IACHR Publishes Report on the Case of Rights Defenders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero in Cuba

June 12, 2023

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Washington, D.C.- The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) publishes Admissibility and Merits Report 83/23, regarding Case 14.196. This case concerns the responsibility of the State of Cuba for the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero and the torture and violations of judicial guarantees subsequently suffered by Ángel Carromero.
Human rights defender and political leader Oswaldo Payá and fellow human rights defender and dissident Harold Cepero were subjected to various acts of violence, harassment, threats, and attempted murder when a car crash finally cost them their lives on June 22, 2012. Later, Ángel Carromero, who had been driving the car at the time of the crash and survived, was prosecuted, and convicted in connection with these events.
In its report, the IACHR stresses that what happened to the victims had to be considered in the context of the persecution and State repression against political dissidents and rights defenders in Cuba, which seek to discourage or prevent efforts to advocate or promote human rights.
The IACHR identified sufficient serious evidence to conclude that State agents had been involved in the deaths of Payá and Cepero. In particular, the Commission took into consideration Carromero’s testimony—confirmed by an eyewitness—noting that the vehicle had been hit by an official car. The State did not submit allegations or otherwise refute these arguments. The IACHR therefore established that the State of Cuba had violated the rights to life, honor, and freedom of expression of the two men.
The Commission found many irregularities and omissions in the investigation of these events, including poor investigative capacity and a failure to get survivors to testify, as well as the fact that the authorities immediately adopted an official position, before having conducted the necessary investigation.
Concerning the right to access to justice, the IACHR found that Oswaldo Payá’s family had never been granted access to the autopsy reports or to the results of other relevant procedures. In proceedings against Ángel Carromero for his alleged responsibility in the accident, the authorities did not allow them to be involved, request evidence, or appeal the conviction. The Commission concluded that this investigation failed to comply with State obligations concerning due diligence, the exhaustion of logical lines of investigation, the need to publicize proceedings, and the need to grant access to information.
The IACHR therefore concluded that Cuba had violated the rights to justice and to file petitions held in the American Declaration, to the detriment of the families of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.
The IACHR also found that Carromero’s right to judicial guarantees had been violated, given that he did not have legal counsel since the beginning of the investigation, he was not allowed to submit evidence or conduct procedures in his own defense, and the whole trial, up until his conviction, was shrouded in secrecy and not adequately publicized.
Ángel Carromero was subjected to an unlawful, arbitrary arrest, threatened by State authorities to get him to confess his alleged responsibility in the crash, and subjected to torture and other forms of inhuman treatment, including beatings and lack of access to open air, sunlight, and adequate nutrition. The IACHR therefore found that the State had violated Carromero’s right to personal integrity.
In its report, the Commission also found that the State had violated the rights to residence and freedom of movement of Oswaldo Payá and his family, because he was often prevented from moving freely around the country for being a rights defender. Payá’s family was denied the chance to travel to collect his remains, and they were later forced to leave the country after receiving threats and harassment from the State.
The IACHR calls on the State of Cuba to comprehensively implement all recommendations made in this report, including the following: providing material and immaterial reparations to victims and their families; launching a diligent and effective investigation within a reasonable timeframe to establish what happened and to identify and punish the people responsible for it; taking measures to prevent similar events from happening again; and enabling the voluntary return of individuals who were forced to rebuild their lives elsewhere in the wake of these events.  

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. 116/23

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