Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, U.N. special rapporteur on trafficking in persons with an emphasis on women and children, arrived in Cuba today for a five-day visit. She will be making stops in Artemisa, Matanzas, and Havana.
The Castro regime has long resisted external scrutiny of its human rights record, but a lot has changed since former U.S. President Barack Obama began secret talks with President Castro that normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba after over 50 years of enmity. Cuba watchers who worked closely with the Obama administration during the negotiations have asked the Trump administration not to do anything drastic toward Cuba in its ongoing policy review, saying the normalized relations have improved human rights on the island.
Giammarinaro, a judge of the Civil Court of Rome who was appointed to serve as an independent trafficking expert by the Human Rights Council in 2014, said she would meet government officials and members of civil society organizations.
“My visit is an opportunity to meet relevant authorities and key people and groups, to determine the progress made and the challenges Cuba faces in addressing trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation, as well as any other forms of trafficking,” Giammarinaro said in a statement. “Particular attention will be paid to measures in place and those planned to prevent trafficking, to protect victims and provide them with access to effective remedies.”
The last U.N. human rights expert to visit the island was Jean Ziegler, who was the then U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, in November 2007. After his visit, Ziegler, a Swiss sociologist, praised Cuba for feeding its people adequately and told news sources that the island nation had the best record among developing countries in ensuring no one went hungry despite long-standing U.S. economic sanctions.
Like Giammarinaro’s visit this week, Zeigler’s visit was also the first by a U.N. rapporteur in almost a decade. He was invited after the newly established U.N. Human Rights Council, of which Cuba recently renewed its membership for another three-year term, decided to end its mandate to investigate human rights abuses on the island.
Some experts criticized Ziegler’s positive comments about the island, saying his visit was designed to “cleanse” Cuba’s reputation with the U.N. after the elimination of the council’s mandate to investigate the island. Critics argued that Ziegler’s controversial history as a diplomat and radical Marxist ideas made him a poor choice for investigating Cuba on behalf of the Human Rights Council in 2007.
Giammarinaro is expected to present her preliminary findings at a press conference in Havana on April 14, and her recommendations will be included in the official report presented to the Human Rights Council in June next year.