Cuba: Release of Political Prisoners An Urgent First Step Towards
Credible Membership on the Un Human Rights Council
Cuba Futuro Foundation
Vienna/Amsterdam, 4 July 2006. The credibility of Cuba as a member of
the United Nations Human Rights Council is seriously compromised by the
incarceration of approximately 320 political prisoners and by many other
human rights abuses, according to the Netherlands-based foundation Cuba
Futuro, which met numerous civil society activists during a fact-finding
mission there. The visiting delegation met with the Cuban Commission for
Human Rights and National Reconciliation, Ladies in White and the
Christian Liberation Movement led by Oswaldo Payá, the latter two
recipients of the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament in recent
Representatives of the foundation are urging the international community
to evaluate Cuba’s human rights practices in the light of pledges made
upon joining the Council, when the Cuban government publicly stated in
an Aide Memoire that it “gives the highest importance to international
cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights.”
“Numerous Cuban citizens are serving long prison terms and suffering
abuse, having been convicted on the basis of their belief in peaceful
change, based on evidence that includes distributing the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, which Cuba has promised to honor”, said
Aaron Rhodes, director of the International Helsinki Federation for
Human Rights, who took part in the mission. “Seventy five of these
prisoners were summarily convicted in 2003 charged with offences such as
using a computer, publishing articles, speaking on the telephone with
foreigners, owning books, and disseminating copies of the Universal
Declaration, which Cuban authorities have classified as enemy
propaganda,” he said. Such offenses are considered evidence of attempts
to undermine the government and Cuba’s sovereignty and can carry prison
sentences of up to 28 years.
Cuba Futuro has concluded that the general human rights situation in
Cuba is deteriorating precipitously.
Social and economic rights are seriously violated. Health services are
inadequate for Cubans, while the government sells expensive healthcare
to foreign clients. Economic disparities are growing more acute with
the development of tourism, with hotel bellboys earning more than
The regime severely restricts access to information, particularly
through control of the Internet. Freedom of association is also
seriously curtailed, with independent trade unions considered illegal.
The state makes it virtually impossible for many citizens to obtain exit
visas, although the freedom of movement is a right guaranteed by the
Under the watch of neighborhood “Committees for the Defense of the
Revolution”, citizens who question the regime face repression and
psychological terror. “Acts of Repudiation” include public denunciations
and acts of harassment by state-organized mobs. Dissenting individuals
and their families are regularly threatened and harassed. Citizens may
be convicted on the sole basis of being “inclined toward behavior not in
accordance with socialist morals”, a fate especially reserved for young
Cuban authorities refuse to allow international authorities, including
the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to inspect penal
institutions. These reportedly house between 80,000 and 100,000 persons
making the incarceration rate among the highest in the world. While Cuba
had 14 prisons in 1959 (the year of the Revolution) it now has 250
prisons and prison camps. Prison conditions fail to meet international
standards, with inadequate nutrition, sanitation, space, and medical
care. Relatives of political prisoners told Cuba Futuro that 30
prisoners are confined in a single cell measuring five by six meters.
Cuba Futuro also recorded numerous accounts of beatings and other cruel
and inhumane treatments.
Cuba’s Aide Memoire said that its government would “continue to work
tirelessly in attaining the common aspiration of the full enjoyment of
all human rights for all peoples on the basis of respect to the
instruments internationally agreed upon in human rights matters”.
Cuba Futuro is hence urging the authorities to begin the processes of
international cooperation, dialogue with civil society, and reform, that
will give reality to these promises.
As an urgent first step, the Cuban authorities should release their
political prisoners. As stated by Oswaldo Payá to Cuba Futuro, “Not
calling for the liberation of the Cuban pacific political prisoners
would be a scandalous denial of the purposes of the Human Rights Council”.
Secondly, basic United Nations documents including the Universal
Declaration for Human Rights must be promoted and distributed as minimum
steps to honor their membership of the new Human Rights Council.
Thirdly, Cuba should also ratify the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), integral parts of the UN
international bill of rights.
Lastly, the 134 countries which supported Cuba’s membership in the
Council should encourage Cuba to abide by its pledges and by General
Assembly Resolution 60/251 calling on members “to uphold the highest
standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”.
For further information please contact:
Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director, Tel. + 43 (0) 676 635 6612
Jan ter Laak, Chairperson Cuba Futuro Foundation, Tel. +31(0) 622975179