Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, as well as scores of senior and mid-level Cuban regime officials are worried about the future; some of them, for their very lives and personal freedom. And while very few people in this town want to talk about it, these serial human rights abusers must be held accountable for their crimes not just for what they did in Cuba, but what they have done, and continue to do, throughout the Western Hemisphere, Africa, and other places.
The international legal system has evolved much since the allies penned the Inter-Allied Resolution on German War Crimes of 1942. The Nuremberg trials spawned a new process for international jurisprudence on human rights matters that can and must be tapped. For example, the creation of ad hoc courts to deal with gross violations of human rights including the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), is particularly suited for the Cuban situation. However, policymakers should also consider the unique inter-American system, even if it has to be created just for the Cuba case, via the Inter-American Court for Human Rights or an ad-hoc body like the ICTY or the ICTR.
All of the elements are available to initiate proceedings against high-ranking Cuban officials for crimes against humanity. There are hundreds of thousands of victims or family members that can documents the harm. For 13 years, noted academics and policy observers at the Cuba Archives project have been collecting names and evidence. There are a few other groups that have also been documenting gross human rights abuses in Cuba. And, no matter how much certain people at the National Security Council and Foggy Bottom may try to sweep this issue under the rug, there are new victims every month.
I’ve known and advised many victims of Cuban Communism. The things that this government has done to its people, as well as Americans, Central Americans, Africans, and many others, must be exposed for the world to see. More importantly, law breakers need to be held accountable for their actions. There is precedence in the Americas for doing so including the case against Chile’s Augusto Pinochet and Panama’s Manuel Noriega. While the procedures used in these cases were different from one another, and necessarily so, the violations are much more intense in scope, intensity, and number in the case Cuba. For several years now I’ve talked with many legal scholars and jurists in the Americas who think it can and should be seriously considered in the case of Cuba. It would not only help the Cuban people, but also others in countries in the region suffering similar harms.
I guarantee this issue concerns the Castro brothers and those who support them, or have otherwise engaged in gross human right violations since 1959. It is one of several reasons that I believe the Cuban regime so desperately wants some form of legitimacy in the form of political recognition from the United States. Regime henchmen are also concerned with the unknown, such as how will the people react when Fidel Castro dies? Venezuelan oil is also drying up and political conditions in that country could threaten the regime in Cuba. With Uncle Sam seemingly at their side, regime officials can dodge these and other touchy subjects while telegraphing to its people that all is seemingly well atop the Potemkin Communist Party. At least for now.
During the Congressional hearings last week, a champion of human rights, Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) urged his colleagues to seriously consider this issue. I’m glad that Rep. Smith did so. It is long overdue and as unpleasant and difficult this part of the Cuban transition is going to be, without this discussion, the transition will be incomplete. A lack of transitional justice will lead to bloodshed and strife within the island, and that is clearly not in the U.S. national interest.