Predictably, some conservatives have reacted harshly to President Obama's announcement that he will work toward normalizing relations with the communist regime in Cuba after more than a half century of tensions. Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was especially critical, and issued a statement that read in part:
"The President’s decision to reward the Castro regime and begin the path toward the normalization of relations with Cuba is inexplicable. Cuba’s record is clear. Just as when President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Castro family still controls the country, the economy and all levers of power."
That ties have been severed since the Eisenhower administration doesn't exactly help Rubio's cause. For more than a century, 11 U.S. presidents have enforced an embargo that failed to oust Fidel Castro and now his brother Raul from power. If there were ever a poster child for ineffective sanctions, this is it.
Beyond this, however, is the reality that the U.S. has been supporting regimes whose human rights records are worse than Cuba's. This isn't to excuse the Castros' brutal record, but if Rubio and others are going to argue that this should prevent the easing of relations, then they must be fully prepared to reassess the very close ties the U.S. maintains with the following countries, whose human rights records have been ranked by the International Human Rights Rank Indicator, which ranks Cuba 117th.
1) Egypt -- Rank: 122nd
Despite hopes that the Arab Spring uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 would yield democratic fruit, reformers have been sorely disappointed. There were several alarming incidents in the last month alone, including a raid on a gay bathhouse, the issuance of a mass death sentence, expansion of military courts, and an unwillingness to take proactive measures to combat the country's prevalent practice of female genital mutilation.
2) Pakistan -- Rank: 150th
The U.S. maintains a strategic relationship with the Pakistani government that is seen as vital to the country's stability as the nuclear power fends off a Taliban insurgency. However, Pakistan's record is marred by "extrajudicial and targeted killings, sectarian violence, disappearances, and torture," while "other human rights problems included poor prison conditions, arbitrary detention, lengthy pretrial detention, a weak criminal justice system, lack of judicial independence in the lower courts." Furthermore, the country's draconian blasphemy laws are used and abused with reckless abandon to settle person and political scores.
3) Iraq -- Rank: 189th
While Iraqis enjoy more political freedom than they did under Saddam Hussein, the country is far from a model of freedom. Violent sectarianism is common, as are "violence against and harassment of journalists; limits on religious freedom due to extremist threats and violence; restrictions on freedom of movement; large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees; discrimination against and societal abuses of women and ethnic, religious, and racial minorities." Meanwhile, members of the country's security forces enjoy a "culture of impunity" that shields them from "investigation and successful prosecution for human rights violations"
Additionally, two rivals of former President Nouri al-Maliki have been sentenced to death on terrorism charges based entirely on their confessions, which appear to have been elicited via torture.
4) Indonesia -- Rank: 194th
Last month Human Rights Watch reported that the Indonesian government subjects female applicants for its national security force to "virginity tests" in what is another manifestation of the country's growing religion-driven conservatism and intolerance being fueled by extremists who wreak violent havoc and have little to fear from indifferent security forces. Last year, it was revealed "that both military and police personnel committed unjustified killings, some of which were not investigated transparently."
5) Nigeria -- Rank: 197th
The abduction of a couple of hundred schoolgirls in by Boko Haram terrorists in the north of the country exemplified the ineptitude of a government too corrupt to crush a ragtag group of extremists whose name means "Western education is sin." Indeed, the security services tasked with fighting the group itself has engaged in "extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, beatings, arbitrary detention, mistreatment of detainees, and destruction of property; and widespread societal violence, including ethnic, regional, and religious violence" In addition, homosexuality is illegal in Nigeria, and is punishable by death or lashes.
6) Afghanistan -- Rank: 202nd
Despite the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 and the continued presence of U.S. forces in the country, Afghanistan has struggled to protect and promote its citizens' human rights, even beyond the mayhem caused by the ongoing Taliban insurgency. These human rights problems include the government's "torture and abuse of detainees; increased targeted violence and endemic societal discrimination against women and girls; widespread violence, including armed insurgent groups’ killings of persons affiliated with the government and indiscriminate attacks on civilians."
7) Saudi Arabia -- Rank: 205th
The Saudi royal family wields absolute power in this Wahhabist theocracy based on sharia. There are a myriad of issues, including "pervasive restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of expression, including on the internet, and freedom of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and a lack of equal rights for women, children, and noncitizen workers." Women are prohibited from driving an automobiles, and those who are caught doing so are arrested. In August, at least eight people were beheaded, mostly for crimes such as "drug trafficking, adultery, apostasy and 'sorcery.'"