Our Voices

Implicated in Payá’s death, Cuba should be ousted from U.N. Human Rights Council

By Angelita Baeyens

The Cuban regime finally is being held responsible for the murder of Oswaldo Payá, one of the country’s most prominent political dissidents and pro-democracy activists.

This long-awaited development comes more than a decade after Payá and fellow activist Harold Cepero were killed in a car crash. Payá’s family and supporters always believed the regime was behind it, but the government went to great lengths to establish a convenient — and false — narrative that their deaths resulted from negligent driving by Spanish youth activist Angel Carromero.

But an independent finding by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asserts the direct involvement of state agents in the crash.

The IACHR found “serious and sufficient evidence … to conclude that state agents participated in the death” of Payá and Cepero, and that both men were subjected to violence, harassment, threats and attempts on their lives before they died.

The Payá family knows what we — an international human-rights organization litigating the case before the IACHR — and so many others also know: Payá’s death is an example of how far the Cuban regime is willing to go to stifle dissent and any attempt to open the doors to a more democratic, pluralistic country.

And yet, on the international level, the Cuban regime continues to enjoy an outsized influence, especially where its record is particularly abysmal: human rights. Cuba has been a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council for five consecutive three-year terms. And for those 15 years, Cuba has consistently voted against resolutions addressing the serious, systemic abuses in countries, including Nicaragua, Eritrea, Iran, Syria and Venezuela, and against resolutions to strengthen commitments ensuring civic space for individuals and groups around the world.

Further, Cuba has refused to cooperate with key U.N. Special Procedures, most notably Special Rapporteurs on torture, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and of association, and on the situation of human rights defenders. All these mandate-holders have yet to be allowed to visit Cuba despite repeated official requests to do so for years.

We know the IACHR’s calls for reparations to the Payá and Cepero families, including fully investigating and holding government actors accountable for their crimes, are largely symbolic. Still, these findings must have consequences for Cuba’s standing as an influencer in key decision-making venues like the United Nations, and especially the Human Rights Council.

Having the U.N. recognize the severity of these IACHR findings, it demonstrates something important: The international community is listening.

Payá lived his life dedicated to the dream of providing freedom for others. By fully holding Cuba accountable, beginning with excluding it from the Human Rights Council, that dream begins to be realized for other Cubans.

Angelita Baeyens is vice president of International Advocacy and Litigation for Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

Read the original article in the
Miami Herald here.