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    Cuba: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review: Fourth session of the UPR Working Group of the Human Rights Council, February 2009 Amnsety International

    Document – Cuba: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review: Fourth
    session of the UPR Working Group of the Human Rights Council, February 2009

    8 September 2008 Public
    amnesty international

    Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review

    Fourth session of the UPR Working Group of the Human Rights Council

    February 2009

    Executive summary

    In this submission, Amnesty International provides information under
    sections B, C and D as stipulated in the General Guidelines for the
    Preparation of Information under the Universal Periodic Review:1


    Under section B, Amnesty International raises concern over
    restrictions on fundamental freedoms, limitations on the right to fair
    trial and urges ratification of international human rights standards.

    Section C highlights Amnesty International's concerns about
    prisoners of conscience; restrictions on the rights to freedom of
    expression, association and movement; arbitrary arrests, detention
    without charge or trial, and unfair trials; harassment and intimidation
    of dissidents and critics; the death penalty; restrictions on human
    rights monitoring; and the impact of the US embargo.

    In section D, Amnesty International makes a number of
    recommendations for action by the government to address the areas of


    Amnesty International submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review

    Third session of the UPR Working Group, December 2008

    B. Normative and institutional framework of the State

    Unlawful restriction of fundamental freedoms

    The Cuban legal framework places restrictions on human rights guaranteed
    in international law. Fundamental freedoms such as right to assembly,
    association or expression are recognised in the Cuban Constitution;
    however, it places excessive limitations on the exercise of these
    rights: "None of the freedoms which are recognized for citizens can be
    exercised contrary to what is established by the Constitution and the
    laws, or contrary to the existence and objectives of the socialist
    state, or contrary to the decision of the Cuban people to build
    socialism and communism. Violations of this principle can be punished by
    law."2 Therefore, the exercise of fundamental freedoms in ways that are
    perceived to be "contrary to" the system is not constitutionally protected.

    Amnesty International is also concerned that the description of a number
    of proscribed acts within the Cuban legal system is so general and vague
    as to risk being interpreted in a manner which infringes upon
    fundamental freedoms. This is the case, for example, with provisions in
    Cuba's Criminal Code (Law 62). Article 91 provides for sentences of ten
    to 20 years or death3 for anyone "who in the interest of a foreign
    state, commits an act with the objective of damaging the independence or
    territorial integrity of the Cuban state".4 The behaviour which this
    article is meant to prohibit is ill-defined and open to interpretation.

    Further, according to article 72 "any person shall be deemed dangerous
    if he or she has shown a proclivity to commit crimes demonstrated by
    conduct that is in manifest contradiction with the norms of socialist
    morality", and according to Article 75.1 any police officer can issue a
    warning (acta de advertencia) for such "dangerousness"5. A warning may
    also be issued for associating with a "dangerous person".6 A person who
    has received one or more warnings can be convicted of "dangerousness"
    and sentenced by a Municipal Tribunal to up to four years in prison.

    Further limitations were placed on fundamental freedoms when in 1999
    Cuba's National Assembly passed the Law for the Protection of the
    National Independence and Economy of Cuba, also known as Law 88. This
    legislation, intended as a counter measure to legislation adopted in the
    United States, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also
    known as the "Helms-Burton Act" after the lawmakers who sponsored it.
    This act condemned recent events in Cuba,7 tightened the US embargo, and
    discouraged investment in Cuba by providing for penalties against
    foreign companies investing there. It also provided for claims of
    confiscation of property and for US assistance to 'democracy-building
    efforts' in Cuba.

    In response to the US Act, Law 88 provides for seven to 15 years'
    imprisonment for passing information to the United States that could be
    used to bolster anti-Cuban measures, such as the US economic blockade.
    This would rise to 20 years if the information is acquired
    surreptitiously. The legislation also bans the ownership, distribution
    or reproduction of 'subversive materials' from the US government, and
    proposes terms of imprisonment of up to five years for collaborating
    with radio, TV stations or publications deemed to be assisting US
    policy. Amnesty International considers that the law imposes
    unacceptable limits on the rights to freedom of expression, association
    and assembly.

    Lack of freedom of expression

    Freedom of expression is very restricted in Cuba because of the complete
    control by the government, provided in the Constitution, on all media
    outlets. Private ownership of press, radio, television and other means
    of communication is prohibited by law, thus restricting the exercise of
    the right to freedom of expression by independent media.

    Lack of freedom of association

    All human rights, civil and professional associations and unions in Cuba
    outside the state apparatus and mass organizations controlled by the
    government are barred from gaining legal status. This often puts
    individuals belonging to such associations at risk of harassment,
    intimidation or criminal charges for the legitimate exercise of their
    rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. According to
    Article 208 of Cuba's Criminal Code, members of unofficial organizations
    can face sentences of one to three months of imprisonment, and three to
    nine months for directors of these organizations.

    Limitations on the right to fair trial

    The right to a fair trial is limited in Cuba, with courts and
    prosecutors firmly under government control. The National Assembly
    elects the President, the Vice-President and the other judges of the
    Peoples' Supreme Court, as well as the Attorney General and the Deputy
    Attorney General. In addition, all courts are subordinate to the
    National Assembly and the Council of State, raising concerns with regard
    to the right to trial by an independent and impartial tribunal as
    stipulated in international standards for fair trial.8The fact that
    lawyers are employed by the government, and as such may be reluctant to
    challenge prosecutors or evidence presented by the state intelligence
    services, also impacts on the likelihood of a fair and proper defence.

    Ratification of international human rights standards

    Amnesty International welcomes Cuba's signing of the International
    Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International
    Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at the end of February 2008, and
    hopes that the government will be able to ratify both treaties as soon
    as possible and without reservations.

    C. Promotion and protection of human rights on the ground

    Prisoners of conscience

    At least 58 prisoners of conscience9– including teachers, journalists
    and human rights defenders detained for their peaceful activities – are
    currently held in prisons across Cuba, following trials that failed to
    uphold international standards for fair trial. Seventeen of them are
    serving their sentences outside prison because of health concerns.

    Fifty-five of the prisoners of conscience were arrested during March
    2003, when after a period of apparent movement towards a more open and
    tolerant approach, the authorities carried out a crackdown on the
    dissident movement on the island. With the exception of half a dozen
    well-known figures critical of the regime, most of the mid-level
    leadership of the dissident movement were detained. Many of them had
    been involved in dissident activities for a decade or more. They were
    subjected to summary trials and sentenced to long prison terms of up to
    28 years.10

    Among then is Orlando Zapata Tamayo. He was arrested on 20 March 2003
    while taking part in a hunger strike at the Fundación Jesús Yánez
    Pelletier in Havana to demand the release of Oscar Elías Biscet and
    other political prisoners. Orlando was sentenced to three years'
    imprisonment on charges of showing "contempt to the figure of Fidel
    Castro", "public disorder" and "resistance". In November 2005, he was
    sentenced to an additional 15 years for "contempt" and "resistance"
    while in prison. In May 2006, he was again tried on the same charges and
    sentenced to an additional seven-year term. He is now serving a 25 years
    and six months sentence.

    Amnesty International welcomes the release in February 2008 of four
    prisoners of conscience, although this appears to be on health grounds
    and the persons concerned were required to go into exile.

    Freedom of expression, association and movement

    The severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression,
    association and movement affect thousands of people across Cuba. Those
    who attempt to express views, organize meetings or form organizations
    that contradict government policy and/or the aims of the state are
    likely to be subjected to punitive measures, such as imprisonment, loss
    of employment, harassment or intimidation.

    On 29 November 2006, independent journalist Raymundo Perdigón Brito was
    detained by police and reportedly asked to close down his recently
    opened independent news agency, Yayabo Press. When he declined to do so,
    he was sentenced to four years in prison for "social dangerousness" at a
    summary trial held only six days after his arrest.

    Foreign correspondents based in Cuba also suffer limitations to their
    work. During 2007, the International Press Centre (CPI) of the Foreign
    Ministry denied the renewal of working visas to a number of foreign
    journalists. The CPI informed the correspondents that their visas would
    not be renewed because "the way they approach the Cuban situation is not
    acceptable to the Cuban government".11

    Between 3-6 July this year, the authorities prevented scores of
    dissidents from participating in several events taking place in Havana,
    including the civil society meeting "Agenda for the Transition" (Agenda
    para la Transicion) and an event organized by the United States
    Interests Section to celebrate US Independence Day. Some were prevented
    from travelling to the capital, others in Havana were prevented from
    leaving their homes and around 30 were detained by the police, and then
    released a few hours later or the following morning. The following
    weekend, 12-13 July, at least 15 dissidents were detained for up to 24
    hours. Among those detained was former prisoner of conscience Francisco
    Chaviano. Sunday 13 July was the anniversary of the "13 de Marzo"
    tugboat disaster of 1994, in which some 35 people died while attempting
    to flee Cuba when their boat was reportedly rammed by the Cuban authorities.

    Arbitrary arrests, detention without charge or trial, and unfair trials

    Amnesty International has received many reports of human rights
    defenders, political dissidents and independent journalists being
    arrested for carrying out dissident activities or reporting on the human
    rights situation in Cuba. In some cases they are detained for a few
    hours; in others they are held for months without charge and sometimes
    without trial on suspicion of counter-revolutionary activities or on
    similarly unclear charges.

    In some cases the dissidents are tried and sentenced within a few days
    in summary trials. José Oscar Sánchez Mádan, one of the spokespersons of
    the dissident Independent Alternative Option Movement (Movimiento
    Independiente Opción Alternativa), was summarily tried in April 2007 and
    sentenced to four years' imprisonment for "social dangerousness" by the
    Municipal Court of Union de Reyes. His trial took place four hours after
    his arrest and no family member was informed of the trial or allowed to

    Harassment and intimidation of dissidents and critics

    Amnesty International continues to be concerned at reports of harassment
    and intimidation of critics and political dissidents and their families
    by quasi-official groups in so-called acts of repudiation ("actos de
    repudio"). The organization believes that such acts of "repudiation" may
    amount to psychological torture given the strain they can cause on the
    victims and their relatives. Physical aggression has also been reported
    during some acts of "repudiation". Lawyer and human rights defender,
    Juan Carlos González Leiva, who is also the President of the Cuban
    Foundation for Human Rights, was the target of several acts of
    repudiation at his home in the city of Ciego de Avila in November 2006,
    including repeated threats against him and his family by demonstrators.

    The death penalty

    Cuba retains the death penalty for serious crimes, such as acts of
    terrorism. However, in recent years it has only rarely been applied, and
    Cuba abstained in the December 2007 vote at the UN General Assembly on a
    resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. In
    April 2008, the Cuban President announced the decision by the State
    Council to commute the death sentences of a group of prisoners to 30
    years imprisonment. However, he also clarified that this measure did not
    imply the abolition of the death penalty.

    The last known execution took place in April 2003 of three young men
    sentenced to death for hijacking a boat in order to flee the island.
    There was international concern that the death penalty would be used
    when two army soldiers were arrested following a failed attempt to
    hijack a plane on 3 May 2007, which resulted in the death of an army
    colonel. However, in September 2007 the two men were sentenced to life
    imprisonment. Amnesty International considers the death penalty to be
    the ultimate cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and
    opposes its use in all circumstances.

    Restrictions on human rights monitoring

    Amnesty International believes that independent monitoring is key for
    protection of and respect for human rights. The organization welcomes
    the visit in November 2007 by the Special Rapporteur on the right to
    food at the invitation of the Cuban government. On that occasion, the
    Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that the government was committed to
    co-operate with international human rights mechanisms "systematically
    and continuously, as long as Cuba is treated in a non-discriminatory way".

    Amnesty International remains concerned, however, that human rights
    monitoring in Cuba continues to be very restricted. Local
    non-governmental organizations have great difficulty in reporting on
    human rights violations due to restrictions on their rights to freedom
    of expression, association and movement. At the same time, international
    independent human rights organizations are not allowed to visit the
    island, which contributes to the limitation of human rights monitoring.

    Impact of the US embargo

    Amnesty International has called for the US embargo against Cuba to be
    lifted, as it is highly detrimental to Cubans' enjoyment of a range of
    economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to food, health
    and sanitation – particularly affecting the weakest and most vulnerable
    members of the population. Unfortunately, due to the lack of access to
    the country, Amnesty International has been unable to document at first
    hand the impact of the embargo on the enjoyment of these rights.
    According to UNICEF, the availability of medicines and basic medical
    materials has decreased in Cuba as a consequence of the US embargo
    against the island.12 Amnesty International also believes that the
    embargo has undermined freedom of movement between Cuba and the US and
    restricted family reunifications. However, the organization is also
    concerned that the Cuban government uses the embargo, and the political
    antagonism with the US government, as a pretext for violating the human
    rights of the Cuban people.

    D. Recommendations for action by the State under review

    Amnesty International calls on the government to:

    National legislation and institutions


    Eliminate from the Criminal Code provisions regarding
    "dangerousness" and all other provisions that might contribute to
    arbitrary arrest and detention;

    Create an independent mechanism of accountability to ensure all
    state institutions, including the security services, respect human rights;

    Reform laws, regulations and administrative practices relating to
    freedom of expression, association and assembly in accordance with
    international standards.

    Unfair trials


    Provide full judicial guarantees, in accordance with
    international human rights standards, to ensure that all detainees have
    access to a fair trial, including the right to be heard by an
    independent tribunal and immediate access to a lawyer of their choice;

    Undertake a judicial review of all the sentences and cases where
    there is evidence that the fundamental right to a fair trial has been
    violated, ensure that a thorough and impartial retrial takes place and
    victims have access to reparation.

    Ratification of international human rights standards


    Ratify without reservations the International Covenant on Civil
    and Political Rights, including its two Optional Protocols, and the
    International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

    Prisoners of conscience


    Immediately release all prisoners of conscience and all others
    detained or imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights
    to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

    Harassment and intimidation of dissidents and human rights defenders


    Cease the harassment, intimidation and persecution of human
    rights defenders, independent journalist and political dissidents who
    exercise their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and
    association, and to grant legal status to their organizations;

    Uphold rights pertaining to the UN Declaration on the Right and
    Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote
    and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
    to ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their
    legitimate work freely and without fear of reprisals.

    The death penalty


    Abolish the death penalty.

    International human rights monitoring


    Permit international government and non-government human rights
    bodies to visit the country to independently investigate violations of
    international human rights, to facilitate its operation and to consider
    its recommendations.

    Appendix: Amnesty International documents for further reference13


    Cuba: "Essential measures"? Human rights crackdown in the name of
    security, AI Index: AMR 25/017/2003

    Cuba: One year too many: prisoners of conscience from the March
    2003 crackdown, AI Index: AMR 25/005/2004

    Cuba: Prisoners of conscience: 71 longing for freedom, AI Index:
    AMR 25/002/2005

    Cuba: Fundamental freedoms still under attack, AI Index: AMR

    Cuba: Amnesty International's human rights concerns, AI Index:
    AMR 25/003/2007

    Urgent Actions


    Cuba: Fear for safety / Fear of torture / Intimidation /
    Harassment. AI Index: AMR 25/002/2006

    Cuba: Possible prisoner of conscience/ harassment/ intimidation:
    Ahmed Rodríguez Albacia (m) AI Index: AMR 25/003/2006

    Cuba: Fear of unfair trial/possible Prisoners of Conscience. AI
    Index: AMR 25/004/2006

    Cuba: Further information on Possible prisoner of conscience/
    harassment/ intimidation: Ahmed Rodríguez Albacia (m). AI Index: AMR

    Cuba: Further information on Fear for safety / Fear of torture /
    Intimidation / Harassment. AI Index: AMR 25/001/2007

    Cuba: Fear for safety/Fear of arbitrary detention: Martha Beatriz
    Roque Cabello (f). AI Index: AMR 25/004/2007

    Cuba: Fear of unfair trial: Gorki Águila (m). AI Index: AMR

    Cuba: Further information on fear of unfair trial: Gorki Águila.
    AI Index: AMR 25/003/2008

    1 Contained in Human Rights Council Decision 6/102, Follow-up to Human
    Rights Council resolution 5/1, section I adopted 27 September 2007.

    2 Article 62, Constitution of 1976.

    3 Law 87 of 1999, which modifies the Penal Code, changes the provisions
    regarding sentencing to provide for life imprisonment.

    4 Law 62, Cuban Criminal Code, National Assembly of Popular Power, 1987,
    Article 91. Unofficial translation.

    5 The declaration of a dangerous pre-criminal state can be decided
    summarily according to Decree No. 129, issued in 1991

    6 Article 75.1, Cuban Criminal Code, Law 62 of 1987.

    7 In section 116, the text of the law explicitly condemns a February
    1996 incident in which two planes belonging to a Cuban exile group were
    shot down by the Cuban airforce. Cuban authorities claim that this was
    an act of self defence prompted by violation of its airspace, while
    supporters of the exile group maintain that it was an act of aggression
    committed over international waters. The text also condemns government
    repression against Concilio Cubano (see below).

    8 Article 14 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

    9 People who are imprisoned, detained or otherwise physically restricted
    because of their political, religious or other conscientiously-held
    beliefs or because of their ethnic origin, sex, colour, or language and
    who have not used or advocated violence are considered by Amnesty
    International to be prisoners of conscience.

    10 For more information on the March 2003 events please see the report
    entitled "Essential measures? Human rights crackdown in the name of
    security". This report was updated on the anniversary of these events in
    2004, 2005 and 2006.

    11 Inter American Press Association. Cuba country report. Midyear
    Meeting 2007, Cartagena de índias, Colombia

    12 Report of the UN Secretary-General to the UN General Assembly on Item
    27 of the provisional agenda "Necessity of Ending the Economic,
    Commercial and Financial Embargo Imposed by the United States of America
    against Cuba", 20 September 1995.

    13 All of these documents are available on Amnesty International's
    website: http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/americas/caribbean/cuba

    AI Index: AMR 25/002/2008 Amnesty International


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