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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Cuba

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Cuba, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

Despite the transmission of power from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul in July 2006, and the latter's election to the Presidency on February 24, 2008, the human rights situation on the island of Cuba has not undergone much change. Some notable improvements must be mentioned, however, such as the release of prisoners of conscience, and a rapprochement with Spain in 2007. Nevertheless, Cuba remains a dictatorial and centralised regime, which has not signed the Human Rights Charter,1 and where the freedoms of expression, association and movement are practically inexistent.

The Cubans are still victims of the consequences of the United States' embargo on the island, although the European Union lifted its sanctions in 2005. In addition, in June 2007, the United Nations Human Rights Council decided not to renew the mandate of the Personal Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Cuba.

Furthermore, in Cuba, the men and women who dare defy the authorities and denounce human rights violations were still, in 2007, subjected to multiple acts of harassment, and their freedoms of association, expression, peaceful assembly and movement were restricted in a variety of ways.2 Numerous political dissidents, independent journalists and human rights defenders continued to be imprisoned, suspected in particular of "counter-revolutionary activities" or of "presupposed social dangerousness" (estado peligroso), a provision of the Criminal Code often used against dissidents and that allows the authorities to arrest and imprison them on the grounds of the "potential risk" they could represent for society. At the end of 2007, there were at least 55 prisoners of conscience in Cuban prisons.

No freedom of association in practice

Promotion and protection of human rights is still not recognised as a legitimate activity, and is still considered to be a threat to the proper functioning of the State. Although freedom of association is embodied in the Constitution, the Labour Code and the Law on Associations (Law 54, December 27, 1985), in practice the independent human rights organisations still have no legal status.

Multiple acts of harassment against human rights defenders

In 2007, defenders continued to be subjected to systematic acts of harassment: threats, arrests, and/or arbitrary detentions, physical assaults, systematic surveillance, wire-tapping of their telephone conversations, etc. The offices of NGOs, and the private homes of their members, were regularly broken into and searched, and their equipment was usually confiscated. The authorities also frequently had recourse to "acts of repudiation", acts of repression and intimidation by para-police elements, which consists mainly in the formation of groups of persons led by Government agents taking up a position in front of the defenders' homes, shouting insults, even attacking them physically. This is mostly at the instigation of the authorities and their "Civilian Rapid Action Brigades" (Brigadas de Respuesta Rápida).

Members of the "Ladies in White" organisation (Damas de Blanco), an association of women and wives of Cuban political prisoners that campaigns for the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, are regularly subjected to acts of harassment and intimidation, and even physical assaults. The members of the Cuban Human Rights Foundation (Fundación Cubana de Derechos Humanos) are also specially targeted. For instance, its President, Mr. Juan Carlos González Leiva, is still under strict surveillance, particularly with regard to his telephone communications and the visits he receives. In addition, on August 26, 2007, Mr. González Leiva was arrested and beaten by several soldiers at the "Amalia Simoni" hospital in Camagüey, and also by members of the State security force, as he had come to interview the adopted son of a political prisoner. Likewise, on November 21, 2007, Mr. Juan Bermúdez Toranzo, National Vice-President of the Foundation, was arrested at his home, where several members of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights were on a hunger strike to demand the release of all Cuban political prisoners. Messrs. Osmar Osmani Balmán del Pino, Delegate of the Foundation in the San Miguel del Padrón municipality, José Luis Rodríguez Chávez, Vice-President of the Foundation in Havana, and William Cepero, President of the Foundation in Habana Vieja, were also arrested. Later, all the persons arrested were released, except Mr. Bermúdez Toranzo, who was still in detention in Havana at the end of 2007.

It should also be recalled that while, in 2007, several defenders were released, like Mr. Francisco Chaviano González, President of the National Council for Civil Rights in Cuba (Consejo Nacional por los Derechos Civiles en Cuba – CNDCC),3 this does not seem to reflect an improvement in their situation, as most of them had already served their full sentence, or almost, or were released for medical reasons. Many defenders and journalists who were arrested in March 2003, during an unprecedented wave of repression against the civil society, were still detained at the end of 2007, some of them serving prison sentences of over 20 years4 – including Mr. Oscar Elías Biscet, founder and President of the Lawton Foundation, an independent human rights organisation in Cuba, and Mr. Normando Hernández González, Director of the Camagüey College of Independent Journalists (Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey – CPIC) – in most cases in extremely bad conditions. Some of the prisoners have serious health problems.

Very limited access to information and repression against independent journalists

Access to information remains extremely limited, as the whole of the written press, radio and television remain under State control, and use of the Internet is severely regulated to prevent it from being used for "counter-revolutionary" purposes.

In such a context, independent journalists who try to promote and defend human rights in Cuba are also subjected to repression. For instance, Mr. Armando Betancourt, a collaborator of the Nueva Prensa Cubana site and founder of the underground magazine El Camagueyano, was sentenced on July 3, 2007 to one year and three months' imprisonment for "breach of the peace", after having been detained for over a year without being judged. He had been arrested on May 23, 2006 while interviewing families that the police were trying to dislodge from a garbage dump in Camagüey, and who were protesting against the violent methods used. Mr. Betancourt was released on August 20, 2007, after serving his full sentence.5

Obstacles to the freedom of peaceful assembly

Any peaceful gathering for the promotion or defence of human rights is also repressed. For instance, on January 16, 2007, Mr. Ramón Velázquez Toranso, a journalist with the independent agency Libertad, was arrested for having demonstrated peacefully, on December 10, 2006, for more freedom of expression. On January 19, he was sentenced by the City Court of Las Tunas to three years of supervised parole for "presupposed social dangerousness".6 Because he did not comply to this sentence, Mr. Velázquez Toranso was again arrested on January 23. By the end of 2007 he remained detained at the forced labour camp of La Piedra. Likewise, on September 27, 2007, around thirty persons who were taking part in a demonstration in Havana calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience were arrested, before being released the morning after. The organisers of the event, including Ms. Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, President of the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society (Asamblea para la Promoción de la Sociedad Civil – APSC), were among the persons arrested.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 However, in February 2008 the authorities committed to sign at the latest in April 2008 the two International Covenants on economic, social and cultural rights, and civil and political rights (See 2nd session on human rights matters in the framework of the bilateral consultations with Spain, February 12, 2008).

2 To that extent, the European Parliament, considering that "dozens of independent journalists, peaceful dissidents and defenders of human Rights [...] are still being held in jail, some of them seriously ill [...]", "regret[ted] the failure to respond to the call of Parliament and the Council for the immediate release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience", "demand[ed] that the Cuban authorities permit members of the political opposition, human rights activists and all citizens to travel abroad freely and return freely to Cuba" (See Resolution P6_TA (2007) 0288 adopted by the European Parliament on June 21, 2007).

3 This organisation collects information on disappearances of Cubans at sea, when they try to leave the country. Mr. Chaviano had been arrested in Havana in May 1994, and accused of "revealing secrets related to State security" and of falsifying public documents. He was released on bail on August 10, 2007, after having served thirteen years and three months of his sentence (see Coalition of Cuban-American Women – Coalición de Mujeres Cubano-Americanas).

4 Most were organisers of the "Varela Project", which proposed a referendum on the freedoms of expression and association, the possibility of setting up a business, the release of all political prisoners and changes in the electoral law.

5 See Coalition of Cuban-American Women.

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