UN chief says he raised human rights issues in Havana

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he raised the issue of human rights in meetings with Cuba’s leaders, breaking the much criticized silence on the issue maintained by other participants in a hemispheric summit in Havana.

Costa Rican officials agreed to meet with democracy activists out of the 33 delegations attending the II Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), human rights activists Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz said Wednesday.

The delegations and observers, such as Ban, have come under withering criticism from international human rights activists for failing to speak out even as Cuban police detained dozens of dissidents to keep them away from the officials and journalists at the summit.

A Tweet on Tuesday by Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said, “Our message to world leaders visiting: meet w/everyday Cubans & independent civil society to learn what’s really happening & support democratic change.”

Independent journalists in Cuba on Wednesday put the total number of brief detentions over the previous 72 hours at 250, and Sanchez reported that at least 16 dissidents remained jailed and eight remained under illegal police orders for house arrest.

Dissidents had been planning two “parallel summits” to take advantage of the news media coverage brought on by the summit Tuesday and Wednesday, designed to promote economic integration in the hemisphere, except for the U.S. and Canada.

Ban made no mention of human rights during his public speech to the summit’s opening session Tuesday but later told a news conference that he had spoken about the “arbitrary detentions” with “the highest Cuban leaders.” He had met with Raúl Castro on Monday and brother Fidel Castro on Tuesday.

He also asked them to ratify two international human rights agreements that Cuba signed in 2008 but never put in place, Ban told the news conference, declining to go into further details about his talks with Cuba’s leadership.

“I sincerely hope the Cuban government will continue to work closely with the international community to further strengthen human rights,” he said.

Sanchez, head of the illegal Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said he met Wednesday with Ingrid Picado Monge, chief of protocol for the Costa Rican government, and the Costa Rican ambassador to Cuba, Hubert Mendez Acosta, at the Central American nation’s diplomatic mission in Havana.

His commission had requested meetings with several of the delegations attending the summit “but until now only the Republic of Costa Rica has responded positively,” he said. Sanchez declined to identify the countries that turned down his requests.

Sanchez said he and the commission’s information director, Kirenia Yalit Nuñez, “submitted a report on the unfavorable situation for civil and political rights that exists in Cuba, as the context within which the summit has been taking place.”

Costa Rica is one of Latin America’s oldest and strongest democracies and has long been active in regional human rights issues. It hosts the International Court for Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States in Washington.

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