their favorable comments and some of their names.
Among the “NGOs” were several organizations controlled by the Cuban Communist Party and government, such as the Federation of Cuban Women, the Federation of University Students and the Pioneers, the island’s politicized version of the Boy Scouts.
Also commenting were “solidarity” groups such as the Dambovita branch of the Romanian-Cuban Friendship Association, the Leogane Club of Friends of Cuba in Haiti and the Sri Lanka National Committee for Solidarity with Cuba.
Another comment came from the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America, founded in Havana in 1966 to support communism and “national liberation movements” — usually guerrillas — in the Third World.
Many of the NGOs listed in the UPR summary of their comments were based in countries that have friendly relations with Havana, and especially in the nearly 70 countries where Cuba has sent medical, teaching or sports missions.
Out of 105 numbered paragraphs in the UPR summary, UN Watch reported, 72 included “robust praise” for Cuba’s human rights record.
“Approximately 77 reports mentioned that Cuba’s constitutional and legislative framework recognized and guaranteed basic human rights and freedoms,” according to the UPR summary.
“More than 26 (NGO) contributions indicated that human rights defenders are protected and nobody had been persecuted or penalized for peacefully exercising their
rights,” the summary said.
The Iran-based House of Latin America (HOLA) and the Jose Marti Cultural Society in Havana both noted “the active role of civil society in the decision-making process regarding all matters of the political, economic, social and cultural life.”
And “approximately 57 organizations added that Cuba has been the victim of a campaign to discredit its performance in human rights,” the UPR’s summary of the NGO comments showed.
In one of the few critical comments noted, the French-based Reporters Without Borders wrote that all of the journalists jailed during a 2003 crackdown were freed in 2010 and 2011, “though most were required to go into exile.”
UN Watch also attacked the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the U.N. Country Team for Cuba — essentially its embassy in Havana — for their “grossly misleading” praise for Cuba in their own reporting for the UPR.
One UNESCO report “noted that civil society was recognized as a key player in Cuba’s cultural life and played an active role at local level through its work with the
Houses of Culture and the People’s Councils.”