Press Advisory: Center for a Free Cuba concerned that some EU members voted for the Castro regime despite its unsuitableness for the UN Human Rights Council

Center for a Free Cuba concerned that some EU members voted for the Castro regime despite its unsuitableness for the UN Human Rights Council

The Center for a Free Cuba sent out the following 2020 Human Rights Briefing on Cuba to dozens of democratic missions to the UN in New York City yesterday and asked them to speak out on Cuba’s unsuitableness for the UN Human Rights Council and to abstain from voting for Cuba. “We are disappointed that only 22 countries voted against another dictatorship hostile to human rights joining the Council. Placing the Castro regime on the United Nations Human Rights Council is the equivalent of placing Jack the Ripper on the committee to end knife violence in London. It not only makes a mockery out of this important human rights body, but places on it a regime that seeks to actively subvert it.” said John Suarez, Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba. “This is why we requested that democratic governments speak out on Cuba’s human rights record, and abstain from voting for the Castro dictatorship,” added Mr. Suarez.

“Cuba got 170 votes out of 192 possible.Twenty two countries did not vote in favor of the Castro regime, but there are 27 member countries of the European Union. One can also count the United States among the votes against. This means that most probably [at least] six members of the European Union voted in favor of the Castro regime,” and that runs counter to the shared values of the European Union which include ‘respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.’ Those nations that voted for a 61 year old communist dictatorship that systematically violates human rights and seeks to undermine international human rights standards, did not live up to those principles,” said Mr. Suarez.

Below is the text that was sent out yesterday.

2020 Human Rights Briefing on Cuba: Petition to Democracies to speak out on Cuba’s unsuitableness for the UN Human Rights Council

On October 13, 2020 the United Nations General Assembly will be voting on membership to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. There are three openings and three candidates for Latin America, and one of them is Cuba. The human rights record of the regime in Havana is actively hostile to the stated agenda of the UN Human Rights Council that claims to be “responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.” In addition to Cuba, candidates for this election cycle in other geographical regions include China, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The failure of the UN Human Rights Council to hold competitive elections and hold candidates to account for their respective records is compounded by the world’s democracies, through these elections for the UN Human Rights Council , legitimizing dictatorships with their votes. This is why the Geneva based NGO UN Watch is proposing to scrap elections to the Council “altogether, and make every country a member, as is the case in the General Assembly’s human rights committee.”

The vote this time comes in the aftermath of a crackdown in Cuba on Saturday, October 10th that is a historic day to celebrate an uprising for freedom in 1868 against Spanish colonial rule. This year around the island and the world Cubans and the Cuba diaspora sought to observe the day with a call for freedom. In Cuba this meant, preventive arrests, homes surrounded by regime mobs to prevent dissidents from exiting their residence, and abuse by police of nonviolent activists.

The past few months have been deadly. Cuban dissident Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros died on August 7, 2020 in Cuba while in police custody following a 40 day hunger strike. He had been jailed on false charges in the Kilo 8 prison of Camagüey. His body was quickly cremated by the dictatorship. On June 24, 2020 in Guanabacoa, Cuba an unarmed 27 year old Black Cuban, Hansel E. Hernández was shot in the back and killed by the police, and Cubans that wanted to protest his death were prevented from doing so by regime agents. The human rights group Cubalex identified 17 Cubans detained by the political police and CubaDecide reported 20 arbitrary detentions and 41 registered incidents.

Reporting on human rights violations in Cuba is a dangerous practice as highlighted by independent journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa in his column in The Washington Post on October 5, 2020.

Below is a human rights briefing, made up of summaries of various recent human rights reports on Cuba, that outlines why the regime in Havana should not be on the UN Human Rights Council.  We are requesting that democratic governments speak out on Cuba’s human rights record, and abstain from voting  for the Castro dictatorship.

Amnesty International, February 27, 2020

Amnesty International

Human Rights in the Americas. Review of 2019 – Cuba

A year after President Díaz-Canel took office, the authorities continued to employ long-standing mechanisms of control to silence critical voices. The Cuban authorities continued to arbitrarily detain and imprison independent artists and journalists, and members of the political opposition. During the year, Amnesty International named six people prisoners of conscience, representing only a fraction of those likely to be detained solely because of the peaceful expression of their opinions or beliefs. The island remained mostly closed to independent human rights monitors.

[Full Report]

Freedom House, March 4, 2020

Freedom House

Freedom in the World 2020: Cuba 


Cuba is a one-party communist state that outlaws political pluralism, bans independent media, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite a generational transition in political leadership between 2018 and 2019 that included the introduction of a new constitution.

Key Developments in 2019

●     A new constitution was approved in a February national referendum that included a historic number of abstentions and “no” votes. The charter maintained the one-party state and socialist management of the economy, but contained some modest changes, including the recognition of private property.

●     Miguel Díaz-Canel, who had served as president of the Council of Ministers and head of Council of State since April 2018, took on the newly created post of president of the Republic in October. In December, he appointed Manuel Marrero as Cuba’s prime minister. Raúl Castro, who left the presidency in 2018 after two five-year terms, continues on as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) until 2021.

●     New laws approved during the year legalized electronic surveillance and banned citizens from hosting web content on foreign servers, effectively placing all independent digital media outlets in greater legal jeopardy.

●     Cubans took advantage of the availability of third-generation (3G) mobile data service to criticize government policies and confront ministers via social media, using popular hashtags linked to periodic public protests, including ones demanding lower internet prices and calls to abstain from voting or vote against the new constitution.

[ Full Report ]

Committee to Protect Journalists, October 6, 2020

Committee to Protect Journalists
CPJ calls on Cuban security forces to stop threatening Washington Post columnist Abraham Jiménez Enoa

By Committee to Protect Journalists

Miami, October 6, 2020—Cuban authorities must immediately cease harassing and threatening journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa, and allow him and all journalists in the country to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On October 2, state security agents dressed as civilians strip-searched and handcuffed Jiménez and transported him to their headquarters, where he was interrogated for close to five hours and threatened, before letting him go, according to local news reports, and to Jiménez, who spoke with CPJ via phone yesterday. That day, Jiménez had presented himself before a police station in Havana, after being summoned the day before, he told CPJ. Jiménez posted a copy of the summons on his Twitter account.

Jiménez, a freelance journalist who is one of the co-founders of the Cuban online literary journalism magazine El Estornudo, has a monthly column in the Spanish edition of The Washington Post and in regional news magazine Gatopardo, where he mostly writes about life in Cuba. During the interrogation, the agents specifically warned Jiménez that he would face retaliation in the form of legal proceedings and actions against his relatives if he continued to publish in The Washington Post, he told CPJ. 

“They told me that if I publish in The Washington Post they will prosecute me for usurpation of functions, because the outlet is not accredited in Cuba, that they will start a war against my family and my relatives, that all this was because behind me is the United States government, ” Jiménez wrote the day of his interrogation on his Twitter account.

[ Full Report]

Civil Rights Defenders, April 24, 2020

Civil Rights Defenders

Cuban Doctors Abroad at Risk of Human Rights Violations

During the last couple of months, the Cuban government has sent more than one thousand medical professionals to approximately 20 countries around the world, in order to participate in the fight against the coronavirus. Cuba has sent medical staff abroad for decades. In November 2019, two UN Rapporteurs expressed concern over the working and living conditions for the Cuban medical staff abroad. Civil Rights Defenders now fears the pandemic will lead to an increased number of Cuban medics suffering from these human rights violations.

Cuba has been sending medical staff abroad for decades, both in order to participate in international efforts such as the campaign against the Ebola virus, and to retrieve funds for the government. In November 2019, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Urmila Bhoola, and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, sent a worrying letter to the Cuban government regarding the export of medical staff.

The two rapporteurs expressed their concern over the working and living conditions for Cuban medics abroad. One of their main concerns relates to the health care professionals’ working hours, which were up to over 64 hours per week, potentially representing labour exploitation. They also highlight the pressure being put on the medics, including threats of reprisals such as prison sentences for doctors who refuse to fulfill some of their mission. In addition, they report that the Cuban government is “freezing” a part of the wages which doctors can only access once they return to the country, and in many cases medics do not even receive the full payment.

The rapporteurs also state that “Working conditions reported could be understood as forced labor, according to the forced labor indicators established by the International Labor Organization (ILO). Forced labor is a modern-day form of slavery.”

“We are very concerned by the reports from the UN Special Rapporteurs about the working conditions for the Cuban medical staff abroad, and by the fact that the Cuban government has not replied to their letter. It is therefore particularly important that the countries receiving or employing Cuban medical staff ensure that their rights are guaranteed and protected,” says Erik Jennische, Director for the Latin America Department at Civil Rights Defenders.

Center for a Free Cuba, July 11, 2019

Center for a Free Cuba

Human Rights in Cuba: Beyond the Veneer of Reform

Excerpt from Testimony of John Suarez, Executive Director, Center for a Free Cuba Hearing on “Human Rights in Cuba: Beyond the Veneer of Reform” U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade July 11, 2019

Past is prologue

To understand the human rights situation in Cuba, one must understand what came before. Cuba had regular competitive elections, and between 1944 and 1952 presidents who respected human rights and civil liberties. This was reflected in the role Cuban diplomats played in 1948 in pushing for regional and international human rights covenants. All of this came crashing down with Fulgencio Batista’s military coup in 1952. 

The Castro brothers promised to restore democracy, while imposing a communist dictatorship in 1959. 

In May 1961 they confiscated private schools and most seminaries to eliminate religion. In September 1961, the Castro regime at gun point collected 131 priests, brothers and a bishop, placing them on board the Spanish ship Covadonga and deported them from Cuba.

Today, the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), an arm of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, still oversees religious affairs in Cuba, and exists to monitor, hinder and restrict religious activities. 

Sixty years later, Fidel Castro is gone, but his brother Raul remains along with the communist regime.

The non-transition

What is called reform in Cuba has been a fraud for the dynastic succession of the Castro family. Raul Castro remains in control of the government as head of the Communist Party.  His son, Alejandro Castro Espín, a colonel in the Ministry of the Interior presided over the Cuban side in the secret negotiations to normalize relations during the previous Administration. 

In 2018 Raul Castro presided over the revision of the current constitution that was subjected to a referendum on February 24, 2019.

On February 24th Cubans were called to the polls to ratify a new constitution that despite cosmetic changes, enshrines the principles of the existing one-party political system. Basic conditions for free and fair elections were not fulfilled, independent observers were not allowed, and numerous voting irregularities were reported.

This is the third time during the communist era that the constitution was changed.

The Communist Party remains the only legal political party. The maximum authority in the regime resides with the head of the Cuban Communist Party.

The late dissident leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas called this fraudulent change.  There have been no improvements that alter the nature of the Cuban regime. It is a one-party communist dictatorship run by the Castros.

[ Full Statement]