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UN panel blasts Cuba on human rights abuses

Posted on Saturday, 06.02.12

UN panel blasts Cuba on abuses

THE U.N. called Friday for an independent body to gather, investigate

and report on complaints of human rights abuses in Cuba.

By Juan O. Tamayo

[email protected]

The U.N.'s Committee Against Torture hammered Cuba on Friday for a

lengthy string of human rights abuses and repeatedly complained the

island had provided few or none of the details about specific

allegations of abuses that it had requested.

The panel noted that it was "concerned by reports denouncing the use of

coercive methods during () interrogations, particularly the denial

of sleep, detention under conditions of isolation and exposure to sudden

changes in temperatures."

On Cuba's prisons, it wrote that it "continues to be supremely concerned

by the reports received about the … overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of

hygiene and healthy conditions (and) adequate medical attention."

There have been thousands of complaints of short-term detentions of

dissidents, it added, singling out José Luis Ferrer García and Oscar

Elias Biscet. And Cuban officials never explained the deaths of

dissidents Orlando Tamayo and Juan Wilfredo Soto García.

Cuba should establish an independent body to gather, investigate and

report on allegations of government abuses, and should meet its promise

to allow a visit by the U.N.'s top official on several types of

mistreatments, the committee noted in a 6,000-word report.

The report summed up the panel's conclusions after its May 22-23

hearings in Switzerland on Cuba's compliance with the Convention against

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Marked "unedited," it was issued by the U.N. media office in Geneva.

Using the U.N.'s typically diplomatic language, the report noted the

panel "laments," "expresses concern," "still worries," "disagrees," "has

serious reservations," "views with concern," "considers it

indispensable" and is "seriously concerned."

But the report Friday amounted to a harsh and detailed indictment of

Cuba's human rights record, especially in areas that involve physical

punishments or abuses, such as the justice and systems and the

harassment of dissidents.

Cuba's own report on its compliance with the convention on torture,

presented to the panel in May, was more than nine years late and "does

not fully meet the guidelines" set by the panel, it noted. The 10-member

committee reviews countries' records on a rotating basis.

In a sharply worded section, the report urged Cuba "to investigate,

without delay, exhaustively, without bias and in an efficient way, all

deaths of prisoners." Cuba told the panel that prison officials were not

responsible for any of the 202 such deaths in 2010-2011, but gave no

further information.

The report also blasted Cuba for the rapid increase in the use of

short-term arrests of dissidents without any judicial orders, usually to

keep opposition activists away from activities. Cuban officials told the

panel last month that all detentions follow due process.

Despite Havana's denials, panel member Fernando Mariño told a news

conference Friday, "it seems that this has been generalized of late."

Human rights activists in Havana reported the number of such arrests

doubled from 2010 to 2011.

The panel also condemned the "restrictions on of movement,

invasive security operations, physical aggressions and other acts of

intimidation and harassment presumably committed by the National

Revolutionary Police or members of the Organs of State Security."

Cuba also should abolish vaguely worded crimes, such as "pre-criminal

social dangerousness," it added, and halt the "acts of repudiation" by

pro-government mobs against dissidents like the Ladies in White and

Cuban Patriotic Union "with the presumed connivance … of police


Persons detained should be allowed immediate access to independent

defense lawyers and doctors as well as relatives, the report said. The

government also should guarantee the independence of the justice system

and resolve gaps in its due process regulations.

The report also repeatedly complained that Cuba had provided little or

none of the detailed information the panel had requested on some issues,

specifically the deaths of Zapata Tamayo after a long hunger strike and

Soto Garcia after an alleged police beating.

Cuba provided no details on the 202 prison deaths — "a number the

committee considers to be high" — or the 46 prison officials and guards

that the government claimed had been put on trial and convicted for

abuses. It claimed there's no prison overcrowding, but gave no numbers.

The committee "laments the reticence of the government … to present

complete information" on the short-term detentions, the report noted.

Cuba also presented no information on people convicted of "crimes

against the security of the state" — usually viewed as political prisoners.

On the positive side, the report praised Cuba for signing four

international agreements on the rights of children and disabled persons

and banning "forced disappearances," approving a multi-year plan to fix

up prison facilities and working to reduce family .

The report also noted that the Cuban government gave "an affirmative

answer" to a request for a visit to the island by the U.N.'s Special

Rapporteur on torture and other physical abuses, a sort of

super-investigator who reports to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

The job is now held by Juan E. Mendez, 67, an Argentine jailed for 18

months during the military dictatorships in the 1970s. He has lived in

the United States for many years and served as of the human

rights branch of the Organization of American States in Washington.

Cuba also invited Mendez' predecessor, Austrian lawyer Manfred Nowak, to

visit the island in January of 2009. But Cuban officials then said they

were very busy, and Nowak left the post 22 months later without having

visited the island.

Mariño was quoted as saying at the news conference that allowing Mendez

to visit would show that Cuba "has no political fear of submitting to an

inspection by foreign organizations."

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