Cuba will open up to a U.N. human rights expert for first time in a decade

Cuba's Ladies in White march in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood

Cuban dissident group the Ladies in White march in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016.
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Cuban dissident group the Ladies in White march in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016.

The first independent United Nations human rights expert to visit Cuba in a decade will travel to the island next week.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, a member of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council and special rapporteur on trafficking in persons, with an emphasis on women and children, will arrive in Cuba on Monday and stay for five days, the United Nations said in a statement from Geneva on Wednesday.

Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations confirmed the upcoming visit Thursday and said Giammarinaro was making the trip at the invitation of the Cuban government.

“Aware that human trafficking violates the human rights of the victims, the Cuban government has maintained a zero tolerance policy for this crime,” the Cuban Embassy at the U.N. office in Geneva said.

“My visit is an opportunity to meet relevant authorities and key people and groups, to determine the progress made and the challenges Cuba faces in addressing trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation, as well as any other forms of trafficking,” Giammarinaro said. “Particular attention will be paid to measures in place and those planned to prevent trafficking, to protect victims and provide them with access to effective remedies.”

During her trip to Havana, Matanzas and Artemisa, Giammarinaro will meet with members of civil society organizations fighting against people-trafficking as well as government officials.

She is expected to present her preliminary findings at a news conference at Havana’s International Press Center on April 14, and her recommendations will be included in an official report to be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2018.

Currently a judge of the Civil Court of Rome, Giammarinaro was appointed as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, by the Human Rights Council in June 2014. She works on a voluntary basis and is not a member of the U.N. staff.

Giammarinaro has a long history in combating human trafficking, and drafted the European Union directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims.

“Over the past year my mandate has focused on the link between trafficking in persons and conflict and particularly has looked at the vulnerabilities of persons fleeing conflict to become trafficked, especially refugees and asylum seekers,” Giammarinaro said during a speech in March.

Combating human trafficking was one of the dialogues begun between the United States and Cuba under the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Havana.

The last U.N. human rights expert to visit Cuba was the special rapporteur on the right to food.

Hours before President Barack Obama landed in Cuba, Cuban officials arrested some 50 protesters of a key dissidents group, the Ladies in White.

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi