International tribunal finds US blockade of Cuba in violation of international law

The International Tribunal Against the Blockade of Cuba took place in the Belgian capital on November 16 and 17 and heard from dozens of witnesses from European and Cuban civil society

November 17, 2023 by Zoe Alexandra

The International Tribunal on the Blockade of Cuba was held in the European Parliament in Brussels. Photo: Zoe Alexandra

“Comrades, my first words are for the Palestinian people that suffer a true genocide by Israel with the complicity of the North American government, the same one that has blockaded us for more than 60 years.” With these words Homero Acosta, the secretary of Cuba’s National Assembly and member of Cuba’s State Council kicked off the sessions of the International Tribunal Against the Blockade of Cuba, highlighting the inextricable connection between the assault on the Palestinian people and the Cuban people: US imperialism.

The tribunal held in the European Parliament in Brussels was organized by the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples and The Left, a parliamentary group in the European Parliament. It sought to discuss the human impact of the economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States for the last 60 years. It focused on how the blockade violates international law and also the human rights of both the Cuban and the European people. The intensification of the blockade through the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States was also a key element.

The judges presiding over the tribunal included the German International Law expert Normal Peach, member of the Democratic Jurists Society and professor, Dimitris Kaltsonis, member of the Lawyers College of Portugal, Ricardo Joao Duarte, president of the National Lawyers Guild Suzanne Adely, writer and journalist Daniela Dahn, and the International Law specialist Simone Dioguiardi.

The prosecution which presented the opening arguments was composed of Jan Fermon, of the Lawyers College of Brussels, Nana Gyamfi of the National Conference of Black Lawyers of the United States, and Antonio Segura of the Lawyers College of Madrid.

Throughout the sessions of the tribunal, in addition to the prosecution’s arguments, judges heard oral and written arguments from Members of European Parliament, members of European and Cuban civil society, scientists, Cuba solidarity activists, representatives of the business community in Europe, Cuban cancer patients, journalists, feminist activists, and many others whose lives and livelihoods have been impacted by the many different components of the US blockade on Cuba. The diversity of economic and social sectors represented among those who presented arguments in the tribunal speaks to the expansive and extraterritorial nature of the six-decade blockade – breaking with the myth that the blockade is precise and uniquely impacts Cuban political leaders.

The blockade on Cuba inhibits the advancement of people everywhere

In her opening argument as prosecutor, the lawyer and rights activists Nana Gyamfi declared: “The blockade has had a disproportionately negative impact on Cuban women and people with disabilities. The blockade has exacerbated the gender gap and impeded women from achieving their goals for themselves and their families. Women as primary caregivers and healthcare professionals are affected by the embargo’s impacts to Cuba’s healthcare sector. Cubans with disabilities also face disproportionate harm as the blockade prevents them from accessing equipment and software that enables social inclusion and personal autonomy and improves their quality of life.”

During the tribunal, participants also watched a video testimony from doctors and family members of child cancer patients in Cuba who have encountered tremendous difficulties in accessing necessary, life-saving treatment due to the restrictions imposed by the blockade. The health workers in the video manifested that they face the difficulty of accessing sufficient medical supplies and working equipment, essential in providing quality care to their patients. Those who testified on this issue and several others, highlighted that this situation is created not necessarily because of the lack of available funds to purchase such supplies or treatment, but the restrictions on financial transactions.

This difficulty was echoed by European business owners who testified in the tribunal. Those who attempt to do business, invest, or trade in Cuba, are not only often unable to find banks to carry out their transactions, but they have also suffered retaliatory measures such as having lines of credit canceled. This has been the case for Spanish businessman Juan Francisco Fernández Campaña who testified on November 16 in the tribunal.

Peter Mertens, a leader in the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB), spoke in the contextualization portion of the tribunal and condemned Europe’s submissive attitude towards the US. He declared: “One cannot be sovereign and, at the same time, continue to listen to Washington’s orders. Any country claiming to be sovereign should establish its own relationships and not submit to the United States’ illegal practices of coercion and punishment. Europe must go its own way and establish full relations with Cuba.”

He added that, “The cooperation between the European Union and Cuba is a win-win situation on many levels, including science. A European regulation, known as the “blocking law,” states that “companies are not authorized to apply US laws imposing sanctions, including against Cuba.” Banks are therefore not allowed to block transfers to Cuba or apply sanctions. Yet, most Belgian banks do. This must stop, and it can stop.”

Belinda Sánchez, a Cuban scientist and one of the creators of the Soberana COVID-19 vaccine, testified and spoke about the multitude of ways that Cuba’s scientific research and development is severely limited by the blockade. Cuba being essentially banned from buying from US markets means that it has limited access to necessary materials for research and at least a 20% price increase for obtaining materials from other markets.

Sánchez also highlighted that the blockade even impacts the reach of Cuba’s scientific advances because many banks do not accept their payments for patents and scientific publications as they come from Cuban banks. She explained that “Not paying for a patent has the direct consequence of losing the patent in that territory, which leads to it being copied, with the potential loss of markets for Cuba. Not paying for a scientific publication has the direct consequence that the publication is withdrawn from the journal and that the authors are prohibited from publishing in it again.”

She emphasized: “Years of research aimed at human health are being destroyed. In my Institution alone, we currently have a payment arrears of 24 publications on the topic of Cancer Immunotherapy, some of which are older than 4 years.”

The aforementioned testimonies are just a small sample of the type of arguments heard during the two days on the basis of which the judges presiding over the tribunal made their ruling.

The blockade violates international law

In the closing session of the tribunal on November 17, the judges ruled that the blockade violates International Law and universal norms for peaceful coexistence.

They also stressed that the economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed by Washington violates the UN Charter, which enshrines the sovereignty of the countries, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and agreements of the World Trade Organization, among other norms.

After hearing the arguments of the Prosecution and the witnesses about the human and economic damage of the blockade, the court recalled that the United States has applied this unilateral system of coercive measures for more than 60 years, affecting the living conditions of an entire people, its development, and the performance of the various sectors of society.

Likewise, the magistrates’ decision reflects the extraterritorial scope of the blockade, a component contrary to International Law, the unjustifiable nature of the siege, and its intensification with the inclusion of the island on the state sponsors of terrorism list.

The opinion read by the judges, also pointed out the blockade as violating the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966. It also refers to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the possibility that Washington’s hostility and its determination to cause systematic collective damage fits into this crime.

The international tribunal urged the United States to end the blockade against Cuba and compensate affected companies and citizens.

As the key partner of the US, Israel, continues to commit flagrant violations of international law in its genocidal attacks on Gaza and the Palestinian people, many ask, who does international law apply to? Until the formal and binding tribunals will judge the crimes committed by the US and its allies, the courts of the people will continue to make their judgements and the organized people will demand justice on the streets.

Source: Peoples Dispatch