The NLG Goes to Cuba

By Susan Scott, Task Force on the Americas Co-Chair

Not one, not two, but FOUR delegations from the NLG have made their way to Havana in the first half of 2015! The annual NLG Labor and Employment Committee trip to the International Labor Conference went down in March (see Matthew Rinaldi’s article in the NLG-SF Chapter’s Guild Notes), and another Guild group, led by Mark Burton, went to Havana in May to meet with negotiators for the Colombian Peace process. The Colombian negotiations have been proceeding for over two and a half years in Havana and have made great progress on the first three of five negotiating points (see www. The NLG-NYC Chapter also just visited Cuba on a delegation in early September. Early in June, three Guild members—Marjorie Cohn, Susan Scott and Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan—attended and spoke at the 7th International “Escuela de Verano” legal conference on International Humanitarian and International Public Law, organized by the Union Nacional de Juristas de Cuba (UNJC).

The conference was packed with analyses of the history and jurisprudence of international public and humanitarian law and its application to current events from the perspective of a socialist island nation in Latin America that has been under constant attack by the most powerful country in the world for over half a century.

The UNJC invited Guild members to attend and present papers at the conference. Marjorie Cohn spoke about the pitfalls and legal parameters of R2P (Responsibility to Protect), used by NATO as an excuse to invade Libya in 2011 and promoted by the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers. I spoke about the Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this past Spring and the political, economic and legal framework behind the United States’ longstanding refusal to recognize economic, social and cultural rights, specifically as it relates to housing and the criminalization of homelessness. Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan gave an overview of contemporary social and political movements in the U.S. and the use and challenges of a human rights framework as a legal and organizing strategy.

This was an international law conference unlike any you would find in the U.S., even at a Guild Convention.

When we talk about decolonization, we usually talk about Puerto Rico. The Cuban lawyers’ focus was on the Malvinas. When we talk about regional human rights courts, we talk about the Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights.

In Cuba, we heard from two members of the Central American Court of Justice, a twenty-year old body that focuses on “derecho comunitario” or community rights. Several speakers, including the Cuban Ambassador from Guatemala, discussed the judicial challenges facing indigenous peoples and a proposal for a transnational, Latin American and Caribbean citizenship. We heard critiques of the United Nations, ranging from so-called “robust peace-keeping” to the problematic structure, role and veto of the Security Council. The use of drones and “autonomous” weapons and their relation to humanitarian law was also a prominent topic. There was much discussion of the U.S. “opening” to Cuba and analysis of the illegal U.S. blockade—as well as the U.S. occupation of Guantanamo (including a new theory to recover the territory, called “rebus sic stantibus”). After panels on migration, “free trade”, and the application of the Vienna and Lisbon treaties, there was an entire day set aside to discuss international armed conflicts and humanitarian law. Speakers covered the Colombian conflict (being mediated now in Havana), Syria (including the destruction of “bienes culturales”), and Palestine’s statehood and relationship with the International Criminal Court. The Ukraine conflict is of particular concern to Cubans, partly because of the migration of thousands of Ukrainians to Cuba after the Chernobyl disaster.

Marjorie Cohn was interviewed on Cubavision. She also interviewed Rene Gonzalez and Antonio Gonzalez, two of the Cuban Five for an article in Truthout, Next Steps in the Normalization of US-Cuban Relations: Thoughts From the Cuban Five. An ongoing relationship between the Guild and the Union Nacional de Juristas de Cuba will bring new perspectives to both organizations. ¡Seguimos adelante!