Criticism of Cuba’s Persecution of Human Rights Activists and Journalists            

On March 17,   the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a statement expressing “its concern at the increased harassment and criminalization of journalists, artists, human rights defenders and opponents in Cuba.” It also condemned “the [arbitrary] arrests and the opening of processes to silence those who exercise the right to freedom of expression.” Therefore, it demanded that Cuba “immediately release all those detained for exercising journalism, their rights of opinion, expression and other political rights in Cuba.” [1]

Comments on Current Cases

The statement also commented on the following five current cases on the island:

  1. José Daniel Ferrer and other activists arrested on October 1, 2019. Commissioner Stuardo Ralón Orellana, rapporteur for Cuba, said,”In Cuba we observe a pattern of manipulation of criminal law to impede the exercise of political rights, in a context of lack of judicial independence. This case is of particular concern to us.” [2]
  2. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. He “was arrested on March 1, when he was going to a protest called ‘public kissing’ in front of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, against the censorship of a gay kiss in a movie broadcast on the Cuban television. The artist had been harassed multiple times in recent years, including 21 arrests linked to his public protests. On this occasion, Otero was accused of crimes of outrage against the national symbols and damage to property due to the performance of an artistic performance in which he appears photographed with the flag of Cuba in different situations; the prosecution would have requested a sentence of between two and five years in prison.” [3]
  3. Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces. In August 2019, this “office condemned the imposition of one year in prison on [this] journalist, of the Cubanet media, for the alleged crime of “resistance and disobedience.” Said condemnatory sentence would be directly related to the coverage of a judicial process of public interest. Quiñones has been held in the Guantánamo prison since September 11, 2019, and his family members denounced that his health condition had deteriorated due to the hygiene conditions of the place. Likewise, he has been subjected to a disciplinary process for having published an article from prison on October 1, 2019.” [4]

“In this regard, the offices of the IACHR and the UN Special Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression . . . sent the Cuban State a letter requesting information, pursuant to resolutions 34/18, 42/22, 34/5 of the Human Rights Council, and article 18 of the IACHR Statute, to gather information on the sanction imposed on Quiñones Haces, in which they also consult on the lack of due process by the Cuban State and the motivation of the condemnatory sentence of the independent journalist.”

Cuba responding to this joint communication, “denied these allegations . . .[and] stated that the ‘true causes’ of the arrest and subsequent prosecution were ‘the disobedience, disrespect and resistance shown to the police authorities on April 22, 2019,’ when he intended to enter to cover a trial.”

4. Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina. This “independent journalist was detained on January 29 for five days at [Havana’s] José Martí International Airport, as he was preparing to travel to the United States to participate in a human rights even. . . . [As a result, he was] prevented from leaving the country [and] stated that this happened as a result of the allegations of human rights violations in Cuba [from] the Palenque Vision agency, of which he is director.”

5. Luz Escobar. A “journalist for the independent digital newspaper 14yMedio, [she] has been harassed on multiple occasions for her journalistic work, preventing her from leaving her home and denying her leaving the country. In addition, she was reportedly cited by the Ministry of the Interior on February 26 by State Security agents who questioned her work as a journalist, accusing her of usurping the journalist’s legal capacity and threatening to harm her family.”

More General Comments

“Regarding freedom of artistic expression, this Office had also expressed its concern regarding the sanction of [Cuba’s] decree 349/018, which regulates cultural policy and the provision of artistic services, [and] which introduced greater restrictions on cultural and artistic expressions in Cuba. . The decree requires [the Ministry of Culture] to grant prior approval of any public presentation or exhibition and created an inspection mechanism with powers to close an event, if it determines that these are not in accordance with the cultural policy of the Revolution”

“The Office of the Special Rapporteur reminds the State that the use of criminal law as a mechanism to prosecute those who express opinions, information, or criticism of government authorities or policies, as well as on issues of public interest, generates a intimidating effect that limits freedom of expression.”

“In the Joint Declaration on the freedom of expression of the UN rapporteurs, OSCE, IACHR and CADHP on the independence and diversity of the media (2018) they expressed their concern about the actions of officials to curtail the independence of the media. , thereby limiting opportunities for people to access credible and reliable news sources that offer a variety of viewpoints. ‘States have a positive obligation to promote a safe working environment for journalists; guarantee respect for the independence of the media and respect the freedom of movement of journalists, both local and foreign,’ recalled the Rapporteur for Freedom. of Expression Edison Lanza.”

“The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur have indicated in their recent Special Report on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Cuba that state agents are the main source of threats and attacks against the press in the country, a practice that must be dismantled and sanctioned. The report recommended that the State of Cuba put an end to the harassment, including summons, arrests of any length, and judicial harassment of any person for causes related to the exercise of their freedom of expression, freedom of association, assembly or other related matters.”

“Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, as well as Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by Cuba on February 28, 2008, protect journalistic, artistic and the defense of human rights. In such a way that those who express themselves should not be under pressure when carrying out their work, covering and / or spreading the facts of public interest.”

“The Office of the Special Rapporteur and the IACHR have warned on various occasions about the use of vague and ambiguous criminal figures who do not comply with the requirements of international law to criminalize journalistic work, the defense of human rights and expressions of criticism through social networks. Likewise, the IACHR in its Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression established that prison terms for sanctioning expressions on public officials or issues of public interest are contrary to the inter-American legal framework.”

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[1] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Office of the Special Rapporteur Condemns Increased Criminalization and Harassment of Journalists, Activists, and Artists Who Exercise Freedom of Expression in Cuba (Mar. 17, 2020); The IACHR expresses its concern about the harassment of opponents in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 18, 2020). The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in order to stimulate the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in consolidation and development. of the democratic system.

[2] Cuba and U.S. Debate Cuba’s Treatment of José Daniel Ferrer, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 19, 2020).

[3] Cuba Presses Charges Against Dissident Artist, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 16, 2020); Comment: Protests Against Cuban Charges Against Alcántara (Mar. 18, 2020).

[4] U.S.-Cuba Conflict Over Cuban Journalist, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 23, 2019).

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Criticizes Cuban Human Rights

IACHROn May 7th the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued its 2014 annual report containing “accessible, comprehensive, and relevant information concerning the Commission’s work and resources” in order “to promote compliance with the Commission’s decisions, ensure accessibility to victims, give an accounting of the petition and case system, and report on the human rights situation in the region.”[1]

Chapter IV.B of the report has special reports the Commission considers necessary regarding the human rights situation in those Member States with the most troubling human rights records, i.e., the so called “black list” of the Commission. There are only two countries on that list for 2014: Cuba and Venezuela.

The report’s 45 pages about Cuba (Report at 388-431) was summarized as follows in the Commission’s press release about the report:

  • “[R]estrictions on political rights, freedom of association, freedom of expression and dissemination of ideas, the lack of elections, the lack of an independent judiciary, and 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. Over the course of 2014, the information available suggests that the general human rights situation has not changed. The above-mentioned human rights situations persist, along with severe repression and restrictions on human rights defenders. The [Commission] also received information concerning discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons and persons with disabilities in Cuba.”

The Press Release also noted that the Commission welcomed “the restoration of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, while reiterating its concern about the negative impact that the economic and trade embargo imposed by the [U.S.] on Cuba has on the human rights of the Cuban population” and noting “that the embargo does not release [Cuba] of its international obligations established in the American Declaration [of the Rights and Duties of Man].”

Other parts of the report set forth a general overview of the Commission’s activities during the year (Ch. I); an accounting of how cases, petitions, and precautionary measures have been handled, (Ch. II); the activities of the seven Rapporteurships (Ch. III);[2] an overview of the human rights situation in the hemisphere with emphasis on citizen insecurity, discrimination on the basis of nationality, discrimination on the basis of ethnic and racial origin, and the situation of migrants (Ch. IVA); the status of recommendations issued by the Commission on Jamaica and Colombia (Ch. V); and the challenges the Commission faces in terms of human and financial resources (Ch. VI).

The discussion in Chapter IVA (pp. 366-72) regarding racial discrimination commented on the U.S. problems of police brutality with alleged racial bias, especially the notorious case of the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri. Although the U.S. was seeking solutions to this problem, “there is still much to do” and the state and others in the region need “to continue and extend the studies and the police measures to eliminate racial profiling. ” Moreover, the report notes that the Commission has begun a Report on Criminal Justice and Race in the U.S. to analyze recent cases of alleged police racially motivated abuses and ways to prevent a situation that the Commission considers “very worrying.”

OASThe Commission is a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (“OAS”) whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere. It is composed of seven independent members who serve in a personal capacity. Created by the OAS in 1959, the Commission has its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Ayuso, Venezuela and Cuba remain on black list of human rights, El Pais, (May 7, 2015); IACHR, Press Release: IACHR Presents Its Annual Report (May 7, 2015); IACHR, IACHR Annual Report, 2014 (May 7, 2015). This blog contains many posts about various cases decided by the Commission.

[2] The Commission has appointed its seven members as Rapporteurs to focus on the following human rights in the hemisphere: indigenous peoples; women; migrants; the child; human rights defenders; persons deprived of their liberty; persons of African descent and against racial discrimination.