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 (police) 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 Zapata 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 prison 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 freedom 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 authorities.”
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 violence.
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 president 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.”