Press Release

IACHR Concerned over Treatment of Human Rights Defenders in Cuba

September 6, 2016

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its profound concern over the treatment of human rights defenders in Cuba and specifically, allegations of arbitrary restrictions to their freedom of movement, incidents of criminalization, and threats to their rights to life and personal integrity. 

According to information received by the IACHR, on August 12, 2016, Laritza Diversent, Director of the Cubalex Legal Information Center (Centro de Información Legal Cubalex), was detained for approximately two hours upon arrival from Geneva, where she presented a report on freedom of expression before the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. During this detention, all of the materials she brought with her from Geneva were confiscated by the authorities. Laritza Diversent is a beneficiary of IACHR Precautionary Measure 96-15. Of utmost concern to the IACHR is that this is not the first incident of its kind: other information received indicates that Laritza Diversent was detained without explanation prior to boarding a plane to the United States to, among other activities, participate in a hearing before the IACHR during its 157° period of sessions and that, upon her return, some of the materials she brought with her were seized by customs officials.

In addition, according to publicly available information, four Cuban opposition activists were prevented from traveling to Puerto Rico to attend the Second National Cuban Conference (Segundo Encuentro Nacional Cubano) on August 12-14, 2016. Among them were Leticia Ramos, human rights defender and member of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco), and Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, journalist and Secretary General of the Confederation of Independent Workers of Cuba (Confederación de Trabajadores Independientes de Cuba). They are beneficiaries of IACHR Precautionary Measures 264-13 and 245-13, respectively. According to this information, Leticia Ramos was reportedly detained by the police on August 9, 2016 for over three hours in a completely closed police car, following an accident in which she alleges that another police car collided with her motorcycle causing her injury. Later, she was allegedly taken back to her house, where she was threatened with criminal proceedings should she attempt to leave, and she remained under State surveillance until at least August 12, 2016. Leticia Ramos participated in the same hearing as Laritza Diversent held before the IACHR in April 2016 during its 157° period of sessions and has since reported a dramatic increase in repression against her, including preventing her from traveling abroad for work on other occasions in the wake of the hearing. She alleges that during her interrogation on August 9, 2016, a State security agent threatened to kill her, should she try to leave the island again.

With regard to Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, the Commission received information indicating that he remains under parole (licencia extrapenal), as a result of the “Black Spring” in March 2003, when Cuba cracked down on 75 political dissidents and jailed them. According to this information, on July 31, 2016, upon his return to Habana, Cuba, following an authorized trip abroad, Ivan Hernandez was violently beaten, arrested, and detained until the following day in the airport. 

As the Commission established in its Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas (2006) and its Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas (2011), respect for and guarantee of the right to personal integrity and the right to life are directly related to the free exercise of the activity of defending and promoting human rights. As such, States have the obligation to not interfere with the enjoyment of these rights and to act reasonably to prevent threats, attacks, and harassment carried out against human rights defenders. In these same reports, the IACHR has further emphasized that human rights defenders should enjoy adequate protection to ensure that they will not be subject to improper interference with the exercise of their freedom of movement and residence. The IACHR has indicated that the State’s obligations in this regard include, among others: refraining from restricting, by any means, the work in which defenders may collect field information; and facilitating visas for access to another jurisdiction for those cases in which human rights defenders must travel in the course of their work.

In its recent report, Criminalization of the Work of Human Rights Defenders (2015), the Commission has established that the State – by act or omission – may be held internationally responsible for failing to protect the human rights of defenders in situations where State agents or private persons improperly use criminal law to hamper their legitimate activities in the defense of human rights. Accordingly, the IACHR has recommended that States ensure that the authorities and private persons do not use the punitive power of the State to harass human rights defenders and that the use and application of precautionary measures different from pretrial detention are adequately regulated and are prevented from being used to hinder the work of defenders.

With regard to the close proximity between the treatment received by the two women defenders, Laritza Diversent and Leticia Ramos, and their participation before the UN or the IACHR, the IACHR underscores that human rights bodies are charged to monitor Cuba’s track record in implementing its universal and regional human rights obligations. In the past, the Commission has expressed its concern and repudiation over acts of retaliation against human rights defenders who seek to avail themselves of the protections and spaces offered by human rights bodies. The IACHR reminds Cuba that Article 63 of its Rules of Procedure establishes that States “shall grant the necessary guarantees to all the persons who attend a hearing or who in the course of a hearing provide information, testimony or evidence of any type to the Commission,” and they may not carry out reprisals against these persons because of their statements or expert opinions given before the Commission.

Based on the above, Cuba is expected to respect and defend the participation of rights activists in proceedings before human rights bodies, and the IACHR warns the State that any act taken to thwart this engagement directly contradicts international human rights law. The IACHR further calls on Cuba to immediately cease the targeting of human rights defenders – in particular, Laritza Diversent, Leticia Ramos, and Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, or any other members of the organizations to which they belong – and to ensure that they can carry out their human rights work and cooperate freely and safely with human rights mechanisms without fear of intimidation or reprisals and without improper restrictions on their right to freedom of movement. Human rights defenders are an essential pillar for the strengthening and consolidation of democracies and the rule of law, since the purpose that motivates their work involves society in general and seeks to benefit society.

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 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. 127/16