Days Before Obama's Visit, Cuba's Allies Try to Block Dissident From Speaking at UN Human Rights Council

Patrick Goodenough | March 16, 2016 | 4:32am EDT
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Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, and her mother Ofelia Acevedo talk to the media in Miami, Fla. on July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Pat Carter, File)

( – The Castro regime, backed by representatives of some of the world’s most repressive regimes, tried on Tuesday to prevent a prominent Cuban dissident from speaking at the U.N. Human Rights Council, repeatedly interrupting Rosa Maria Paya who expressed the hope that President Obama in his March 21-22 visit will defend human rights.

Paya had scarcely spoken a single sentence when Cuban delegate Pablo Berti complained that she was not properly accredited to speak as representative of a non-governmental organization (NGO).

Paya was speaking on behalf of Freedom House during a general HRC debate in Geneva under an agenda item on “human rights situations requiring the council’s attention.”

The independent Washington-based democracy watchdog is accredited – via the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – to participate at HRC sessions.

But Berti said it was public knowledge that Paya was not a representative of “so-called NGO, Freedom House,” implying that she should therefore be silenced.

One by one, delegates from Venezuela, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, China, Egypt, Pakistan and others spoke in favor of Cuba’s position.

Other members, including the U.S., Canada and European nations, spoke in support of allowing Paya to speak.

Later in the session, Berti lashed out at Freedom House, calling it “a machine of subversion” that “answers to the CIA.”

He said the group’s funds come from the State Department and USAID, adding that its “links to known terrorists are well-known.”

(The State Department and USAID are among many governmental and private supporters of Freedom House, listed on its website.)

In response to the intervention by Cuba and others, the HRC’s president, Choi Kyonglim of South Korea, noted that Freedom House was indeed accredited and that it had authorized Paya to speak in its name.

Invited to continue, Paya said the Cuban people have not had the right to elect their representatives for decades. She voiced the hope that Obama during his visit to the island will speak in favor of human rights and a national consultation process.

Paya then referred to the slain opposition leader Oswaldo Paya, her father, who died in a 2012 car crash which relatives and supporters view as suspicious. In her remarks, Paya said he had been “murdered.”

Another round of points of order ensued, led by Cuba’s delegate who charged that Paya was directing “baseless accusations” at his country, in contravention of U.N. practices and policies.

Cuban delegate Pablo Berti speaks at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. (Screenshot: UN Webcast)

Other countries backed Berti, although the Dutch representative, speaking for the European Union, said NGO statements should not be interrupted simply because they include “concrete examples” of violations by governments.

Eventually allowed to continue, Paya spoke about death threats received by her family after she spoke on a previous occasion at the HRC, in 2013.

She urged the council to “try to prevent the impunity of the Cuban government and try to help save the lives of those who are defending human rights and democracy in Cuba. The delegation of the Cuban tyranny has of course been striving to do this—”

Berti again interrupted, accusing her of using “very disrespectful language” about his government.

His colleague from Venezuela went further, saying it was “inconceivable” to hear such language in relation to a sovereign state, and urging the president to withdraw Freedom House’s right to speak. By this time Paya’s time had all but expired.

Later in Tuesday’s debate – during a right to reply period – Venezuelan representative Jorge Valero himself used strong language in relation to a sovereign state, referring to U.S. diplomats in the chamber as the “imperialists’ delegation” and “representatives of the most interventionist empire that’s ever existed in the history of humanity.”

For his part, Berti accused the U.S. of torturing terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, and of enforcing a “genocidal” blockade against Cuba.

During Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, Rosa Maria Paya was a guest of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a leading critic of the president’s policy of engaging Havana, announced the previous month.

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