CubaBrief: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights holds Cuba responsible for deaths of pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero

Oswaldo Payá And Harold Cepero were murdered by the Castro regime on July 22, 2012

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today made public its “Report on Admissibility and Merits No. 83/23 of Case 14,196” in which it held the State of Cuba responsible for the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero. This has been a 10 year struggle for truth and justice for the Payá and Cepero families.

Many questions remain unanswered that demand a thorough investigation. The Washington Post editorial published today with the title “The case of Oswaldo Payá’s death in Cuba is not closed” is right. There are too many questions that still need to be answered.

“Cuba has never lifted a finger to properly investigate Payá’s death. Payá’s wife, Ofelia Acevedo Maura, has repeatedly requested the autopsy report but never got one. Many unanswered questions remain about the deaths. One of the most important — not answered by the commission — is: Who were the Cuban agents in that car that rammed Payá? Who sent them?”

Over 10 years ago on March 16, 2013 UN Watch issued an appeal for an international inquiry into the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero that was addressed to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, and Ambassadors of all Member States. On March 22, 2013 the UN Secretary General’s spokesman acknowledged the appeal during a briefing.  Less than a month later on April 15, 2013, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) received a petition filed by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights to investigate if the Cuban government was responsible for the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, on July 22, 2012.

On July 22, 2015, Javier El-Hage and Roberto González of the Human Rights Foundation released a 147-page report titled The Case of Oswaldo Payá that concluded Harold and Oswaldo’s deaths were “the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the State, acting (1) with the intent to kill Oswaldo Payá and the passengers in the vehicle he was riding, (2) with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm to them, or (3) with reckless or depraved indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to the life of the most prominent Cuban activist in the last twenty-five years and the passengers riding with him in the car.”

Ten years later after the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights delivered their petition to the IACHR, the 28 page decision was published today in Spanish and in English on their website.

Based on the findings of fact and law, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concludes that the State of Cuba is responsible for the violation of the rights established in Articles I, IV, V, VIII, IX, X, XVIII, XXII, XXIV and XXV of the American Declaration to the detriment of Oswaldo Paýa; also is responsible for the violations of the rights established in Articles I, IV, V, XXII, XVIII and XXIV to the detriment of Harold Cepero; also is responsible for the violation of the rights established in Articles I, XXVI y XXV to the detriment of Ángel Carromero; and responsible for the violation of the rights established in articles VIII, IX and X in detriment of the relatives of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights celebrated the decision published today by the IACHR, and Kerry Kennedy, president of the organization said in a video statement: “It has been our honor to represent the Payá and Cepero families in their pursuit of justice and accountability, and it is my sincere hope that this long-awaited verdict brings them some degree of peace and healing.”

Members of the Payá family were quoted in the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights press release.

“On that July afternoon, upon receiving the tragic news, my heart immediately acknowledged the truth that this Commission today reaffirms: the Castros finally carried out their murderous threats. Yet, they failed to kill Oswaldo’s legacy. My husband’s lessons compel us to envision the future with optimism and realize that we possess the power to overcome our circumstances. The path towards liberation is already charted for Cuba – the Path of the People,” said Ofelia Acevedo, Payá’s widow.

“Today’s decision confirms to the world what we have known all along – that my father, Oswaldo Payá, and Harold Cepero were executed by State agents on orders of the Castros. We are now a step closer to justice, holding the Cuban Regime accountable for its atrocious acts.” Rosa María Payá, Payá’s daughter and founder of Cuba Decide, added. “This is not just a victory for our families, but for all the victims of the dictatorship and all Cubans who keep fighting for democracy and freedom.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in their report found that “Oswaldo Payá, a human rights defender and political leader, and Harold Cepero, also a defender and political dissident, were subjected to various acts of violence, harassment, threats, and attempts on their lives, when finally, a vehicle crash by a car driven by an agent of the Castro regime caused their death on the 22nd of July 2012.

Today, let us also remember Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, and how they lived.

Oswaldo Payá was sixty years old when he was murdered by Castro regime agents. He was a family man and lay Catholic from Havana, an engineer, who in September 1988 founded the Christian Liberation Movement with fellow Catholics in the neighborhood of El Cerro. Over the next 23 years he carried out important campaigns to support human rights and a transition to democracy in Cuba. He spoke out against human rights violations and demand dignity for victims, even if it meant criticizing the US for the mistreatment of Al Qaeda prisoners at the Guantanamo Naval Base prison in 2002. Oswaldo was a consistent defender of human rights. He was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament in 2002.

Harold Cepero was 32 years old when he was killed along with Oswaldo. He was from the town of Chambas in Ciego de Ávila. At age 18, he began to study at the University of Camaguey, and in 2002, together with other students, Harold signed the Varela Project. It was an initiative that was legal within the existing Cuban constitution that had been authored by the Christian Liberation Movement. Despite this, Harold and other students were expelled from the university for signing it and sharing it with others. The secret police would organize a mob to “judge”, scream at, insult, threaten and expel the students who had signed the Varela Project. Following his expulsion on November 13, 2002, Harold wrote a letter in which he cautioned that “Those who steal the rights of others steal from themselves. Those who remove and crush freedom are the true slaves.”

The Washington Post, June 12, 2023

The Post’s View

Opinion

The case of Oswaldo Payá’s death in Cuba is not closed

By the Editorial Board

The people of Cuba lost an important voice for democracy on July 22, 2012, when longtime opposition leader Oswaldo Payá and his protégé, Harold Cepero, died in a suspicious car wreck on a country road. There is strong evidence that they were killed by Cuba’s state security, but no one has ever been held to account. Now the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has found “serious and sufficient evidence to conclude that State agents participated in the death” of the two men.

The commission is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States. Cuba was among the OAS founders in 1948, but was suspended in 1962, three years after Fidel Castro took power, so there is very little concrete action the commission can take. The report was requested in 2013 by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. The commission invited the Cuban government to participate in hearings on Payá’s death, but it did not respond.

The findings underscore once again the need for a thorough investigation of the deaths. “Mr. Payá was a highly visible human rights defender and political leader, while Mr. Cepero was also a political dissident and human rights defender,” the report says. “Both were subject to various acts of violence, harassment, threats, attempts on their lives, and finally, a car crash that caused their deaths.” The attacks on them were “linked to their work in defense of human rights,” the commission concludes. “These were aimed at stigmatizing them, intimidating them and preventing them from continuing with such activities, thus affecting their right to honor as well as their right to freedom of expression. Consequently, the Commission concludes that the State is responsible for the violation” of their rights.

Payá was the architect of a nonviolent method of change, a citizen petition called the Varela Project that sought democracy in Castro’s dictatorship. Payá envisioned the petition would lead to a national referendum, then free elections. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it garnered more than 35,000 signatures in Cuba; the signers also gave their addresses and identification numbers — they stood up to be counted. But Castro ignored their appeals and, in the spring of 2003, imprisoned 75 activists and journalists, many of whom had been Payá’s allies in the petition drive. Although not imprisoned himself, Payá was constantly in the regime’s crosshairs. As the report notes, Payá and his wife were hit in another suspicious car wreck in the months before the one that took his life.

On their final day, Payá and Cepero were traveling to Santiago de Cuba for political activity. They were driven in a rental car by Ángel Carromero, an up-and-coming Spanish politician who had come to Cuba to volunteer assistance to Payá, joined by a Swedish youth political leader, Jens Aron Modig. As they approached the city of Bayamo, a car bearing blue government license plates accelerated and rammed them from behind, leading Mr. Carromero to lose control of the rental car, which, according to the official account, hit a tree, causing the deaths.

Mr. Carromero was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to four years in prison in October 2012. Cuba has always insisted — during the trial and after — that Mr. Carromero was speeding and bears full responsibility for the wreck, and that no car hit Payá’s vehicle. After he was released to serve out his term in Spain in December 2012, Mr. Carromero gave an interview to us, saying he had been forced into a false confession in Cuba. He insisted the rental car was rammed from behind. This is corroborated by text messages sent on the day of the wreck from Mr. Modig and Mr. Carromero.

Cuba has never lifted a finger to properly investigate Payá’s death. Payá’s wife, Ofelia Acevedo Maura, has repeatedly requested the autopsy report but never got one. Many unanswered questions remain about the deaths. One of the most important — not answered by the commission — is: Who were the Cuban agents in that car that rammed Payá? Who sent them?

The commission report should remind everyone: This case is not closed. Payá’s family — and the Cuban people — deserve better.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/06/12/oswaldo-paya-death-cuba-investigation/

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights,  June 12, 2023

Inter-American Commission Holds Cuba Responsible For The Assassination Of Pro-Democracy Leaders Oswaldo Payá And Harold Cepero

In a landmark decision the Inter-American Commission held the Government of Cuba responsible for the assassination of pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.

June 12, 2023

[June 12, 2023] Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights celebrates a decision published today by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), holding the Cuban Government responsible for the assassination of pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero who were killed after a car crash provoked by Cuban state agents on July 22, 2012. This unprecedented decision comes after 10 years of litigation before the IACHR by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights on behalf of the Payá and Cepero families.

In its decision, the IACHR considered that there were serious and sufficient indications to conclude that State agents directly participated in the deaths of Payá and Cepero. The IACHR also stated that Cuba was responsible for violations of the right to due process and judicial guarantees of Ángel Carromero, a Spanish citizen and witness, who was also present in the car crash that killed Payá and Cepero. These violations included cruel and inhumane acts, and coercion to obtain a false confession from Carromero who was forced to claim responsibility for the car crash. Similarly, the IACHR held the Cuban government responsible for the violation of the right to physical and mental integrity of the surviving victims, for inflicting unnecessary pain and anguish, as a result of the lack of an effective investigation, as well as the harassment they were subjected to after the deaths of their loved ones, forcing them into exile.

“On that July afternoon, upon receiving the tragic news, my heart immediately acknowledged the truth that this Commission today reaffirms: the Castros finally carried out their murderous threats. Yet, they failed to kill Oswaldo’s legacy. My husband’s lessons compel us to envision the future with optimism and realize that we possess the power to overcome our circumstances. The path towards liberation is already charted for Cuba – the Path of the People,” said Ofelia Acevedo, Payá’s widow.

“Today’s decision confirms to the world what we have known all along – that my father, Oswaldo Payá, and Harold Cepero were executed by State agents on orders of the Castros. We are now a step closer to justice, holding the Cuban Regime accountable for its atrocious acts.” Rosa María Payá, Payá’s daughter and founder of Cuba Decide, added. “This is not just a victory for our families, but for all the victims of the dictatorship and all Cubans who keep fighting for democracy and freedom.”

On July 22, 2012, Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas, a renowned Cuban dissident and human rights leader, was killed by Cuban state agents near Bayamo, Cuba. Harold Cepero, a young activist who was traveling with him, died in the hospital soon afterwards. Both were prominent figures in the Christian Liberation Movement, which Payá had founded in the late 1980s to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba. The car’s two other occupants, Ángel Carromero Barrios from Spain and Jens Aron Modig from Sweden, survived with minor injuries. According to Carromero, who was driving that day, official state vehicles had been following them for hours when they were suddenly hit from behind. Cuban authorities detained, drugged and threatened Carromero, ultimately forcing him to publicly confirm the official narrative that he had lost control and hit a tree. The investigation and subsequent trial for the killings of Payá and Cepero were carried out with complete disregard to due process guarantees. The prosecution ignored complaints from the Payá family, based on findings they had personally obtained — that government officials had caused the car crash, killing Payá and Cepero. These facts were never made part of the investigation, and the family never had access to the formal autopsy of Payá and Cepero, nor to a transparent and efficient investigation into their deaths.

Left with no possibility of legal recourse in Cuba, Payá and Cepero’s family members turned to the IACHR. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights filed an initial petition on their behalf in 2013.

“Today is an extraordinary day more than ten years in the making,” Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights said. “It has been our honor to represent the Payá and Cepero families in their pursuit of justice and accountability, and it is my sincere hope that this long-awaited verdict brings them some degree of peace and healing.”

Several members of the U.S. Senate also expressed their support for the IACHR decision.

“Thanks to today’s decision by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, the Cuban regime has been unequivocally exposed for what it truly is: a murderous dictatorship. After a decade of being fed distortions and lies by the Cuban regime, the world finally knows that Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were assassinated by regime officials for their pro-democracy work. It is incumbent upon the United States and international community to rally around the IACHR’s decision and demand not only justice and accountability for Payá and Cepero’s murders, but an end to the ongoing human rights atrocities facing the Cuban people.” said Senator Robert Menendez.

Senator Ted Cruz added that the “The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) finding will further highlight the Cuban regime’s responsibility for the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero. Payá bravely fought for democracy with unrelenting passion and dedication, and in the end paid the ultimate price for standing up to the corrupt Castro regime. Communism is an evil ideology and this finding is a reminder that the crimes of Communist regimes will never be forgotten.”

“At last we have a clear verdict on what was suspected all along. After years of petty and cowardly harassment of Cuban patriot and democracy activist Owaldo Paya, responsibility for his tragic death and that of his colleague Harold Cepero rests with the Cuban dictatorship,” said Senator Dick Durbin. “The culpability for Paya’s death also speaks to the many Cubans who have been and continue to be jailed, harassed, or tortured for simply demanding even a semblance of political or economic freedom. It is long overdue for the Cuban government to honor Paya’s dream for a more open society and to stop blaming the human suffering of the Cuban people on anyone but its own cruel ineptitude, mismanagement, and self-enrichment.” he added.

https://rfkhumanrights.org/press/inter-american-commission-holds-cuba-responsible-for-the-killing-of-pro-democracy-leaders-oswaldo-pay%C3%A1-and-harold-cepero

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, June 12, 2023

IACHR Publishes Report on the Case of Rights Defenders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero in Cuba

June 12, 2023

Washington, D.C.- The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) publishes Admissibility and Merits Report 83/23, regarding Case 14.196. This case concerns the responsibility of the State of Cuba for the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero and the torture and violations of judicial guarantees subsequently suffered by Ángel Carromero.
 
Human rights defender and political leader Oswaldo Payá and fellow human rights defender and dissident Harold Cepero were subjected to various acts of violence, harassment, threats, and attempted murder when a car crash finally cost them their lives on June 22, 2012. Later, Ángel Carromero, who had been driving the car at the time of the crash and survived, was prosecuted, and convicted in connection with these events.
 
In its report, the IACHR stresses that what happened to the victims had to be considered in the context of the persecution and State repression against political dissidents and rights defenders in Cuba, which seek to discourage or prevent efforts to advocate or promote human rights.
 
The IACHR identified sufficient serious evidence to conclude that State agents had been involved in the deaths of Payá and Cepero. In particular, the Commission took into consideration Carromero’s testimony—confirmed by an eyewitness—noting that the vehicle had been hit by an official car. The State did not submit allegations or otherwise refute these arguments. The IACHR therefore established that the State of Cuba had violated the rights to life, honor, and freedom of expression of the two men.
 
The Commission found many irregularities and omissions in the investigation of these events, including poor investigative capacity and a failure to get survivors to testify, as well as the fact that the authorities immediately adopted an official position, before having conducted the necessary investigation.
 
Concerning the right to access to justice, the IACHR found that Oswaldo Payá’s family had never been granted access to the autopsy reports or to the results of other relevant procedures. In proceedings against Ángel Carromero for his alleged responsibility in the accident, the authorities did not allow them to be involved, request evidence, or appeal the conviction. The Commission concluded that this investigation failed to comply with State obligations concerning due diligence, the exhaustion of logical lines of investigation, the need to publicize proceedings, and the need to grant access to information.
 
The IACHR therefore concluded that Cuba had violated the rights to justice and to file petitions held in the American Declaration, to the detriment of the families of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.
 
The IACHR also found that Carromero’s right to judicial guarantees had been violated, given that he did not have legal counsel since the beginning of the investigation, he was not allowed to submit evidence or conduct procedures in his own defense, and the whole trial, up until his conviction, was shrouded in secrecy and not adequately publicized.
 
Ángel Carromero was subjected to an unlawful, arbitrary arrest, threatened by State authorities to get him to confess his alleged responsibility in the crash, and subjected to torture and other forms of inhuman treatment, including beatings and lack of access to open air, sunlight, and adequate nutrition. The IACHR therefore found that the State had violated Carromero’s right to personal integrity.
 
In its report, the Commission also found that the State had violated the rights to residence and freedom of movement of Oswaldo Payá and his family, because he was often prevented from moving freely around the country for being a rights defender. Payá’s family was denied the chance to travel to collect his remains, and they were later forced to leave the country after receiving threats and harassment from the State.
 
The IACHR calls on the State of Cuba to comprehensively implement all recommendations made in this report, including the following: providing material and immaterial reparations to victims and their families; launching a diligent and effective investigation within a reasonable timeframe to establish what happened and to identify and punish the people responsible for it; taking measures to prevent similar events from happening again; and enabling the voluntary return of individuals who were forced to rebuild their lives elsewhere in the wake of these events.  

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. 116/23

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