|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Op-Ed on United Nations Commission on Human Rights for Diario las Americas
May 2, 1999, Miami, Florida
U.S. Department of State
As the leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were gathering in Washington late last month, another group of officials came together from around the world. Meeting in Geneva, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights called for improvements in respect for human rights in countries such as the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, Sudan and Iran and addressed critical thematic concerns, including racism, women's rights, and children at risk.
One highlight of the Commission meeting was its approval of an important resolution sponsored by the Czech Republic and Poland calling on the government of Cuba to respect human rights and to free those who have been imprisoned for the peaceful expression of political or religious beliefs. In addition, the Commission -- for the first time ever -- adopted a resolution boldly confirming that democracy is a universal and fundamental human right. Cuba, which actively opposed the measure, in the end abstained -- largely to avoid being the only country to vote against such a basic principle.
I would like to congratulate two of our newest NATO allies, the Czech Republic and Poland, who championed the Commission's passage of the resolution on Cuba. Their efforts demonstrate their commitment to democracy and their conviction that human rights are inalienable and universal. Their leadership, supported by the hard work of many other individuals and governments, served as an important reminder to the Castro regime that the world expects it to honor its international human rights obligations.
It was particularly telling that two nations so recently freed from Communist domination were so willing to sponsor this resolution. As Martin Palous, the Czech Deputy Foreign Minister, noted when he introduced the resolution on the floor of the Commission, "[T]he Czech Republic and Poland have strong reasons to take this step. These reasons largely stem from their own historical experience with the same totalitarian system as the one now practiced in Cuba. Former dissidents learned to appreciate the value of support from the democratic world, and above all, from institutions such as this Commission, when they were themselves persecuted not so long ago. Our commitment to help other people persecuted for human rights originates from there."
The Cuban government should regard the Commission's action as an opportunity to begin protecting human rights and preparing for a transition to democracy. Unfortunately, the Castro regime is unlikely to do so. Despite Pope John Paul II's visit early in 1998, Fidel Castro continues to suppress ruthlessly all forms of political dissent. Cuban authorities routinely engage in arbitrary detention of human rights advocates and independent journalists, subjecting them to interrogation, threats, and degrading treatment. In the past few months, the Castro regime has passed newly repressive laws designed to target those who peacefully advocate change.
No group has suffered more than the dissidents who risk imprisonment to demand that the Castro regime adhere to the fundamental principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That is why the resolution passed by the Commission called for the release of all those imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political and religious beliefs. That is why the resolution calls on Cuba for the release of such prisoners including the four founders of the Internal Dissidents' Working Group -- Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, Felix Bonne Carcasses, Rene Gomez Manzano, and Vladimiro Roca Antunes.
These individuals, like Czech dissident--turned President Vaclav Havel before them, are guilty only of speaking their truth to power so that the powerless may be heard.
In addition to these great international figures, many individuals in this country -- in the Department of State and on Capitol Hill, in Cuban-American organizations as well as in so many communities concerned with basic human rights -- worked with determination and devotion for the passage of this resolution.
The United States remains committed to promoting in Cuba a peaceful transition to a democratic future where human rights and personal freedom are respected and where UN resolutions calling for change would no longer be needed. That is why the Commission's decision to support unanimously the U.S. resolution on the right to democracy may in the long run be as important as its action on Cuba.
To be sure, democratization is a long and complex struggle, which does not come easily. Government "of the people" cannot be imposed from the outside. Rather, countries must come to democracy by their own path. Unlike dictatorship, democracy is never an imposition; it is always a choice.
Let us together pray for the day -- not far off -- when the people of Cuba, like their Czech and Polish friends, will have that choice.
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