The IACHR and Its Special Rapporteurships Condemn State Repression and the Use of Force during Peaceful Social Protests in Cuba, and Call for Dialogue on Citizen Demands

July 15, 2021

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurships on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (SRESCER) and Freedom of Expression condemn State repression and the use of force during the social demonstrations that started on July 11 in Cuba. The three institutions urge the State to fully guarantee the right to protest and call for respect for international human rights standards regarding the State's use of force and due diligence to investigate the allegations. These institutions also call for dialogue within society to address the people's demands and ask Cuba to join international human rights systems.

According to publicly available reports, thousands of people poured out onto the streets in at least 40 towns and cities in the country on Sunday July 11, 2021, to peacefully demand civil liberties and changes in the country's political structure, as well as to protest about the lack of access to economic, social, and cultural rights. Protests were triggered by shortages of food, medicine, and basic products, allegedly made worse by the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases. Demonstrators also demanded the release of activists, journalists, and artists allegedly detained for raising their voices against the Cuban government.

According to the available reports, some of these demonstrations were subjected to violent repression by the police in several places. Based on the information provided by civil society organizations, at least 151 people were arrested or went missing after taking part in the protests. The media has further reported the death of one person in the afternoon of July 12. The Commission considers that official statements branding demonstrators as enemies are inadmissible and reckless. These statements stigmatize protest, foster an atmosphere that tolerates violence, may encourage clashes between citizens, and are incompatible with international standards to protect the right to protest.

The IACHR's Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression received reports of attacks against independent journalists and foreign correspondents. According to the available reports, Ramón Espinosa, a photojournalist for AP Noticias, was attacked by police officers while he covered demonstrations in Havana, and a camera operator working for the same news agency was allegedly attacked by a group of government supporters. The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression further heard reports of at least 10 arrests of journalists working for media outlets like Cubanet, Tremenda Nota, Palenque Visión, ADN Cuba, and La Hora de Cuba, both in Havana and in other cities, and of police raids that allegedly prevented several reporters from leaving their homes.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression were informed of tampering with Internet services in the context of the protests. These interferences with Internet provision allegedly included blocking instant messaging apps and social media platforms, causing intermittent blackouts in mobile Internet services, and reducing Internet traffic into and out of Cuba (cut down to zero on Sunday, July 11), according to a report issued by Internet Outage Detection and Analysis (IODA).

The IACHR and its rapporteurships call on the State to acknowledge, protect, and ensure the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, without discrimination based on political views. These institutions stress how important it is for the State's law enforcement officers to act in strict compliance with international human rights standards, which require that the use of force must respect the principles of legality, exceptionality, proportionality, and absolute necessity. The Commission and its rapporteurships further urge the authorities to investigate with due diligence all incidents that involve human rights violations, and to identify and punish anyone responsible for them.

The IACHR and its special rapporteurships stress that States need to act based on the legality of all public protests and demonstrations and to assume they are not a threat to law and order. Directly repressing and arbitrarily arresting demonstrators is incompatible with the right to protest. The Commission notes that several media outlets have reported that these are mass protests, and that some expect demonstrations to persist in Cuba. This situation highlights the State's obligation to protect the right to protest and to prevent violence. It is therefore essential for the State of Cuba to end its usual absence from international human rights systems that are open to encourage dialogue and provide technical assistance to enforce human rights in the country.

The Commission further stresses that journalists, camera operators, photojournalists, and other communications professionals covering demonstrations play a fundamental role by gathering and disseminating the details of what happens in social protests, including the actions of law enforcement agencies. The authorities must therefore guarantee as far as they possibly can that these communications professionals can do their work freely and safely. The inter-American legal framework concerning freedom of expression protects the right to record and disseminate incidents that occur in protest contexts.

The IACHR and its rapporteurships stress that the Internet is currently a crucial tool for the full enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, as noted in the IACHR report Protest and Human Rights. In Cuba, increased access to and use of the Internet in recent years is particularly relevant, because it has enabled more platforms for the circulation of information and ideas that contradict official discourse, as noted in the IACHR report Freedom of Expression in Cuba. The IACHR and its rapporteurships therefore call on the State to refrain from cutting off or blocking Internet networks or telecommunications infrastructures, in line with the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Internet.

According to information the SRESCER has had access to, although Cuba has several vaccines against COVID-19 that are in the final stages of development, vaccination rates within the country's population remain low, which has reportedly led to an increase in the numbers of infections and hospital admissions and to appalling conditions in several hospitals. The situation has further been made worse by medication shortages, power blackouts, rising inflation, and shortages of foodstuffs that are essential for Cuban families. The IACHR and its SRESCER published press release 136/2021 on May 25, 2021, which stressed the shortages of basic and essential foodstuffs in Cuba that are hampering the population's food security. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights therefore stress the State's duty to take specific action to ensure that all people have access to adequate food or to the means of obtaining it, without discrimination.

Further, in the reportSituation of Human Rights in Cuba (2020), the IACHR and its SRESCER expressed their concern about alleged violations of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights for reasons linked to national politics. In the context of the serious economic and social crisis affecting Cuba, the IACHR and its SRESCER stress how important it would be for the United States to lift its economic embargo on Cuba in order to protect the human rights that the embargo is affecting. These institutions further note that the economic embargo does not exempt the State of Cuba from complying with its international obligations based on the American Declaration.

In the current context, the IACHR and its special rapporteurships stress that social protest is an essential mechanism to ensure respect for and to protect economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights. This was made clear in the report Protest and Human Rights, which called on the authorities to purposefully redirect social discontent through dialogue and by actively listening to citizen demands, and to take any measures necessary to satisfy these demands.

The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the IACHR to promote the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the Americas, considering the fundamental role that right plays in the consolidation and development of any democratic system.

The SRESCER is an office of the IACHR and was especially created to brace the Commission's compliance with its mandate to promote and protect economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 177/21

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