Cuba’s domestic human rights record does not meet membership standards

The resolution establishing the UN Human Rights Council requires that Cuba “fully cooperate” with the Council and “uphold the highest standards” of human rights. As it stands, Cuba meets neither of these criteria.

Cuba’s domestic human rights record in particular falls short of the “highest standards.” Cuba remains the one country in Latin America that represses nearly all forms of political dissent. The Cuban authorities use vague and overbroad criminal laws to silence government critics; harass and arbitrarily arrest and detain dissidents and journalists; and place excessive restrictions on freedom of movement within the country.

Vague criminal laws used to repress dissent

Cuba’s Criminal Code provides the legal basis for repressing dissent. Laws criminalizing enemy propaganda, spreading “unauthorized news,” and insulting patriotic symbols are used to restrict freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security. The government also arbitrarily detains or orders the surveillance of individuals, relying upon provisions that penalize “dangerousness” (estado peligroso) and allow for “official warning” (advertencia oficial). The courts, which lack independence, undermine the right to a fair trial by severely restricting the right to a defense.

Harassment and arbitrary detention of dissidents, journalists, and human rights advocates

The Cuban government frequently arrests dissidents to prevent them from participating in scheduled meetings or events. In 2008 the government significantly increased the use of arbitrary detention to intimidate dissidents. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented at least 1,500 incidents of arbitrary detentions by security forces in 2008, as compared with 325 such incidents in 2007. Detainees are frequently held without charge, and security officials often warn dissidents that they will be detained for longer periods if they continue to participate in activities considered critical of the government.

Cuba continues to hold political prisoners. In January 2009 the CCDHRN issued a list of 205 prisoners whom it said were incarcerated for non-violent political reasons. Of the 75 political dissidents, independent journalists, and human rights advocates who were tried and sentenced in 2003 before courts that did not meet international fair trial standards, 54 remained imprisoned as of April 2009. In one 2008 case, four members of the Cuban Human Rights Foundation were arrested and sentenced to four-year prison terms in a summary judgment that was hidden from public view, according to the Council of Human Rights Reporters.

The number of journalists imprisoned in Cuba is second only to the number in China. While a small number of independent journalists manage to write for foreign or underground media sources, they do so at considerable risk. In April 2007, an independent journalist was arrested on charges of “social dangerousness” after reporting on local corruption. Internet access remains highly restricted, with only one prohibitively expensive internet café in Havana.

Inhumane prison conditions

Prisoners generally are confined in poor and abusive conditions, often in overcrowded cells. Officials frequently punish political prisoners who complain about poor conditions or do not obey prison rules with long periods in punitive isolation cells, restriction on visits, or denial of medical treatment. Cuba does not permit the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit prisoners in Cuba; the last ICRC visit to a Cuban prison was in 1989.

Restrictions on freedom of movement

The Cuban government has clamped down on the movement of citizens within Cuba by more aggressively enforcing a 1997 law known as Decree 217. Designed to limit migration to Havana, the decree requires Cubans to obtain government permission before moving to the country’s capital. According to one Cuban official, as of January 2009, the police had forcibly removed people from Havana approximately 20,000 times since 2006.