CubaBrief: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights makes public new detailed report on human rights situation in Cuba

On Jun 4, 2020 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) made public a detailed human rights report on Cuba that covers 2017 through 2019. This time span includes the drafting and imposition of a new Constitution that maintains the dictatorship’s totalitarian nature, along with new human rights restrictions in the Castro regime’s legal code such as Decree 349 and Decree 370. Decree 349 dramatically restricts artistic spaces that were already small, and expands censorship against artists. Decree 370 threatens fines and imprisonment for any Cubans expressing themselves over the internet in a manner that the Castro regime finds objectionable.

The IACHR for the first time in 37 years created a country report on Cuba under article 60 of its Rules of Procedure. The IACHR drafted and published a new report “in response to the Cuban state’s lack of consent to its carrying out an observation visit and because of the worrying information it has received about the serious human rights situation in the country.” 

This report “also includes information obtained from 55 interviews with Cuban people who live or have lived on the island at some point in the last three years. In the report, the IACHR highlights the lack of pluralist spaces for political participation in Cuba. The single-party political regime seriously restricts people with different political convictions from participating in public political life and holding political office. Furthermore, authorities such as the National Assembly of People’s Power continue to hold a wide range of powers for public decision-making, which blurs the separation of powers. There is a continuing absence of conditions that provide guarantees for judicial independence, especially around cases involving activists and dissidents.”

The regional human rights groups also “emphasized that Cuba continues to be the only country in the Americas in which there are no guarantees of any kind for exercising the right to freedom of expression, and it remains concerned about the serious limitations on freedom of opinion, expression, and the imparting of information and ideas.”

Below is the press release and executive summary released this past week by the IACHR.  The full report is available online in PDF format.

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Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, June 4, 2020

IACHR Publishes Country Report on Human Rights Situation in Cuba and Expresses Concern over Dissidents and Human Rights Defenders

4 de junio, 2020

Washington D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has published a new country report, “The Human Rights Situation in Cuba.” In the report, the IACHR presents an overview of the human rights situation in the country between 2017 and 2019, in which it draws attention to how the one-party system implies a lack of participation in political life and free elections and notes the lack of provisions to guarantee the separation of powers, as the National Assembly continues to exercise various powers, and the absence of conditions to guarantee judicial independence. Likewise, the IACHR noted that certain social groups are particularly exposed to risk, especially human rights defenders, activists, and political dissidents, who are allegedly victims of short-term arbitrary detentions, processes of criminalization, and judicial persecution. The IACHR has made a series of recommendations to the Cuban government regarding these matters.

The IACHR monitors the human rights situation in Cuba continuously by virtue of its mandate under the Charter of the Organization of American States and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, which it has been doing through its various protection mechanisms. Between 1960 and 1983, the IACHR published seven country reports on Cuba. Since 1985, the IACHR has consistently included Cuba in chapter IV B of its annual report because it deems that the fundamental conditions and institutions that are inherent to representative democracy are not in place in the country: there is no judicial independence, there are limitations to the separation of powers, and there are continual restrictions on exercising political rights and freedom of expression, in addition to serious, large-scale, systematic violations of rights set forth in the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.

The IACHR noted that it has not created a country report under article 60 of its Rules of Procedure for 37 years. It has drafted and published this report in response to the Cuban state’s lack of consent to its carrying out an observation visit and because of the worrying information it has received about the serious human rights situation in the country. In the process of drafting this report, the IACHR has systematized and analyzed the information it received between 2017 and 2019 regarding the human rights situation in Cuba. To do so, the IACHR has drawn on ex officio investigations and inputs from the various mechanisms it has used to follow up on the situation in the country, including public hearings, precautionary measures, petitions and cases, press reports, including from Cuban government media, and decisions and recommendations from specialized international organizations.

The report also includes information obtained from 55 interviews with Cuban people who live or have lived on the island at some point in the last three years. In the report, the IACHR highlights the lack of pluralist spaces for political participation in Cuba. The single-party political regime seriously restricts people with different political convictions from participating in public political life and holding political office. Furthermore, authorities such as the National Assembly of People’s Power continue to hold a wide range of powers for public decision-making, which blurs the separation of powers. There is a continuing absence of conditions that provide guarantees for judicial independence, especially around cases involving activists and dissidents.

The IACHR emphasized that Cuba continues to be the only country in the Americas in which there are no guarantees of any kind for exercising the right to freedom of expression, and it remains concerned about the serious limitations on freedom of opinion, expression, and the imparting of information and ideas.

The report also analyzes the process of constitutional reform in the country. Although the IACHR welcomed the inclusion of several human rights and guarantees, it also drew attention to the importance of implementing these effectively and noted with concern that the constitution takes precedent over international treaties. The IACHR observed that the constitutional reform process was a unique opportunity for outlawing capital punishment as a criminal sanction but that this change was not contemplated during the process. Although capital punishment is not banned per se by the American Declaration, the IACHR has indicated that this does not exempt countries from complying with the standards and protections that are set out in that document.

On the matter of serious, systematic human rights violations, in the report, the IACHR expressed its ongoing concern over serious impacts on the political rights to vote and hold office, the right to residence and transit, and protection against arbitrary detention. The exercise of these rights is allegedly limited by the authoritarian exercise of power: political dissidents or those who are perceived as dissidents allegedly face continual restrictions to these rights.

In the report, the IACHR put forward a wealth of information regarding how certain groups are particularly exposed to risk, especially human rights defenders, who are allegedly victims of short-term arbitrary detentions, processes of criminalization, and judicial persecution, and also suffer continual restrictions on international travel or retaliations on their return to the country after traveling abroad. Likewise, the IACHR analyzed the circumstances in which certain particularly vulnerable groups find themselves, which include the invisibilization of people of African descent, discrimination and violence against women and people from the LGBTI community, the situation of children and adolescents and people with disabilities, restrictions on the full exercise of the right to movement and residence both within the country and abroad, and the persistence of deplorable conditions of detention for people who are deprived of their liberty. It also expressed its concern over economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the country.

Finally, the IACHR presented conclusions and made recommendations to the Cuba state to help it promote public policies that effectively guarantee democratic rights. It also expressed its willingness to provide the Cuban state with the necessary technical support for promoting the effective enjoyment of human rights for all people on the island.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 127/20

http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2020/127.asp

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, February 3, 2020

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

1.In this report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“Inter-American Commission,” “Commission,” or “IACHR”) addresses the situation of human rights in Cuba, focusing in particular on the period from 2017 to 2019. The Commission presents an overview of the characteristics of the Cuban State today, identifying the main issues of concern in the area of human rights and offering recommendations to the State.

2.Although the Government of Cuba does not currently participate in the Organization of American States and has not signed the American Convention on Human Rights, the IACHR has constantly monitored the situation of human rights in Cuba, in keeping with its mandate under the Charter of the Organization of American States (Art. 106) and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.

3.Commission reaffirms its competence to examine the human rights situation in Cuba. The understanding of the Commission is that the exclusion from the inter-American system occurred with respect to the Government of Cuba, not the State. The State of Cuba is party to international instruments on human rights in the Hemisphere, such as the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Charter of the Organization of American States; it also signed resolution VIII of the Fifth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs (Santiago, Chile, 1959), which established that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is “charged with furthering respect for such rights.” Therefore, the international obligations contracted by the State of Cuba have legitimized the competence of the IACHR. Furthermore, with respect to the States that have not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, the States conferred on the Commission the power “to pay particular attention to the observance of the human rights referred to in Articles I, II, III, IV, XVIII, XXV and XXVI of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man,” as established in Article 20(a) of the Statute of the IACHR. In this sense, it is incumbent on the IACHR to monitor human rights in Cuba. In addition, the Commission duly notifies the representatives of the Cuban State of each of the actions that should be brought to its attention, thereby respecting its right of defense.

4.The Commission has monitored the human rights situation in Cuba through its various protection mechanisms. Since 1960, the IACHR has published seven country reports: five on the human rights situation in Cuba and two on political prisoners and their families. Cuba has featured in Chapter IV.B of the annual report of the IACHR almost every year since 1985. In addition, the IACHR processes requests for precautionary measures and individual petitions submitted by Cubans, as well as issuing press releases on the human rights situation on the island.

5.Through this report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights deepens its monitoring of the human rights situation in Cuba in this time of change.The Commission has yet to receive consent from the Cuban State for its first visit to the island, which makes it difficult to obtain comprehensive information. Nevertheless, the report draws on open sources and takes into account both the official press and the press that expresses political opposition to the Cuban Government. It also takes into account investigations and reports from different journalistic sources, international organizations, and local civil society.

6. In addition, a particularly relevant component of the report are interviews with Cuban people who live or have lived on the island at some point in the last three years. Through accounts of individual experiences, the interviews provide an overall description of human rights situations. Thus, they provide a human narrative of events that took place during those years, as well as of perceptions and experiences in relation to the State and the guarantee of rights. Faced with the impossibility of visiting Cuba, the IACHR listens to the voices of Cubans and includes them in its examination of the situation in the country. In all, the Commission conducted 55 interviews with activists, human rights defenders, regime opponents, independent journalists, and victims of human rights violations, as well as members of the Cuban diaspora who maintain direct contact and ties with the country’s population and the Cuban community. In order to carry out this data collection, semi-structured interviews were conducted using a standard instrument.

7.The report consists of ten chapters: (I) Introduction; (II) The United States’ Economic Embargo; (III) The Constitution of 2019; (IV) The Institutional Framework of the State; (V) Representative Democracy and Political Rights; (VI) Situation of Human Rights Defenders; (VII) Freedom of Expression; (VIII) Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights; (IX) Situation of Human Rights of Other Population Groups; and (X) Conclusions and Recommendations. It is worth noting that in Chapter IX, the IACHR analyzes issues related to people of African descent, women, members of the LGBTI community, children and adolescents, persons with disabilities, people deprived of their liberty, and migrants.

8.In the introductory chapter, the Commission sets out some technical aspects of methodology and presents the situation of Cuba in relation to the Organization of American States and, in particular, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In the latter section, the IACHR reaffirms its competence to monitor the human rights situation on the island, based on its mandate.

9.In the chapter on theeconomic blockade by the United States of America, the IACHR, consistent with its previous pronouncements, reiterates the importance of ending the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba in order to ensure human rights that are impaired as a consequence of it.

10. In the chapter on the 2019 Constitution, it describes the process of its adoption and promulgation, and makes a number of observations about its content. The Commission welcomes the Government’s intention to use popular participation mechanisms for the adoption of the constitutional text, such as the popular consultation and the referendum. However, it expresses concern about the how those mechanisms functioned, since it received multiple testimonies that those spaces did not take into account the opinions of people opposed to the Government, activists, and artists. The Commission recalls that in democracies the opinion must be guaranteed of all citizens, who are entitled to participate in the decisions that affect them.

11. In its report, the Commission welcomes the inclusion of several human rights and guarantees in the Constitution. It highlights the importance of their effective implementation. The IACHR also notes with concern that the Constitution is ranked above international treaties. The Commission also considers that the constitutional reform process was a unique opportunity to outlaw capital punishment as a criminal penalty. However, the new Constitution does not contain any rules on the matter. While it is not proscribed per sein the American Declaration, the Commission has indicated that that does not exempt countries from the standards and protections contained in the Declaration.

12. The Commission notes with regard to procedural guarantees that the new Constitution included the guarantees of habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence, and the right of access to justice. Regarding the latter two, the IACHR had called attention to the fact that they were in the constitutional text, an therefore it welcomes their inclusion. However, it calls for legislation to provide the conditions for the effective functioning of habeas corpus as a mechanism to protect the right to personal liberty. The testimonies collected were emphatic in pointing out that despite its constitutionalization, that guarantee is not effective. The Commission is concerned at the large amount of testimonies and public information denouncing arbitrary arrests of activists and regime opponents as a practice on the island.

13. In the chapter on the institutional framework of the State, the IACHR notes, that other than the creation of the position of Prime Minister, it was largely unchanged in the wake of the 2019 Constitution. The Cuban Communist Party continues to be highly important since it is considered the highest political and leadership force in society and the State. The National Assembly of People’s Power still concentrates several public powers, and there are no institutional changes to ensure an independent administration of justice nor a separation of public powers.

14.The Commission is concerned by testimonies that denounced the lack of impartiality in the administration of justice—especially in the case of activists and persons who oppose the regime—and by those that mentioned difficulties in obtaining representation by independent lawyers.

15.In the chapter on representative democracy and political rights, the IACHR notes that the essential elements of a representative democracy are still absent in Cuba, and that the de jure identification of the Cuban Communist Party as the sole party undermines the political rights of citizens. In any case, the Commission notes that, de facto, in Cuba there are multiple political movements and organizations that reportedly encounter restrictions on their rights to elect, to be elected, and to assemble, aimed at preventing their participation in politics. The IACHR is also concerned that actions to restrict the rights of political activists reputedly also extend to their families, including children.

16.In the chapter on human rights defenders, the IACHR presents copious information about the situation of particular risk that they face, including being victims of constant restrictions on international travel, short-term arbitrary detentions, criminalization and judicial persecution. The Commission has reproached the existence on the books of ambiguous criminal classifications in previous annual reports, noting similar vagueness in the concept of “dangerous state” (estado peligroso) contained in Article 72 and following provisions of the Criminal Code. Specifically in relation to human rights defenders, it has been informed about the use of indictments for crimes such as contempt, pre-criminal social dangerousness, non-payment of fines, public disorder, and resistance or rebellion, in order to discourage their work in defending and promoting human rights.

17.In the chapter on freedom of expression, the IACHR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression noted that Cuba continues to be the only country in the Hemisphere in which there are no guarantees of any kind for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. A model of state monopoly over the media remains in place, as does the prohibition on founding private media outlets, all of which is incompatible with international standards on freedom of expression. Targeted and deliberate persecution of independent media and journalists continues, and for periods even intensifies. With regard to the Internet, the legal provisions would seem to be extremely restrictive and ambiguous, and there is limited connectivity for the Cuban population. In addition, the blocking and censorship of critical media seriously impedes the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and privacy on the Internet. In general, with regard to freedom of expression, there is serious discrimination on political grounds in theexercise of human rights against anyone who thinks or wishes to express himself or herself differently from the socialist regime.

18.In the chapter on economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights express concern regarding the housing deficit in Cuba, reports about the large number of homeless people, and complaints concerning deficiencies in water and basic sanitation services on the island. In relation to the right to food, the Commission welcomes the fact that the State has met its targets under the Millennium Development Goals, reducing hunger and malnutrition. However, it is concerned at reports of shortages of essential foodstuffs and difficulty of access to foodstuffs by the population. In relation to cultural rights, the Commission is troubled by the restrictions imposed by Decree No. 349/2018, and that the great power granted to public authorities to encourage prior censorship of cultural expressions. With respect to trade union rights, the IACHR was informed of the barriers that exist in Cuba to the exercise of independent trade union activities, such as the obstacles imposed on the Independent Trade Union Association of Cuba. As to social security, the Commission is concerned by information that pensions are insufficient to buy the basic staples necessary for a person’s survival. Regarding the right to work, the Commission received information about violations in relation to pay as well as alleged gender, political and racial discrimination, which infringe the right to work in Cuba. With regard to the right to health, the Commission welcomes that the State has made positive strides in that area; however, it is concerned about reports of deterioration in the quality of the health service offered to the population, the supply of medicines, and the functioning of the health care system on the island. With respect to the right to education, the Commission is concerned by reports of violation of academic freedom on the island and conditions in education facilities. Finally, in relation to environmental rights, the Commission and its Special Rapporteur express concern at the reports of poor waste management and pollution in less developed parts of the country.

19.In the chapter on the human rights situation of other population groups, the IACHR also takes note of the situation faced by people of African descent, women, members of the LGBTI community, children and adolescents, persons with disabilities, people deprived of their liberty, and migrants on the island. For example, it highlighted the absence of clear, disaggregated statistics based on intersectoral databases on the Afro-descendent population, which renders that population invisible, as well as situations of discrimination in labor, educational and social contexts, and the violation of the rights of Afro-Cubans in the areas of health, housing, unemployment, and access to clean water and sanitation services. As regards, women’s rights, the IACHR notes that the State has made efforts to adapt legal and State mechanisms in favor of equality between women and men; however, Cuba’s legal framework has not mainstreamed into its legislation a general definition of discrimination against women or protection against gender-based violence. In addition, there are concerns about the persistence of gender stereotypes that discriminate against girls and women. With regard to the LGBTI population, the IACHR considers that the scarcity of data on this type of violence in Cuba makes the problem of discrimination unviable; however, based on available information, the Commission found that that population suffers violence, discrimination, restrictions on their rights of assembly and association, and curtailment of their freedom of expression and dissemination of thought. Concerning the rights of persons with disabilities, the IACHR regrets the lack of access for persons with disabilities to the health services necessary for their well-being and incorporation into working life, an inclusive, quality education, as well as health care and employment. Regarding migrants, the Commission expresses its concern at the multiple restrictions and procedures that are said to obstruct the effective exercise of personal liberty both on and off the island. Likewise, regarding the population deprived of liberty, the Commission still does not have updated information on the number of people in Cuba’s prisons. However, it does have reports on the persistence of deplorable conditions of detention, overcrowding, insufficient medicine, food and drinking water, inadequate hygiene and sanitation, and deficient medical assistance.

20.Finally, the IACHR offers its conclusions regarding the situation of human rights on the island. It also offers recommendations to the State in order to encourage public policies that effectively guarantee rights in a democracy. The IACHR expresses to the Cuban State its willingness to provide the necessary technical support to promote effective enjoyment of human rights for all in Cuba.

Full report available online: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Cuba2020-en.pdf