Cuba - Amnesty International Report 2008

Human Rights in REPUBLIC OF CUBA

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Head of state and government : Raúl Castro Ruz (provisionally replacing Fidel Castro Ruz)
Death penalty : retentionist
Population : 11.3 million
Life expectancy : 77.7 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) : 6/6 per 1,000
Adult literacy : 99.8 per cent

Restrictions on freedom of expression, association and movement remained severe. At least 62 prisoners of conscience remained imprisoned and political dissidents, independent journalists and human rights activists continued to be harassed, intimidated and detained. However, four prisoners of conscience and other political dissidents were released and the government decided to discuss its human rights record with other governments and to ratify human rights treaties. Cubans continued to feel the negative impact of the US embargo.

Background

In May, the Cuban government accepted the creation of a Bilateral Consultation Mechanism with the Spanish authorities, which included a formal Human Rights Dialogue. The decision followed a visit by the Spanish Foreign Minister, the first EU foreign minister to visit Havana since the crackdown on dissidents in 2003. This represented the resumption of inter-governmental co-operation, suspended in 2003.

In November, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food visited Cuba at the invitation of the Cuban government. The invitation followed the decision by the UN Human Rights Council not to renew the mandate of the human rights Special Representative on Cuba. The Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that his government had a commitment to co-operate with universal human rights mechanisms “systematically and continuously, as long as Cuba is treated in a non-discriminatory way.” On 10 December, he announced that Cuba would soon ratify two key human rights treaties.

Political relations with the USA remained tense. In October President Bush said the USA would maintain its policy of isolating Havana and called for international support.

In November, for the 16th consecutive year, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on the USA to end its embargo on Cuba.

Freedom of expression and association

All print and broadcast media remained under state control.

During 2007, the government refused to renew the visas of a number of foreign correspondents because “their approach to the Cuban situation is not one which the Cuban government finds appropriate.”

Justice system

Prisoners of conscience

At the end of the year, 62 prisoners of conscience continued to be held for their non-violent political views or activities. Thirteen others were serving their sentences outside prison because of health concerns. Four prisoners of conscience were conditionally released during 2007.

‘Social dangerousness’

The practice of using the criminal justice system to silence political dissidents and critics continued. Many were sentenced for a crime known as “social dangerousness”, a pre-emptive measure defined as the “proclivity to commit a crime”. Behaviour such as drunkenness, drug addiction and “anti-social behaviour” is criminalized under this legislation. However, it was almost exclusively applied to political dissidents, independent journalists and critics of the government. Those convicted of “dangerousness” face up to four years’ imprisonment and can be subjected to “therapeutic treatment”, “re-education” or “surveillance by the Revolutionary National Police”.

  • José Oscar Sánchez Madan was summarily tried in April 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 participate. José Oscar Sánchez Madan is one of the spokespersons of the dissident Independent Alternative Option Movement (Movimiento Independiente Opción Alternativa).

Arbitrary detention

Harassment of political dissidents, independent journalists and critics for carrying out dissident activities or reporting on the human rights situation in Cuba continued. Some were detained for 24 or 48 hours and then released; others were held for months or even years awaiting trial.

  • Between 21 November and 10 December many political dissidents were arbitrarily detained because of their involvement in peaceful protests. The detentions lasted for short periods of time and were aimed at discouraging demonstrations against the government, particularly on 10 December, International Human Rights Day. At least three people remained detained at the end of the year.
  • On 27 September, 48 people were detained in Havana as they were preparing to attend a demonstration in front of the Ministry of Justice to demand fair treatment for political dissidents. Some were released later that day and others on the following day.

Death penalty

Around 40 people remained on death row. The last known execution took place in April 2003 and death sentences have rarely been imposed in recent years.

Impact of the US embargo

The effects of the US embargo continued to be highly detrimental to the enjoyment of a range of economic, social and cultural rights – such as the right to food, health and sanitation – by Cubans, and especially by the most vulnerable members of the population. Amnesty International believes that the US embargo has also undermined freedom of movement between Cuba and the USA and restricted family reunification.

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