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Over the past forty years, Cuba has developed a highly effective machinery of repression. The denial of basic civil and political rights is written into Cuban law. In the name of legality, armed security forces, aided by state-controlled mass organizations, silence dissent with heavy prison terms, threats of prosecution, harassment, or exile. Cuba uses these tools to restrict severely the exercise of fundamental human rights of expression, association, and assembly. The conditions in Cuba's prisons are inhuman, and political prisoners suffer additional degrading treatment and torture. In recent years, Cuba has added new repressive laws and continued prosecuting nonviolent dissidents while shrugging off international appeals for reform and placating visiting dignitaries with occasional releases of political prisoners.

This report documents Cuba's failures to respect the civil and political rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as well as the international human rights and labor rights treaties it has ratified. It shows that neither Cuban law nor practice guarantees the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. Cuba's obligation to respect the declaration arises from its incorporation into the United Nations Charter, rendering all member states, including Cuba, subject to its provisions. The UDHR is widely recognized as customary international law. It is a basic yardstick to measure any country's human rights performance. Unfortunately, Cuba does not measure up.

Repression of Dissidents

Cuban authorities continue to treat as criminal offenses nonviolent activities such as meeting to discuss the economy or elections, writing letters to the government, reporting on political or economic developments, speaking to international reporters, or advocating the release of political prisoners. While the number of political prosecutions has diminished in the past few years, Cuban courts continue to try and imprison human rights activists, independent journalists, economists, doctors, and others for the peaceful expression of their views, subjecting them to the Cuban prison system's extremely poor conditions. Even as Cuba released some political prisoners early in 1998—most of whom had completed most of their sentences—continuing trials replenished their numbers. Prison remained a plausible threat to any Cubans considering nonviolent opposition. In the case of four dissident leaders arrested in July 1997 and only tried—for inciting sedition—in March 1999, receiving sentences ranging fromthree and one-half to five years, the arbitrariness of Cuban repression was starkly on display.

In the past two years, Cuban prosecutors have relied heavily on criminal code provisions against enemy propaganda and contempt for authority (desacato) to silence dissent. During this period, prosecutors also have tried dissidents for defamation, resisting authority, association to commit criminal acts (asociación para delinquir), failure to comply with the duty to denounce (incumplimiento del deber de denunciar), and the catch-all charge "other acts against state security" (otras actas contra la seguridad del estado). Cuba's prisons also hold nonviolent political prisoners tried for crimes against state security, such as enemy propaganda, rebellion, sabotage, and revealing secrets concerning state security. Individuals convicted of state security crimes often are serving long sentences of ten to twenty years. In addition, Cuba continues to imprison, for "dangerousness," scores of citizens who have not committed a criminal act and also confines persons for "illegal exit" for attempting to exercise their right to leave Cuba.

Cuban Laws Restrict Human Rights

While Cuba's domestic legislation includes broad statements of fundamental rights, other provisions grant the state extraordinary authority to penalize individuals who attempt to enjoy their rights to free expression, opinion, press, association, and assembly. In recent years, rather than modify its laws to conform to international human rights standards, Cuba has approved legislation further restricting fundamental rights. A notable exception to this trend is the partial restoration of religious freedom. But Cuba has consistently refused to reform the most objectionable elements of its laws. Cuba's concurrent refusal to amnesty political prisoners and its continued prosecution of nonviolent activists highlight the critical role that Cuba's laws play in its machinery of repression.

The Cuban Criminal Code lies at the core of Cuba's repressive machinery, unabashedly prohibiting nonviolent dissent. With the Criminal Code in hand, Cuban officials have broad authority to repress peaceful government opponents at home. Cuban law tightly restricts the freedoms of speech, association, assembly, press, and movement. In an extraordinary June 1998 statement, Cuban Justice Minister Roberto Díaz Sotolongo justified Cuba's restrictions on dissent by explaining that, as Spain had instituted laws to protect the monarch from criticism, Cuba was justified in protecting Fidel Castro from criticism, since he served a similar function as Cuba's "king."

Cuban authorities go through strained circumlocutions to deny the existence of political prisoners in Cuba. Despite his admission that Cuban law bars vocal opposition to Castro and other officials, Díaz Sotolongo claimed that Cuba has nopolitical prisoners. He said that Cuban criminal laws only penalize conduct, but not thought, and, as an example, distinguished between the illegality of committing an overt act in the furtherance of a murder versus the legality of merely thinking about it. Numerous Cuban laws explicitly penalize the exercise of fundamental freedoms while others, which are so vaguely defined as to offer Cuban officials broad discretion in their interpretation, are often invoked to silence the government's critics. Díaz Sotolongo's statement also is at odds with Cuba's penalizing the propensity to commit a criminal act, under the Criminal Code's "dangerousness" and "official warning" provisions.

Cuban authorities often refer to peaceful anti-government activists as "counter-revolutionaries." But Cuba's invocation of a state security interest to control nonviolent dissent—for acts as innocuous as handing out "Down with Fidel" flyers—represents a clear abuse of authority. Under Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, restrictions of fundamental rights are only permissible "for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society." Cuba's efforts to silence critics fall well outside these limits.

Cuba frequently denies its citizens internationally recognized due process guarantees. Cuban legislation undercuts the right to a fair trial by allowing the country's highest political authorities to control the courts and prosecutors, granting broad authority for warrantless arrests and pretrial detentions, and restricting the right to a defense. Unfortunately, Cuban courts have failed to observe the few due process rights available to defendants under the law.

The Constitution of the Republic of Cuba explicitly states that the courts are "subordinate in the line of authority to the National Assembly... and the Council of State," a supreme executive branch body, and that the Council of State may issue the courts instructions. This structure robs Cuban courts of even the semblance of independence and impartiality. Cuba permits civilians to be tried in military courts, the independence and impartiality of which are also in question. Cuban judges occasionally choose to try nonviolent government opponents behind closed doors, violating the right to a public trial.

Cuba's criminal procedure allows the police and prosecutorial authorities to hold a suspect for a week before any court reviews the legality of the detention. This clearly violates international norms requiring that a court review any detention without delay. Equally troubling, authorities are not required to notify the accused of his or her right to an attorney until after the court decides on the legality of the detention, which may take up to seventy-two additional hours. Failing to notify the accused of this right until up to ten days after an arrest denies legal assistance todetainees during a critical period and enables authorities to put undue pressure on the detainee through interrogations or intimidation. In practice, Cuban authorities do not comply even with the narrow provisions of this law. The Criminal Procedure Code grants judges broad latitude in determining whether to hold suspects in pretrial detention. Judges often abuse this authority with respect to government critics.

The Cuban constitution states that citizens have the right to a defense, but Cuba's procedural laws, the banning of an independent bar association, and powerful, politicized judicial and prosecutorial authorities seriously debilitate this right. Legally permitting ten-day detentions without any requirement that detainees be notified of their right to an attorney, much less appointed an attorney, violates the right to a defense. The government's close ties with judges, prosecutors and state-appointed or approved attorneys leave many defendants with little hope that their attorneys can or will do anything but request a slightly shorter sentence. In 1973, Cuba eliminated private law firms and required all attorneys who did not work directly for the state to join "collective law firms" (bufetes colectivos). Several independent attorneys who had represented dissidents were refused membership in the collective firms.

Although Cuba's Associations Law (Ley de Asociaciones y Su Reglamento, hereafter, Associations Law) claims to guarantee the right of association, the law effectively bars the legalization of any genuinely independent organization. The law requires organizations to "coordinate" and "collaborate" with a counterpart state entity. Fulfilling this condition necessitates the group's subjugation to the government organization, by allowing a representative of the state entity to attend and speak at any planned or unplanned meetings; requiring the group to notify the government entity in advance of any publications; coordinating with the government entity regarding participation in any national or international event; regularly reporting to the government entity on its activities; and providing prior notice of the date and hour of any meetings or other activities.

Far from relinquishing control over freedom of expression, association, press, and movement, in recent years the Cuban government has created new mechanisms to strengthen its repressive authority. In February 1999 Cuba's National Assembly approved the Law for the Protection of the National Independence and the Cuban Economy (Ley de Protección de la Independencia Nacional y la Economía de Cuba), which took effect in March 1999. The law created harsh penalties of up to twenty years for any actions that could be interpreted as support for the U.S. embargo on Cuba. The new law served as the implementing legislation for a law passed in late December 1996, the Law Reaffirming Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty (Ley de Reafirmación de la Dignidad y Soberanía Cubanas), whichCuba described as "a response to the Helms-Burton Law." The March 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (also known as Helms-Burton) solidified the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. In response, Cuba created broad restrictions on free expression, criminalizing even the appearance of support for U.S. policies. In February 1997, Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina signed a ministerial resolution creating regulations governing foreign media reporting from Cuba. The regulations require that foreign correspondents demonstrate "objectivity, adhering strictly to the facts and in consonance with the professional ethics that govern journalism," or face reprimand or the withdrawal of credentials. An April 1997 decree restricted internal movement as a purported response to public health, welfare, and public order concerns. While these concerns may be legitimate under international human rights norms, President Castro's statements highlighting the government's interest in minimizing "indiscipline" and maintaining tight control over citizens' movement for security reasons suggest that one motive for the decree may have been political control. While the law did not result in massive round-ups and deportations, Cuban migrants to Havana expressed frustration that they could not choose where to live and that police demands for their personal papers and proof of "legal" residency had increased.

Cuba retains the death penalty for several crimes and adopted it for two additional crimes in early 1999. Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment as an inherently cruel practice often carried out in a discriminatory manner. Furthermore, the fallibility of all criminal justice systems creates the risk that innocent persons will be executed even when full due process of law is respected. The Cuban legal system's serious procedural failings and lack of judicial independence practically guarantee miscarriages of justice. Cuban law affords convicts sentenced to death minimal opportunities to appeal their sentences. Cuba's reliance on the Council of State—an entity presided over by President Castro, selected by the Cuban National Assembly, and considered the "supreme representation of the Cuban State" under national law—as the ultimate arbiter in death penalty cases denies defendants a meaningful avenue of appeal.

Cuban minors risk being forced to serve as soldiers. The Cuban armed forces conscript minors as young as sixteen.

Cuba's Prisons

Cuba confines its sizable prison population under substandard and unhealthy conditions, where prisoners face physical and sexual abuse. Cuban prison practices fail in numerous respects to comply with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which provide authoritative guidance on prison conditions. In preparation for this report, Human Rights Watch intervieweddozens of former Cuban prisoners, family members of current and former prisoners, and human rights activists within Cuba, many of whom are former political prisoners. These interviews provided us with information on twenty-four of Cuba's maximum security prisons and numerous other detention centers, such as police stations and state security offices.

Most prisoners suffer malnourishment from an insufficient prison diet and languish in overcrowded cells without appropriate medical attention. Some endure physical and sexual abuse, typically by other inmates with the acquiescence of guards, or long periods in isolation cells. Prison authorities insist that all detainees participate in politically oriented "re-education" sessions or face punitive measures. In many prisons, authorities fail to separate all of the pretrial detainees from the convicts and minors from adults. Minors risk indefinite detention in juvenile facilities, without benefit of due process guarantees or a fixed sentence.

The Cuban Interior Ministry runs the prison system, with soldiers often serving as prison guards and labor camp overseers. Each prison's staff includes a re-educator, usually a military official, assigned to direct the prison population's political indoctrination. Prison guards in men's facilities name prisoners to powerful positions as members of "prisoners' councils" (consejos de reclusos) and rely on these prisoners to maintain internal discipline. The council members commit some of Cuba's worst prison abuses, including beating fellow prisoners as a disciplinary measure and sexually abusing prisoners, under direct orders from or with the acquiescence of prison officials.

Cuba's political prisoners, held for exercising their fundamental rights of free association, free expression, free opinion, or freedom of movement, provide the government's repressive machinery with credibility, demonstrating that opposition to the government engenders the genuine risk of serving time in prison. Scores of Cuban activists who suffer short-term detentions and who receive official warnings that they will face prosecutions for political crimes take the risk of prosecution and imprisonment in Cuba's jails seriously. While the existence of hundreds of political prisoners cows potential opponents at home, Cuba also uses occasional prisoner releases to maximize political capital abroad. Cuba's deprivation of these individuals' liberty represents a shocking disregard for their fundamental rights. The inhumane conditions and the punitive measures taken against prisoners have been, in several instances researched by Human Rights Watch, so cruel as to rise to the level of torture.

Beyond suffering the difficulties that all Cuban prisoners face, Cuba's political prisoners encounter problems unique to their status as nonviolent activists, often for holding views contrary to the government's or for criticizing human rights violations in the prisons. Prison authorities refuse to acknowledge politicalprisoners' distinct status and punish them for refusing to participate in political re-education, not wearing prison uniforms, or denouncing human rights abuses in the prisons. Guards restrict political prisoners' visits with family members and subject relatives to harassment. Prisoners' relatives also face government intimidation outside the prison walls. Moreover, Cuba's confinement of nonviolent prisoners with inmates convicted for violent crimes, often in maximum-security facilities with Cuba's most hardened criminals, is degrading and dangerous.

Many Cuban political prisoners spend several months to more than a year in pretrial detention, often in isolation cells. Following conviction, they face additional punitive periods in solitary confinement. The government also crushes free expression inside the prison walls with criminal charges and prosecution of previously convicted prisoners who speak out about inhumane prison conditions and treatment.

Cuban police or prison guards often heighten the punitive nature of solitary confinement with additional sensory deprivation, such as blocking light or ventilation from a cell, removing beds or mattresses, seizing prisoners' clothes and belongings, forbidding prisoners to communicate with one another, or restricting food and water beyond the already meager prison rations. Prison and police officials also disorient prisoners by leaving lights on in cells for twenty-four hours a day, incorrectly setting the time on clocks, or incessantly playing loud music. Experts in treating torture survivors recognize these as methods for imposing physical and psychological torture.

Cuba's treatment of political prisoners violates its obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which it ratified on May 17, 1995. Prolonged periods of incommunicado pretrial and post-conviction detention, beatings, and prosecutions of previously tried political prisoners—where those practices result in severe pain or suffering—constitute torture under the convention. Moreover, the Convention against Torture clearly prohibits retaliation against individuals who denounce torture.

When prominent international figures appeal for Cuban political prisoners' freedom, Cuba occasionally releases prisoners prior to the conclusion of their sentence often on the condition that they leave their country forever. In an October 1998 interview, President Fidel Castro frankly discussed Cuba's approach to prisoner releases, emphasizing the "spirit" in which requests for prisoner releases are made, rather than on the rightness or wrongness of Cuba's having prosecuted and imprisoned these persons. Castro's comments reveal the calculated, political nature of Cuba's response to requests for prisoner releases.

Routine Repression

Short of sentencing activists to prison terms or detaining them for lengthy periods without trial, Cuba employs additional tactics to impede individuals and organizations from undertaking activities that are, or that appear to be, in opposition to its policies or practices. The range of repressive measures includes short-term arbitrary detentions, official warnings (advertencias oficiales), removal from jobs and housing, surveillance, harassment, intimidation, and forced exile. Government actions against dissidents appear to occur in waves, with lulls followed by periods of intense harassment, often in response to heightened opposition activity. Although Pope John Paul's January 1998 visit to Cuba marked a period of relative calm, government pressures increased as the year went on. In early 1999, the government tried several dissidents and arrested dozens of independent journalists and activists. Dissidents willing to criticize the government publicly risk serious consequences, from the trauma of wrongful arrests and potential prosecutions to the loss of their homes and sources of income, as well as the significant emotional costs wrought by individual and group repudiations or the deprivation of contact with family, community, and culture through forced exile.

Human rights activists and independent journalists are among the government's most frequent targets, along with independent labor organizers. The Cuban government maintains a firm stance against independent journalism, relying not only on mass organizations but also on its security forces and courts to threaten, intimidate, detain, and prosecute journalists who do not espouse the government's views. Cuba also persists in prosecutions, short-term detentions, surveillance, phone interruption, and other intimidations of human rights activists. Prisoners who speak out against abuses face physical violence and other punishments in Cuba's detention centers. Others subjected to government harassment include members of independent political parties, organizations of independent academics, teachers, medical professionals, artists, and environmental activists. The government's denial of legal recognition to opposition groups leaves all members of unauthorized groups at risk of arrest and prosecution.

Cuba routinely bars international media and human rights investigators access to the country in an effort to avoid negative publicity. In an October 1998 interview, President Castro explained the conditions under which he would grant visas to reporters with U.S. news bureaus: "If I were certain objective reporters would come to Cuba and not be biased beforehand, we would...." Cuba's restrictions on press coverage and human rights reporting are among the most severe in the Western Hemisphere.

Labor Rights in Cuba

Wielding its position as virtually the only source of jobs in the state-controlled economy, the Cuban government exercises strict control over labor rights. Cuba not only bans independent labor groups and harasses persons attempting to form them but also factors criticism of the government into hiring and firing decisions. Official control over labor rights extends to the booming foreign investment sector, where foreign companies can only hire Cuban employees through government-controlled employment agencies. And Cuba's extensive prison labor program, meanwhile, fails to observe basic principles for the humane treatment of prisoners and violates an international ban on forced labor, by requiring political prisoners to work.

Ironically, these labor rights abuses occur despite the Cuban governments' claims of protecting the rights to association, assembly, expression, and the right to work. The government's assertions that it guarantees these rights are seriously undermined by the constitutional proviso that government-backed "mass and social organizations have all the facilities for carrying out [these rights], in which their members enjoy the most extensive freedom of speech and opinion." Cuba only permits one confederation of state-controlled unions, the Workers' Central of Cuba (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, CTC), which is run by a member of Cuba's Communist Party Political Bureau (politburo). Cuba has not legalized any independent union, whether in the broader national economy or in the foreign investment sector, and the restrictive measures of the Associations Law all but preclude such a step. Independent labor activists regularly risk detentions, harassment, threats of prosecution, and pressure to go into exile.

Cuba impedes union formation in the international investment sector by mandating that all hiring be conducted by state-controlled employment agencies. Cuba's refusal to allow workers to organize or bargain collectively makes foreign investors complicit in the government's human rights violations.

Religious Freedom in Cuba

Pope John Paul II's January 1998 visit to Cuba fostered hope that the government would ease its repressive tactics and allow greater religious freedom. The papal visit provided a unique opportunity for public demonstrations of faith in a country that had imposed tight restrictions on religious expression in 1960 and was officially atheist until 1992. Although Cuba refused visas to some foreign journalists and pressured some domestic critics during the visit, the pope's calls for freedom of religion, conscience, and expression created an unprecedented air of openness. But while Cuba permits greater opportunities for religious expression than it did in past years, and has allowed several religious-run humanitarian groupsto operate, the government still maintains tight control on religious institutions, affiliated groups, and individual believers. On a positive note, in November 1998 Cuba approved visas for nineteen foreign priests to take up residence in Cuba.

Cuba's Bar on International Human Rights Monitoring

The Cuban government often welcomes visits from international organizations providing humanitarian aid, particularly those that have publicly opposed the U.S. embargo. But it routinely bans international human rights and humanitarian agencies that may be critical of its human rights record. The Cuban government has not allowed Human Rights Watch to return to Cuba since 1995. Cuba never allowed the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cuba to enter the country. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights José Ayala Lasso visited Cuba in November 1994. Unfortunately, he failed to make a public comment about the country's human rights situation.

The Cuban government bars regular access to its prisons by domestic and international human rights and humanitarian monitors. Cuba barred the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), which visits prisoners in custody for political and security offenses all over the world, from conducting prison visits in 1989. Cuba's refusal to allow human rights and humanitarian groups access to its prisons represents a failure to demonstrate minimal transparency. Moreover, the government's barring of the ICRC, which works behind the scenes to protect the rights of political prisoners and does not publicize its findings, shows a profound lack of concern for those prisoners' welfare.


Cuba has failed to enforce constitutional provisions that demand accountability for state officials who commit abuses. Cuba routinely denies human rights abuses, fails to investigate or punish those who commit them, and retaliates against those who denounce them, particularly prisoners. The persistence of human rights violations in Cuba is undoubtedly due, in part, to the fact that Cuban officials have faced virtually no consequences for the thousands of human rights violations committed in the past forty years. Yet, Cuba has clear obligations under international law to offer effective remedies to victims of human rights abuses.

The Role of the International Community

After the demise of the Soviet Union, Cuba suddenly found itself in need of trading partners, foreign investment, and humanitarian assistance the outside world. Havana saw a need to repair relations with countries that had formerly treated it asa pariah. The international community thus has new opportunities to press for human rights reforms in Cuba. Unfortunately, the huge divide between U.S. policy and that of Cuba's major trading and investment partners has prevented the development of an effective, unified policy that could bring about change in Cuba.

The United States

Washington's approach to Havana remains defined by its decades-old trade embargo. The 1996 passage of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also known as the Helms-Burton law, removed from the U.S. president's authority any possibility of modifying the embargo without passing new legislation. The embargo has not only failed to bring about human rights improvements in Cuba but has become counterproductive, providing a pretext for Castro's repression while alienating Washington's erstwhile allies. Indeed the U.S. policy of unrelenting confrontation with Cuba has been condemned in unequivocal terms by the United Nations General Assembly, Pope John Paul II, and governments of every political stripe around the world.

Moreover, the embargo restricts the rights to free expression and association and the freedom to travel between the U.S. and Cuba, thus violating Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty ratified by the United States. In 1998, only diplomats or members of intergovernmental organizations such as the U.N. could travel from the U.S. to Cuba without a special license. Following the pope's January 1998 visit to Cuba, President Clinton took the limited step of restoring direct charter flights from the U.S. to Cuba, which the U.S. had banned in 1996.

Criticism of the embargo's harsh impact on the Cuban population has spurred U.S. congressional efforts to ease its indiscriminate effects. Legislation was introduced in both houses of the U.S. Congress in 1997 to lift restrictions on the sale of food and medicines. In early 1998, Sen. Jesse Helms called for humanitarian assistance to "undermine the policies of Fidel Castro." The intended distributor of Helms's assistance, Cuba's Catholic church, made clear it would not play that role should the bill become law. In October 1998, fifteen senators, led by Republican Sen. John Warner, and several prominent foreign policy experts, including former Secretaries of State Lawrence Eagleburger and Henry Kissinger, called on President Clinton to establish a bipartisan commission to reexamine U.S. policy toward Cuba. The Clinton administration rejected this proposal in January 1999, instead opting for a package of limited measures intended to increase contacts between U.S. and Cuban citizens.

The European Union

In recent years, European trade and investment has surged in Cuba. The European Union (E.U.) has expressed strong opposition to the U.S. trade embargo while promoting political and economic openings with Cuba. But Havana has rebuffed efforts to use European aid as a carrot to induce Castro to implement human rights reforms. The "common position," which the E.U. adopted in December 1996 and has renewed at six-month intervals, makes full economic cooperation conditional on "improvements in human rights and political freedom...." In particular, the "Common Position" calls for "reform of internal legislation concerning political and civil rights, including the Cuban criminal code, and... the abolition of all political offences, the release of all political prisoners and the ending of the harassment and punishment of dissidents...." In June 1998 the E.U. permitted the Castro government to participate as an observer in the negotiations of the Lomé Treaty, which offered preferential trade status to less developed countries. Yet full integration into the group remains conditioned on substantial progress in human rights and political freedom, terms that have been rebuffed by Havana, leaving European policy at a stalemate. The E.U. member states continue to provide economic cooperation and humanitarian aid on an ad hoc basis through nongovernmental organizations.


The Canadian government has sustained bilateral dialogue with Cuba about human rights in the past few years, terming its approach "constructive engagement." The January 1997 accord between Ottawa and Havana addressed investment, taxation, banking, and other issues, as well as calling on Canada to hold seminars and train Cuban judges on human rights issues. Since then, several seminars have been held on women's and children's rights, but the Cuban government does not appear to have changed its human rights practices as a result of the program. In 1998 Canada offered humanitarian assistance to seventeen political prisoners Cuba forced into exile following the pope's plea for prisoner releases. But Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's April 1998 mission to Cuba focused little attention on political and civil rights, and President Castro dismissed Chrétien's appeal for the release of the four leaders of the Internal Dissidents' Working Group. Canada, like the E.U., has aggressively pursued trade and investment opportunities in Cuba.

The United Nations

From 1991 through 1997, the U.N. Human Rights Commission approved annual U.S.-backed resolutions condemning human rights violations in Cuba. The resolutions renewed the mandate of a special rapporteur, Swedish diplomatCarl-Johan Groth, who produced several well-documented reports on the Cuban human rights situation. However, on April 21, 1998, the commission defeated the annual Cuba resolution, ending the special rapporteur's mandate without Cuba ever having granted him permission to enter the country. International resistance to U.S. policy toward Cuba doomed the vote, resulting in an unwarranted lifting of U.N. human rights monitoring. But Cuba's glaring actions in early 1999, trying prominent dissidents and passing repressive legal reforms, appear to have galvanized international support to renew pressure on Cuba. At the April 1999 commission meeting, a resolution condemning Cuban human rights practices, which did not include a provision for a rapporteur, passed by a narrow margin.

In October 1998, the General Assembly voted to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba for the seventh time.

Ibero-American Nations

Since the papal visit to Cuba, Latin American and Caribbean nations have intensified diplomatic contact with Cuba; some restored normal relations for the first time in decades. With some notable exceptions, however, these nations have failed to use their renewed dialogue with Cuba to press for human rights protection. In November 1999, the heads of state of all Ibero-American nations will hold their annual summit meeting in Havana.


To the Cuban Government

Legal Reforms, Prosecutions, and Harassment

· The Cuban government should undertake legal reforms to ensure its compliance with international human rights and labor rights treaties to which it is a party. In particular, Cuba should implement the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, by making torture a crime and investigating, prosecuting, and punishing all government officials who employ torture. Such a measure should also penalize any official who retaliates against an individual alleging torture.

· The Cuban government should cease all prosecutions based on the individual's exercise of fundamental rights to free expression, association, and movement. The authorities also should cease repressive actions against human rights activists, independent journalists, members of independent political parties, organizations of independent academics, teachers, religious activists, medicalprofessionals, artists, environmental activists, family members of political prisoners, and others based on their actual or imputed criticisms of the Cuban government or its policies. Such measures include short-term arbitrary detentions, official warnings (advertencias oficiales), removal from jobs and housing, surveillance, harassment, intimidation, and forced exile.

· The Cuban government should reform its Criminal Code, repealing or narrowing the definition of all crimes that are in violation of established international human rights norms and practices. Among the "crimes" that should be repealed are: contempt for authority (desacato), clandestine printing, illegal exit, defamation of institutions and mass organizations, insulting the nation's symbols, abuse of the freedom of religion, failure to comply with the Associations Law, and failure to comply with the duty to denounce. Cuba also should repeal its "dangerousness" and "official warning" provisions, which are unduly vague and subject to arbitrary enforcement.

· Cuba should cease application of the Criminal Code's state security crimes, including enemy propaganda, rebellion, revealing secrets concerning state security, sedition, sabotage, and other acts against state security (otros actos contra la seguridad del estado), against nonviolent dissidents for the exercise of their fundamental rights. These provisions should be repealed or reformed to eliminate vague language permitting their application against such persons.

· The Cuban government should halt the politically punitive use of other legal provisions that, while not explicitly targeting the exercise of legitimate political and civil rights, are so ambiguously and broadly defined that they may be employed to prevent Cubans from exercising those rights. Cuba should narrow the scope of several crimes including: criminal association, disobedience, resistance, insult, calumny, defamation, and illegal entry.

· The Cuban government should restructure its court system to establish judicial and prosecutorial independence.

· The Cuban government should reform the Criminal Procedure Code to provide due process guarantees for all criminal defendants. In particular, the Criminal Procedure Code should afford swift judicial review of all detentions and defendants' prompt access to lawyers. The Cuban government should permit lawyers to practice without joining collective law firms.

· The Cuban government should reform its Associations Law to allow for the legalization of independent groups that are not subservient to state-controlled organizations. The Criminal Code provision penalizing organizations not recognized under the current Associations Law should be repealed.

· The Cuban government should abolish the death penalty. Until such a step is taken, the death sentences of all persons currently on death row should be commuted to life sentences.

· The Cuban government should lift restrictions on foreign journalists working in Cuba, granting visas to journalists despite the content of any prior Cuba coverage.

· The Cuban government should cease the conscription of minors for service in its armed forces.

Prisons and Political Prisoners

· The Cuban government should immediately and unconditionally release all individuals currently imprisoned for having exercised their fundamental rights to free expression, association, assembly, or movement, including all those imprisoned for human rights monitoring and advocacy.

· The Cuban government should take immediate steps to improve prison conditions, particularly ensuring that no resources currently available in the prisons are arbitrarily denied to prisoners based on their political opinions. The government should ensure that all prisoners receive a sufficient daily minimal caloric intake, appropriate medical attention, and adequate housing and sanitary conditions. Cuba should encourage family visits and cease the arbitrary refusal of family provisions of supplies for prisoners, such as food and medicine. The government should address persistent physical abuse by prison guards with investigations and disciplinary measures against the responsible authorities and not by prosecuting prisoners who denounce such abuses.

· Until Cuba releases all its political prisoners, it should segregate political prisoners from common prisoners.

· The Cuban government should cease punishing political prisoners for expressing their views, including for failing to participate in politicalindoctrination sessions, refusing to wear prison uniforms, or criticizing prison abuses. In particular, Cuban authorities should immediately cease the use of pretrial isolation cells and solitary confinement, the effect of which is worsened by its use for long periods and by sensory deprivation.

· The Cuban government should cease harassment of political prisoners' family members, during visits and outside the prison grounds.

· The Cuban government should cease mandatory political indoctrination in its prisons.

· The Cuban government should permit pastoral visits by clergy, without subjecting prisoners to intense review of their justifications for such visits.

· To increase transparency, the Cuban government should make public detailed information on its prison system. Such materials should include: statistics on the number of prisoners held in preventive detention and those convicted of crimes; persons sentenced to death; the numbers of male and female prisoners; the numbers of prisoners assigned to maximum-security prisons, minimum-security prisons, and work camps; the number of minors held in prisons or other detention centers; and the charges against each detainee.

Human Rights Monitoring

· The Cuban government should permit domestic and international human rights monitoring. The government should officially recognize Cuban human rights organizations, other nongovernmental organizations, and political opposition groups. The Cuban government should grant regular access to its prisons by domestic and international human rights and humanitarian monitors. Cuba should allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to resume prison visits. The Cuban authorities also should permit international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, to conduct human rights investigations in Cuba.

Labor Rights

· The Cuban government should comply with its obligations under international labor rights treaties that it has ratified.

· The Cuban government should ensure that prisoners participating in prison work programs are sufficiently nourished, physically fit, and receive adequatecompensation. Cuba should cease compelling political prisoners to participate in prison work programs.

· The Cuban government should demonstrate respect for the freedom of association by ceasing repression of independent labor organizers. Cuba should allow independent labor unions to operate legally.

· The Cuban government should revise its foreign investment laws to eliminate reliance on state-controlled employment agencies and other impediments to labor activism.


· The Cuban government should investigate, prosecute, and punish officials responsible for human rights violations and should provide victims of abuses with effective remedies. Any official retaliating against a person alleging human rights abuses should face severe disciplinary measures.

To the United States Government

· The U.S. government should terminate the economic embargo on Cuba. The embargo is not a calibrated policy intended to produce human rights reforms, but a sledgehammer approach aimed at nothing short of overthrowing the government. While failing at its central objective, the embargo's indiscriminate nature has hurt the population as a whole, and provided the government with a justification for its repressive policies. The embargo's restrictions on the free exchange of ideas through travel violate human rights. Finally, the embargo has made enemies of all of Washington's potential allies, dividing those nations that ought to act in concert to press for change in Cuba. Until such a step is taken, the U.S. should repeal those provisions of the Helms-Burton law that restrict the rights to free expression and the freedom to travel between the U.S. and Cuba, in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

To the European Union

· The European Union's Common Position elaborates clear criteria for human rights gains in Cuba, making full economic cooperation with Cuba conditional on human rights improvements including reform of the Criminal Code, the release of political prisoners, an end to harassment of dissidents, the ratification of international human rights conventions, and respect for the freedoms of speech and association. Yet Cuba has not budged on these issuessince the Common Position was adopted in 1996. European governments should redouble their efforts to press Castro for reforms.

To the Canadian Government

· The Canadian government has pursued a policy of constructive engagement with Cuba since signing a January 1997 accord on investment issues that also opened a dialogue on human rights. But Ottawa has little to show for its engagement with Havana and must now use its leverage to push for reforms.

To the Ibero-American Nations

· The Ibero-American countries should use the occasion of the next Ibero-American summit meeting in Havana, scheduled for 1999, to exert meaningful pressure for human rights reforms in Cuba. During the 1996 summit meeting, Castro signed the so-called Viña del Mar Declaration, which committed signatories to respect democracy and political and civil rights. Yet he has taken no steps to fulfill that promise. Nations attending this year's summit should hold President Castro to account for this failure and seek firm commitments, rather than empty promises.

To Foreign Investors in Cuba

· Foreign investors in Cuba should use their influence with the Cuban government to press for Cuban compliance with the international human rights and labor rights treaties that it is committed to uphold. Foreign investors should encourage and protect freedom of association and assembly in the workplace and endorse policies opposing political discrimination in hiring. Investors should strongly discourage Cuba from requiring reliance on state-controlled employment agencies for hiring employees. Companies also should take steps to avoid the inadvertent use of goods produced in whole or in part by prison labor programs that wrongfully require political prisoners' participation or require prisoners to work in abysmal conditions.

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