99. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has paid special attention to the human rights situation in Cuba and, in the use of its competence, has observed and evaluated the human rights situation in special reports58, in Chapter IV of the Annual Report59, and through the case system.60 In addition, on several occasions it has asked the Cuban State to adopt precautionary measures for the purpose of protecting the life and personal integrity of Cuban citizens.61
100. On January 31, 1962, the Government of Cuba was excluded from participating in the inter-American system by Resolution VI adopted at the Eighth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, held in Punta del Este (Uruguay).62 On June 3, 2009, during its Thirty-ninth Regular Session held in Honduras, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) set aside Resolution VI adopted at the Eighth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and established that “the participation of the Republic of Cuba in the OAS will be the result of a process of dialogue initiated at the request of the Government of Cuba, and in accordance with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS.”
101. The IACHR has recognized that the Cuban State – including the time of exclusion, is “juridically answerable to the Inter-American Commission in matters that concern human rights” since it “is party to the first international instruments established in the American hemisphere to protect human rights” and because Resolution VI of the Eighth Meeting of Consultation “excluded the present Government of Cuba, not the State, from participation in the inter-American system.”63
102. Based on the criteria spelled out by the IACHR in 1997 to identify those states whose human rights practices merit special attention, the Commission has considered that the human rights situation in Cuba fits within the first and fifth criteria, insofar as the political rights enshrined in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man are not observed, and structural situations persist that have a serious and grave impact on the enjoyment and observance of fundamental rights enshrined in the American Declaration.
103. Having evaluated the human rights situation in Cuba, the IACHR decided to include that country in this chapter because, in its view, it meets the criterion under Article 59, paragraph 6(a)(i) of the IACHR’s new Rules of Procedure, which took effect on August 1, 2013. That provision concerns “a serious breach of the core requirements of representative democracy mentioned in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which are essential means of achieving human rights, including: “there is discriminatory access to or abusive exercise of power that undermines or denies the rule of law, such as systematic infringement of the independence of the judiciary or lack of subordination of State institutions to the legally constituted civilian authority”. Also, it meets the criterion under Article 59, paragraph 6(c) which refers to “The State has committed or is committing massive, serious and widespread violations of human rights guaranteed in the American Declaration, the American Convention, or the other applicable human rights instrument”. Accordingly, the IACHR will recount the activities carried in 2013 with reference to Cuba, analyze the human rights situation in that country, identify best government practices and make recommendations.
104. The restrictions on the political rights to association, freedom of expression, and dissemination of ideas, the lack of elections, the lack of an independent judiciary, and the restrictions on freedom of movement over decades have come to shape a permanent and systematic situation of violation of the human rights of the inhabitants of Cuba. In the course of 2012, the information available suggests that the general human rights situation has not changed. The above-indicated human rights situations, as well as severe repression and restrictions of human rights defenders persist. Also, the IACHR received information on violence and discrimination against LGTBI persons in Cuba.
105. In preparing this report, the Commission has obtained information from international agencies, civil society organizations, and the Cuban government via the official web site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba. The Commission notes the scarcity of information available on human rights in Cuba from sources both on the island or abroad.
106. On November 19, 2013, the Commission sent this report to the State of Cuba and asked for its observations. The State did not respond.
Full report available online here in English and in Spanish.
Some highlights from the report:
[Deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero ]
138. In 2013, the level of physical assaults, threats, harassment, and acts of repudiation against human rights defenders in Cuba was maintained, particularly those involved in the defense of the rights of persons who have been deprived of liberty for political reasons. According to Amnesty International, the Cuban Government does not recognize monitoring and protection of human rights has a legitimate activity, nor does it grant legal status to local human rights organizations.105 As noted, the repression of human rights defenders in Cuba takes the form of physical assaults and detentions for short periods of time, ranging from a few hours to several days.
139. Various human rights organizations have called attention to the rise in acts of repression, suspicious deaths of civic movement leaders, and the use of physical and psychological violence against human rights defenders. In that regard, the Christian Liberation Movement presented a report on the suspicious circumstances surrounding the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero and called for a stop to threats against opposition members, particularly citing the fact that family members of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas continue to receive death threats.106
[Human Rights Defenders in Cuba]
141. The Commission wishes to underscore the importance of the work of human rights defenders in the region. It has consistently highlighted the importance of the work done by persons dedicated to promoting, monitoring and legally defending human rights and the organizations with which many of them are affiliated. The Commission therefore considers that the acts of violence and other attacks committed against human rights defenders not only violate the guarantees that attend every human being, but also attack the pivotal role that human rights defenders play in society and leave all those whom they strive to protect defenseless.
142. The Commission received information alleging that the State was systematically expelling human rights defenders and members of their families from universities and refusing to admit them to university-level education programs. The IACHR is compelled to reiterate that education is a human right and an essential enabler of the enjoyment of other rights.
143. The IACHR was also informed of an alleged practice on the part of the State whereby health clinics refuse to treat persons involved in the work of defending human rights, even in those cases where the condition of the human rights defender is extremely serious.107 The IACHR recalls that the right of every person, without discrimination, to physical, mental and moral integrity is protected under the American Convention on Human Rights. The right to personal integrity in the area of health is closely related to the right to health, since adequate and timely health services are one of the principal means of guaranteeing the right to personal integrity.
144. The Commission received information that states that on March 7, 2013, Yris Perez Aguilera, President of the Rosa Parks Women's Movement for Civil Rights was beaten up by government agents in Santa Clara, leaving her unconscious. A press release by the Directorio Democrático Cubano offers the following account: “According to witnesses to the assault, after dragging her by her hair from the patrol car in which they were traveling, supposedly to put her in another vehicle, he flung her to the asphalt several times, causing Yris to strike her head against the sidewalk, knocking her unconscious.”108
145. The Commission also received information from the Independent Trade Union Coalition of Cuba (CSIC) about acts of repression and police brutality committed against Iván Hernández Carrillo, an independent trade unionist and member of the “Group of 75 of the black spring of March 2003,” when he sought to show solidarity with the Ladies in White Movement on Sunday, July 14, in the municipality of Colón, Matanzas Province. Five plainclothes policemen attacked the trade unionist in broad daylight, striking him repeatedly in the stomach and on his back while stabbing him in the left shoulder with a pointed object. During the assault one of the agents whispered to Mr. Sernández Carrillo, “We are just waiting for the orders to kill you all.” Subsequently, Mr. Hernández Carrillo was arrested and driven in a jeep to a remote location where he was released.109
146. On October 29, 2013, during the IACHR’s 149th regular session, the requesting organizations told the IACHR of cases of human rights defenders who have died in Cuba under circumstances that were never investigated. The Commission was told of cases like that of dissident Orlando Zapata Ramayo, who was allegedly killed while on a hunger strike in prison, and the cases of other human rights defenders who were killed in Cuban hospitals while in the custody of the Cuban security forces.110
147. For her part, Iris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, a human rights defender and wife of Jorge Luís García Pérez Antúnez, also a human rights defender, told the IACHR that because of her work, she had been the victim of physical assaults that left her unconscious in 2013. A beating she received from agents of the Political Police in early 2013 had serious consequences; she was unable to walk for three months; throughout her ordeal she was denied medical assistance. The Commission was also informed that the case of Damaris Moya Portielis is one of the cruelest. She was thrown on the floor while they forced a pen into her vagina. She was later arbitrarily detained; they threatened to rape her six-year-old daughter, whom she could not send to school. As a result of these events, she had to go on a hunger strike to demand protection for her daughter, whom she could not send to school. The human rights defenders who testified before the Commission also reported cases of other human rights defenders who had been the victims of beatings and arbitrary detention by the Political Police, and other forms of abuse, destruction of their property and video cameras, and acts of repression to retaliate for their peaceful activities. 111
148. On October 29, 2013, another hearing was held on the human rights situation of the “Ladies in White” in Cuba. That hearing was attended by Berta Soler, Magaly Norvis and Sayli Navarro, members of the Ladies in White, and by Laritza Diversent and Yasert Rojas, members of Cubalex. There, the speakers explained that members of the Ladies in White are usually portrayed in the media as representing foreign interests and as tools by which to slander and defame Cuba. They pointed out that in the last six months the repression against the Ladies in White became more intense. The events in the province of Holguín, Villa Clara and Matanzas were particularly disturbing, especially those in the municipalities of Cárdenas and Colón.112
149. The Ladies in White also told the IACHR that the Rapid Response Brigades, which they said were organizations sponsored by the Cuban government, stage “acts of repudiation” [mítines de repudio] to prevent them from getting to church and/or participating in peaceful marches. The acts of repudiation staged by members of these brigades are not spontaneous; instead, those involved are summoned and at times even forced to attend the “acts” by the regime’s Political Police. They also maintained that during these acts of repudiation, civilians and members of the security services beat up members of the Ladies in White, inflicting broken bones, torn muscles, sprains, abrasions and other physical injuries; the victims are then refused medical treatment. The members of the Ladies in White are subsequently detained and transported to prisons or are left to fend for themselves in unpopulated areas far from their homes, with no personal identification documents or money and exposed to dangers of all kinds. They also pointed out that at the time of their arrest, no record is made of their admittance to the police station or how long they remained there, and no record of the arrest is made. 113
150. The IACHR also received information to the effect that the Ladies in White are usually taken directly to cells with neither hygienic facilities nor privacy. Their jailers force them to strip and to bend over to check whether they have any recording or other devices in their genitals. Recently, a group of more than 10 women from Havana were forcibly stripped and, in the presence of various officials from State Security and agents of the National Police, were carefully searched These women were beaten and threatened that a long, semi-flexible object with a bulb at the tip would be introduced into their vagina. 114
151. Organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights have told the IACHR that family members of human rights defenders in Cuba tend to be victims of intimidation and threats from State authorities, as a form of repression and punishment for the work their family members do.115 In the case of the Ladies in White, they testified that the majority are mothers whose children are treated differently by the National Education System. For example, their children are required to receive Communist indoctrination and can be expelled from school if they refuse. One of the reports the Commission received concerned the daughter of one of the Ladies in White who was 14 when she finished her basic secondary school studies, but was not allowed to pursue pre-university studies on the grounds that her mother was a counter-revolutionary.116 The Commission was also informed that the sons and daughters of political dissidents are expelled from university because of the work their parents do. These acts of repression are also evident in the difficulty that adults have in finding jobs or becoming integrated into social life in Cuba.117
152. According to civil society organizations, the case of Sonia Garro Alfonso, a member of the Ladies in White group (an opposition movement consisting of female relatives of jailed dissidents) and founder of the Independent Afro-Cuban Foundation, a civil society organization,118 is illustrative of deprivations of liberty of this type, given that she has been held in pretrial detention accused of the crimes of “public disorder” and “attempted murder” since March 18, 2012, when she was arrested along with her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, also a political dissident, in an operation carried out by members of the ant-riot forces, police, and state security agents, at their home in Havana. Mrs. Garro has reportedly been in detention for more than a year, which exceeds the statutory limit of six months established by Cuban law for keeping a person in custody while under investigation. She has been refused medical assistance on several occasions and the authorities are allegedly obstructing her, her family, and human rights organizations from having information about her state of health, given that they are not allowed access to the medical records at the prison where she is interned.119
153. During the hearing on the human rights situation of the “Ladies in White” in Cuba, the Commission received additional information about the case of Mrs. Sonia Garro Alfonso, a member of the Ladies in White imprisoned since March 18, 2012. Her health had deteriorated since entering prison and prison officials were said to be denying her the medical care that her health problems required. At the time of the hearing, the Commission was informed that Mrs. Garro Alfonso was suffering from a number of health problems, such as malignant arterial hypertension and kidney problems; also, her body was covered with sores caused by a bacteriological infection. 120
154. On October 31, 2013, two days after the hearing and just one day before the trial against Sonia Garro Alfonso, her husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González and another dissident Eugenio Hernández Hernández was slated to begin, the Cuban government decided to postpone it. It is public knowledge that postponement of trials of dissidents is nothing unusual. In this case, the court did not make public the reasons for its decision, nor did it set a new trial date.121