IACHR

Press Release

IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship Condemn Move to Break Up Peaceful March in Favor of LGBTI Persons in Cuba

June 4, 2019

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María Isabel Rivero
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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression condemn the move to break up a peaceful march in support of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) persons in Havana, Cuba, which led to arrests of human rights defenders and journalists. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship urge the Cuban State to protect the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly and the freedom of expression of LGBTI persons, and also to respect and protect the work of defenders of the rights of LGBTI persons and of journalists and communicators who cover protests and demonstrations in the country.

As is publicly known, on May 6, the Cuban government unveiled—through its Health Ministry’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX)—plans to cancel the 12th Cuban Conference against Homophobia and Transphobia. Traditionally known as the “Conga against homophobia,” the march had previously enjoyed official support from the government, in the context of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB). CENESEX allegedly justified its decision to cancel the event pointing to “new tensions in the international and regional context” that affect daily life in Cuba. However, LGBTI activists noted that other kinds of rallies, such as the Labor Day parade, had been held this year without major problems. Activists therefore considered the possibility that the decision to cancel their event might be discriminatory.

The IACHR was informed that, although official permits to hold the march were cancelled, activists and defenders of the rights of LGBTI persons and of freedom of expression persisted with their plans to hold a march independently of the official stance, on May 11 at the Paseo del Prado in Havana. However, Cuban police reportedly halted that march—which peacefully brought together more than 200 people—and asked participants to stop their walk, for lack of a permit. The Inter-American Commission was informed that at least five LGBTI activists were arrested by State security forces, while three independent journalists were also said to have been arrested. The IACHR was further informed that a foreign correspondent for the newspaper Washington Blade was prevented from entering Cuba on May 8. According to those reports, the correspondent sought precisely to write about the cancellation of the “Conga against homophobia.”

In that context, the IACHR stresses that social protest is a fundamental tool for the defense of human rights. Besides, it can be the only way for population groups who are discriminated against or marginalized from public debate to make sure their demands and social complaints are heard. The Commission considers that it is, in principle, inadmissible to punish demonstrations in public places as such when they are held in the framework of the rights to freedom of expression and of assembly. “The exercise of the right to freedom of assembly through social protest must not be subjected to a permit from the authorities or to excessive requirements that prevent it from happening,” said the IACHR’s President, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño.

Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, IACHR Rapporteur for Cuba, noted that “an arrest that is based only on a person’s having taken part in a demonstration is in itself arbitrary and incompatible with international standards.” “In the case of LGBTI persons, the traditional marches against intolerance that are held in most countries in the region are important tools to increase the visibility of those persons’ rights, counter stereotypes and prove they are part of society, with a view to promoting cultural change, inclusion and tolerance,” said Commissioner Flávia Piovesan, Rapporteur on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Persons.

Concerning the right to peaceful assembly of LGBTI persons, the IACHR considers that, since protesting is one way to combat prejudice, States must refrain from imposing hurdles that are excessive or are based on prejudice or discrimination, and that are not imposed on other forms of peaceful protests. States must also provide safe spaces that are free from violence and discrimination, so LGBTI persons can exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and association and to freedom of expression, without fear of being attacked, punished or stigmatized for doing so.

“Protecting the right to freedom of expression requires that the authorities enforce the conditions necessary for journalists to be able to cover events that are clearly of interest to the public, such as those linked to social protests. Their materials and tools must not be destroyed or seized by public authorities,” said the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, concerning journalists and communicators who are working to provide information in the context of a public demonstration.

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.

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.

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. 139/19