U.S. Annual Human Rights Report Again Criticizes Cuba

On June 25, 2015, the U.S. Department of State released its 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.[1]


John Kerry
John Kerry

In introducing the report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The message at the heart of these reports is that countries do best when their citizens fully enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled. This is not just an expression of hope. This is a reality, and it is proven out in country after country around the world. After all, we live in a time when access to knowledge and openness to change are absolutely essential. And in such an era, no country can fulfill its potential if its people are held back, or more so if they are beaten down by repression.”

On the other hand, Kerry observed, “There is nothing sanctimonious in this. There is zero arrogance. And we couldn’t help but have humility when we have seen what we have seen in the last year in terms of racial discord and unrest. So we approach this with great self-awareness. But we also understand that when human rightsis the issue, every country, including the United States, has room to improve. And the path to global respect always begins at home.”

The U.S. cares, according to Kerry, “because respect for human rights provides the truest mirror that we have of ourselves, the most objective test of how we have come over the centuries, and how far we still have to go. It is a yardstick by which we can measure life itself. I realize that that is placing a lot of weight on what is, after all, just a report, but I think the description fits. And I hope it will inspire us – people here and around the world – between this year and next to take more steps, hopefully giant steps, in the direction of greater justice, wider decency, and peace.”

Tom Malinowski
Tom Malinowski

Following the Secretary’s remarks, Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, added comments. He said, “the Human Rights Reports demonstrate America’s commitment to human rights, and they’re a tool in their own right in the advancement of those rights. They cover 199 countries and entities. They strive to provide a comprehensive and factual review of conditions around the world. They are also the most widely read document that we put out at the State Department every single year. And I think that just reminds us that what America says about human rights around the world – just the words – matters greatly.”

Malinowski also addressed the section of the report on Cuba. He said, “But on Cuba . . ., one of our sayings here is that engagement is not the same thing as endorsement. . . . [It] should be crystal-clear, that our opening to Cuba . . . was designed because we felt that the new policy is better suited to promoting human rights in Cuba than the old policy. . . . [The] opening was associated very closely with the release of over 50 political prisoners in Cuba. The situation needs to get far better before any of us can say that we are where we want to be, but we feel that what we have done is to . . . take away the Cuban Government’s ability to say that the problems on the island are the fault of the United States and the embargo, and to put the focus where it belongs – on their actions and on their policies.”

Malinowski continued, “[We] did see a fairly dramatic decision by the Cuban Government to release the vast majority of political prisoners . . . [about whom] we had been raising concern . . . for some time. We have not yet seen a letup in the kind of day-to-day harassment that civil society activists face in Cuba. Short-term arrests, unfortunately, have continued. I am not particularly surprised about that. We, in fact, I think, expected that precisely because the Cuban Government would be nervous about the implications of the opening, that in the short term they might actually intensify a crackdown. We very firmly believe that in the long run . . . this is going to put us in a much stronger position to promote human rights and to stand by civil society on the island.”

The Report on Cuban Human Rights

The Executive Summary of the extensive report on Cuban human rights for 2014 stated, “Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the council of state and council of ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” A CP candidacy commission preapproved all candidates for the February 2013 uncontested National Assembly elections, which were neither free nor fair. The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces.”

“The principal human rights abuses included those involving the abridgement of the ability of citizens to change the government and the use of government threats, extrajudicial physical assault, intimidation, violent government-organized counter-protests against peaceful dissent, and harassment and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.”[2]

“The following additional abuses continued: short-term, arbitrary unlawful detentions and arrests, harsh prison conditions, selective prosecution, denial of fair trial, and travel restrictions. Authorities interfered with privacy, engaging in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government did not respect freedom of speech and press, restricted internet access, maintained a monopoly on media outlets, circumscribed academic freedom, and maintained some restrictions on the ability of religious groups to meet and worship. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition the government continued to prevent workers from forming independent unions and otherwise exercising their labor rights.”

“Most human rights abuses were committed by officials at the direction of the government. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”

More details are provided in the report itself under the following uniform structure:

1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

A. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

B.  Disappearance

C. Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

D. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

E. Denial of Fair Public Trial

F. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

A. Freedom of Speech and Press

B. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

C. Freedom of Religion

D. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change their Government

4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

7. Worker Rights

A.Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

B. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

C. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

D.Discrimination with Respect to Employment or Occupation

E. Acceptable Conditions of Work


This report again demonstrates the State Department’s extensive efforts to collect and report information about human rights conditions in 199 countries of the world, including Cuba. As an observer of such matters over the last years, I believe their reports to be trustworthy.

I, therefore, accept their criticism of Cuban human rights. On the other hand, I believe that everyone needs to understand the well-founded fear that Cuba has of the U.S. as a vastly larger and superior (in so many ways) country that has expressed and acted with hostility toward Cuba over the last 50-plus years. In that context, it is easier to understand, but not applaud, their human rights failures. In my opinion, if and when a sense of trust develops between the two countries as a result of the process of normalization, then I anticipate and hope that Cuba will gradually improve the human rights covered by this report.


[1] This post is based upon the following: Dep’t of State, 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (June 25, 2015); Dep’t of State, 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cuba (June 25, 2015); Kerry, Release of the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (June 25, 2015); Malinowski, Briefing on the 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (June 25, 2015); Assoc. Press, Amid New Engagements, US Tags Cuba, Iran as Rights Abusers, N.Y. Times (June 25, 2015); Reuters, U.S. Rights Report Slams Cuba and Iran, Despite Greater Links, N.Y. Times (June 25, 2015)

[2] Cuban artist, Tania Bruguera, was arrested last December over a planned “open-mike” event in Havana’s Revolutionary Square. Since then she has been detained four more times and has been barred from leaving the country while facing charges of disturbing the public order, resisting arrest and inciting criminal behavior. Bruguera’s most recent arrests occurred in the middle of Cuba’s biggest art festival — the Havana Biennial — with many of the world’s leading gallery owners and collectors in town. (Miroff, Cuban artist pushed boundary between art and politics, and pays a price, Wash. Post (June 26, 2015).)