House bill proposes tying human rights to removal of sanctions against Cuba

House bill proposes tying human rights to removal of sanctions against Cuba

[JURIST] A bill was introduced in the US House of Representatives [official website] on Wednesday proposing to tie any further removal of sanctions against Cuba to the nation’s human rights record [HRW report]. The measure, titled The Cuban Human Rights Act of 2015 [text, PDF] and introduced by Representative Chris Smith [official website] of New Jersey, comes in the wake of President Barack Obama’s recent pronouncement [NY Times report] to Congress that he intends to remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list [text]. The list is composed of nations the Secretary of State deems guilty of funding international terrorism, and the new measure seeks to prevent Cuba’s removal due to an alleged history of sheltering terrorists from Spain, Colombia and the US. Proponents of the bill, such as Smith and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [official website], argue that it is a bipartisan bill seeking to inform the American people of regular human rights violations in Cuba, and it also serves to rebuke Obama for unilaterally seeking to alter American relations with Cuba. Cuba has been a member of the State Sponsors of Terrorism list since 1982, and is joined on the list by Iran and Sudan.

The US and Cuba recently began working to restore ties for the first time since the nations severed relations [CFR backgrounder] in 1961. Earlier this month Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas [official website] in Panama, making a commitment to repairing relations. In January eight Senators introduced [JURIST report] legislation that would end US travel restrictions on Cuba. The legislation, which was introduced by Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake, would also end financial transaction restrictions on travel between the two countries. In December Obama directed [JURIST report] Secretary of State John Kerry to reestablish diplomatic relations and to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. He also announced “steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.” In 2011 Obama ordered the Departments of State, Treasury and Homeland Security to take steps to ease restrictions [JURIST report] on travel and remittances to Cuba. The regulations built off of those issued [JURIST report] in April 2009, which eased travel and remittances restrictions for Cuban Americans and their families in Cuba only.