• Allison Baker

FACT CHECK: Did Canada “Break with the Free World” at the UN?

MISLEADING. In early November, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a resolution to end the US embargo on Cuba. The US proposed eight “human rights” amendments to this resolution. Canada, along with the majority of other countries, voted in favour of ending the embargo and against the eight amendments.

On November 1, the General Assembly of the United Nations, which is composed of 193 member states and tackles an array of international issues, held a vote on Item 43—the “necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” Member states also voted on several amendments to the draft resolution that were introduced by the United States. Canada voted against the amendments and in favour of ending the embargo.

A couple of weeks later, United Nations Watch—an unaffiliated website with a self-declared mandate to “monitor the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter”—published an article condemning Canada for “siding with Cuba 8 times at UN.”

UN Watch’s claims are misleading for several reasons. First, some historical context is needed.

The US embargo on Cuba has been in place for more than fifty-five years and was originally implemented to “promote national and hemispheric security” by isolating Fidel Castro’s communist government in the 1960s. Resolutions to end the embargo have been proposed yearly at the UNGA for the past twenty-seven years, and member states have repeatedly discussed the embargo’s negative effects on the Cuban people and economy. (As Venezuela’s representative said in a statement this year, “The embargo is the main obstacle to Internet access, the exchange of ideas and cultural relations in Cuba.”) Each year, the resolution is passed with majority vote. However, UNGA resolutions are nonbinding, which is why the embargo remains in place today.

Before the vote this year, the US introduced eight amendments aimed at addressing the “denial of basic human rights” in Cuba. In her speech to the assembly, the US representative said that the resolution to end the embargo would be a “waste of everyone’s time” if it did not include her country’s proposed amendments.

Many member states, including Canada, spoke out against the amendments prior to voting. The majority agreed that while the amendments addressed important topics, they also diverged from the original intent of the resolution—namely, ending the economic, commercial, and financial embargo on Cuba. The Canadian representative reiterated this sentiment, saying that although Canada would vote against the amendments, it was not because of their “substance.” This resolution was simply not the right platform for “[considering] Cuba’s international human rights obligations.”

It is therefore misleading to say that Canada voted against measures meant to address Cuba’s “widespread human rights violations,” because it actually voted against the inclusion of those amendments in the first place.

In the UN Watch’s article says that Canada “broke with the free world and joined Syria, Iran and North Korea” by voting against the amendments. This makes it seem like Canada was one of only a few countries, alongside the other three named, to be in opposition—which is false. In fact, on seven of the eight amendments, only three countries out of 191 voted in favour: Israel, Ukraine, and the United States. The others either voted against (varying between 113 and 114 votes) or didn’t vote at all (varying between sixty-five and sixty-six abstentions).

In the end, 189 countries voted in favour of the draft resolution to end the embargo on Cuba. Two countries voted against: Israel and the United States.