The Cuban Movement for a Unified
Democracy (MCUD) is making public the following document presented by
the International Society for Human Rights at the 60th session of the UN
Commission on Human Rights on April 23 2004
International Society of Human Rights.
30 January 2004
60th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights
15 March to 23 April 2004
Republic of Cuba
Drastic measures taken against political dissidents
The human rights situation in Cuba has dramatically worsened in 2003, in
particular concerning freedom of opinion, freedom of press and
information, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement. Furthermore,
Cuba violates the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Cuba signed on 17 May 1995.
While the world followed events in Iraq, the government of Cuba arrested
altogether 75 human rights defenders, independent journalists,
economists and opposition members in mid-March 2003. In April they were
sentenced to an average of 20 years and a total of more than 1,000 years
imprisonment. ISHR believes that all 75 dissidents had only exercised
their basic human rights.
The crackdown of spring 2003 was sharply condemned by the UN Commission
on Human Rights, several democratic governments, human rights
organizations and Pope John Paul II. In June 2003 the EU expressed its
concern in form of a demarche to the Cuban government, decided to issue
diplomatic sanctions and demanded the immediate release of the political
prisoners. Following the demarche, Cuba declared that it will from now
on refuse humanitarian aid from the EU Commission and the EU member
states. In September 2003, Claudia Roth, Commissioner for Human Rights
and Humanitarian Aid of the Federal Republic of Germany, was denied a
visitor’s visa. Christine Chanet, Personal Representative of the United
Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, has so far not been able to enter
Cuba in order to implement Resolution 2002/18 adopted by the UN
Commission on Human Rights on 19 April 2002.
1. Draconian prison terms for independent publicists
Freedom of the Press and Information is very limited in Cuba. Press
Freedom only exists pro forma; and, according to the Cuban constitution,
independent media are basically prohibited. Although there has been a
slight liberalization in the past few years, the crackdown of spring
2003 revealed this measure to be an untrustworthy illusion. “Granma“,
the daily paper of the Cuban Communist Party, is the only newspaper that
is officially permitted. There are a few independent press agencies in
Cuba, but they deliver their news to the USA or Western Europe via
Internet or the radio station “Radio Martí “. Employees of these
agencies are constantly watched, intimidated and threatened.
Internet access is generally denied to journalists as well as to average
Cuban citizens. Any Internet traffic is channeled through two central
servers, which are strictly monitored. Additionally, Internet usage
requires a special government permit. All Internet traffic, including
email, the press and books are censored. Owners of private libraries
have to fear long prison terms if they offer illegal books, such as, for
example, books by George Orwell or Milan Kundera.
Independent publicists whose reports are not in conformity with state
policies are explicitly warned, massively threatened and persecuted, and
sentenced to many years imprisonment if violating law No. 88. The law
No. 88 - "Law for the Protection of the National Independence and
Economy of Cuba" - of 1999 is used to impose draconian punishment on
Cuban citizens who act “subversively” or deliver information to “enemies
abroad.” Since 18 March 2003, 27 independent journalists have been
imprisoned, nine of whom ran small independent news agencies. Police and
State Security Service burst into their houses and confiscated books,
written notes, computers, fax machines, typewriters and tape recorders.
They were all charged with “subversive activities”, “enemy propaganda”
or “counterrevolutionary activities” and sentenced in summary trials to
up to 27 years imprisonment.
According to ISHR information the following 27 Cuban journalists have
been imprisoned since March 2003: Víctor Rolando Arroyo (sentenced to 26
years in prison), Pedro Argüelles Morán (sentenced to 20 years in
prison), Majail Bárzaga Lugo (sentenced to 15 years in prison), Carmelo
Díaz Fernández (sentenced to 15 years in prison), Oscar Espinosa Chepe
(sentenced to 20 years in prison), Adolfo Fernández Saínz (sentenced to
15 years in prison), Miguel Galván Gutiérrez (sentenced to 26 years in
prison), Julio César Gálvez (sentenced to 15 years in prison), Edel José
García (sentenced to 15 years in prison), Roberto García Cabrejas
(sentence unknown), Jorge Luis García Paneque (sentenced to 24 years in
prison), Ricardo González Alfonso (sentenced to 20 years in prison),
Luis González Pentón (sentenced to 20 years in prison), Alejandro
González Raga (sentenced to 14 years in prison), Normando Hernández
(sentenced to 25 years in prison), Juan Carlos Herrera sentenced to 20
years in prison), José Ubaldo Izquierdo (sentenced to 16 years in
prison), Héctor Maseda (sentenced to 20 years in prison), Mario Enrique
Mayo (sentenced to 20 years in prison), Jorge Olivera (sentenced to 18
years in prison), Pablo Pacheco Avila (sentenced to 20 years in prison),
Fabio Prieto Llorente (sentenced to 20 years in prison), José Gabriel
Ramón Castillo (sentenced to 20 years in prison), Raúl Rivero Castañeda
(sentenced to 20 years in prison), Omar Rodríguez Saludes (sentenced to
27 years in prison), Omar Ruiz Hernández (sentenced to 18 years in
prison), Manuel Vázquez Portal (sentenced to 18 years in prison).
2. Drastic Restrictions on the Freedom of Opinion, Movement and Assembly
Cuban government authorities violate the freedom of opinion, movement
and assembly. Political indoctrination rules everyday life. In general,
all citizens are expected to join mass organizations that are controlled
by the state. The only authorized party is the Cuban Marxist-Leninist
party which Fidel Castro has been leading as head of the state since
The right of movement is very limited for the average Cuban citizen.
Those who try to leave the country for good are prevented from leaving.
Caught refugees are sentenced to many years in prison or are executed.
In April, three Cubans were convicted of hijacking a passenger ferry and
sentenced to death in a summary trial. They were executed shortly
afterwards. They were part of a group of eleven persons accused of
participating in the hijacking. The three executions de facto ended the
moratorium on the death penalty in Cuba. Castro admitted that he had
wanted to make an example in order to deter potential imitators from
similar attempts of escape.
The right of assembly and the right to form organizations is frequently
violated. Whenever a few people get together for a meeting they are
threatened by imminent arrest and imprisonment. Independent labors
unions are denied the status of a legal entity. Religious groups are
only allowed to meet for worship services. The Cuban State Security
Service keeps all non-governmental activities and groups under
surveillance. Dissidents and their families are monitored. A special
strategy is the systematic creation of fear. People who get involved in
human rights see themselves confronted with an overpowering machinery of
repression. They suffer from psychological and physical ostracism,
imprisonment or exile. Persecution starts with losing one’s job or
massive interference with one’s career development. Activists’ families
are often intimidated and approached to leave in order to prevent
further harm to family members. Some family members are even blackmailed
and forced to spy on the activist. Their task is to persuade the
dissident to give up his or her involvement in human rights matters.
Likewise, the State Security Service often tries to damage the
reputation of dissidents; activists are called "troublemakers", "crazy
people" or "counter-revolutionists" in public. They and their families
are banished from their homes and often physically attacked.
The Cuban activists who are currently incarcerated have just practiced
their basic human rights: their right to freedom of expression and
3. Inhuman Prison Treatment
Cruel and inhuman treatment is the norm in Cuban prisons. Often Cuban
dissidents are held in prison for an indefinite time without charges or
trial. Some of those without trial were reported to have been taken to
mental institutions where they suffered inhuman and cruel treatment. The
inhuman treatment in Cuban prisons often causes prisoners to suffer from
depression, anxiety attacks, insomnia, claustrophobia, restlessness,
suicidal tendencies as well as psychological and physical diseases (such
as high blood pressure, chest pain, diabetes, stomach ulcers, heart
attacks and respiratory depression). Cuba is especially violating „the
UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment“.
Trials of political dissidents usually take place in closed session.
After the trial, they are taken to prisons far away from their families.
Often their lives in prisons are threatened by criminal prisoners. These
prisoners are used as informants or violent troublemakers by the prison
authorities. The authorities violate common prison rules by denying the
imprisoned activists fundamental rights, such as release on probation or
visits from family and friends. Their mail is censored or immediately
confiscated. In prison they are cruelly punished, e.g. by being thrown
into solitary confinement without any sunlight for an indefinite time.
There they suffer psychological damage and serious physical decline
(loss of teeth, loss of weight etc.).
The majority of the dissidents arrested in spring 2003 is kept in
solitary confinement. Prisoners of conscience again and again complain
about maltreatment and torture, unhygienic conditions and refused
A typical example for how prisoners of conscience are treated in Cuban
penitentiaries is the 37-year old Juan Carlos González Leiva. The blind
lawyer is the founder of "Fraternidad de Ciegas Independientes" and
president of the "Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba" (CFHR). He was
arrested in March 2002 because he had, together with others, organized a
peaceful protest. Leiva and seven other protesters were attacked by
state security forces and arrested. They were charged with defamation of
President Fidel Castro as well as being a ‘public nuisance’. Leiva has
not been allowed to leave his cell for months and sleeps on the concrete
floor since he is denies a mattress. During the last months his health
declined drastically. He suffered a nervous breakdown and suffers from
panic attacks, lung pain and a severe bronchitis. Yet, medication is
categorically denied to him. Even his walking cane and bible in Braille
were taken away from him. Pastoral care does not exist in Cuban prisons
either. Priests who try to obtain a visitor’s permit are not allowed to
enter prison properties.
The physician Dr. Oscar Elias Bíscet, founder and president of the
"Lawton Foundation for Human Rights" is enduring a similar fate. During
the last six years he was arbitrarily arrested 26 times. Dr. Bíscet, a
42-year old follower of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, previously served
3 years in prison because of his involvement in advocating press freedom
and human rights as well as the abolition of the death penalty. He was
released 31 October 2002, only to be re-arrested once more on 6 December
2002 as he was to meet with human rights activists. Since 7 April 2003,
he has again been kept in prison. He was tried summarily along with
other activists and independent journalists and sentenced to 25 years
for "serving as a mercenary to a foreign state."
Since August 2003 his health has been deteriorating. Bíscet suffers from
severe hypertension and gum infection. However, like many other
prisoners, he is denied medical treatment. Currently, he is in a maximum
security prison in the province of Pinar del Rio called Kilo 8 and
spends his time in solitary confinement, in a cell of 2 x 1 meters
without windows or lights, no sanitary facilities, no bed or mattress.
The terms of his punishment prohibit family visits, food supplies,
toiletries, and clothing, receiving or sending any correspondence, and
going out in the sun. Reading and writing is also prohibited. Since he
does not have access to newspapers, TV or radio, he is totally isolated
from the outside world. His family - Bíscet is married and father of
small children – fears for his life.
The internationally recognized economist Martha Beatriz Roque, 57, is
the only woman among the 75 dissidents. Her sentence is 20 years for
"conspiring with a foreign power“ for speaking the truth about Cuba's
moribund economy and totalitarian government. Held at the notorious
Manto Negro prison, Ms. Roque has been kept in solitary confinement with
no access to sunlight. Rats and cockroaches infest her cell, and an
allergic rash covers her body. Martha Roque suffers from high blood
pressure, stomach ulcers and chest pains. Due to prison conditions she
also suffers from recurring fainting spells. For weeks, the prison
authorities have denied medical treatment.
The International Society for Human Rights calls on the UN Commission on
Human Rights to:
adopt a resolution to express concern about widespread human rights
violations in Cuba, especially the arrest of 75 dissidents and
increasing incidents of persecution, unlawful arrests, and other
urge the government of Cuba to implement and adhere to the standards
determined by the „Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment";
urge the government of Cuba to receive Christine Chanet, Personal
Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights;
urge the government of Cuba to sign the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights.
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