Press Release

IACHR and Special Rapporteurs Express Concern over Reports of Arbitrary Detentions, Incommunicado Detention, Lack of Legal Defense, and Other Violations of Due Process during the July 11 Protests in Cuba

August 12, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) and the offices of its Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RFOE) and its Special Rapporteur for Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (OSRESCER) expressed their concern over the numerous reports of arbitrary detentions and violations of the minimum guarantees of due process against those who took part in the July 11 protests in Cuba. The IACHR and the offices of its special rapporteurs call on the State to cease repression, guarantee due process, and provide dignified treatment for those in its custody.

The IACHR has been monitoring the human rights situation in the country since the start of the July 11 protests. Specifically, the IACHR has received reports through its different mechanisms (such as the meetings held under the umbrella of the network of civil society organizations whose work relates to Cuba) of arbitrary detentions, incommunicado detention, detainees' lack of access to legal defense, the pressing of criminal charges as a way of criminalizing involvement in the protests, and summary trials that do not observe the minimum guarantees of due process of law. Likewise, the IACHR has been informed of violations that people who are deprived of their freedom are allegedly being subjected to.

According to the latest records of civil society organization Cubalex, which are up-to-date as of August 10, a total of 805 people were reportedly detained during the recent protests. Some 249 of these people have been released, 373 remain in detention, and the whereabouts of 10 are unknown. The detainees reportedly included significant numbers of activists, artists, journalists, leaders of political movements that oppose the government, and teachers and students. In particular, 10 teenagers are reported to have been detained. These reports mention incommunicado detention and uncertainty among relatives as to the whereabouts of the detainees. 

On the matter of the criminalization of participation in the protest through the use of criminal charges and the absence of minimum guarantees of due process, the IACHR has been informed that summary judicial proceedings against demonstrators have been initiated on the grounds of different criminal offenses, including terrorism, public disorder, contempt, inciting others to commit crimes, and spreading an epidemic. According to recent information, the first prison sentences relating to the July 11 protests have reportedly been handed down. These came after a summary trial in which most of the defendants did not have legal defense counsel as per inter-American standards on the matter. The sentences in question ranged from 10 months to 1 year.

In response, the IACHR underlined the State's obligations to guarantee due process for all people arrested in connection with the protests, which derives from articles XXV and XXVI of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. This includes the specific duty to immediately inform the person under arrest and their family and representatives of the motives and reasons for which they are being held. Furthermore, detainees must be guaranteed appropriate legal counsel, with whom they must have regular contact and who must be able to play a part in preparing for their hearings.

Furthermore, the IACHR observed that the limited official information on the events surrounding the protests constitutes an obstacle to victims' legal defense, the monitoring of their predicament by their relatives, and documentation by civil society. To date, the State has not reported the number of people who have been arrested as a result of the protests, nor has it provided official information on those whose whereabouts remain unknown. According to reports from civil society over the last few days, Cuban authorities do not guarantee defense counsels or relatives access to the relevant criminal proceedings on the grounds that the respective case files are still at the preparatory stage. The IACHR and the RFOE have continued to receive reports from the relatives of people who are detained or missing and who have opted not to speak out against these violations or report on the cases in public out of fear that this may jeopardize their lives or personal integrity, make the conditions of detention worse, or aggravate the legal consequences. The RFOE reported on this particular situation in its press release of July 23, 2021.

Furthermore, the IACHR and the OSRESCER have received information indicating that people deprived of their freedom are reportedly being held in deplorable conditions of detention. Specifically, the available information indicates that high levels of overcrowding prevail at facilities such as Santa Clara facility, and that detainees do not have access to water and sufficient food. These alleged circumstances put people who are deprived of their freedom at greater risk in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the IACHR has been informed of the ill-treatment of detainees. According to the information provided by members of civil society during the meeting with the IACHR that took place on August 4, people who took part in the process are allegedly subjected to beatings, abuse, and acts of violence. The IACHR recalled that the Cuban State is legally bound to protect the rights of all people in its custody and thus must guarantee the dignified treatment of people who are deprived of their freedom, while also taking the necessary measures to prevent them from being mistreated.

Furthermore, in a context in which Cuban society is perceiving punitive action on the part of the state as a way of repressing its right to protest, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and participation in political life, the judiciary needs to address the cases in question by scrutinizing the accusations in light of the violations of due process that took place during the detentions, the crimes that detainees have been charged with, and an objective assessment of the evidence presented at the trial.

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

No. 211/21

2:27 PM