Press Release

IACHR Concerned about Cuba’s New Constitution and its Implementation

March 4, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) monitored the reform to introduce certain fundamental rights into Cuba’s constitution, a process that ended in the referendum held on February 24, 2019.

The Commission received complaints from some Cuban civil society organizations about a series of flaws in the process of socializing and debating the proposed new constitution. Those organizations noted that, despite their efforts to engage in pluralist dialogue, there were “political and legal hurdles” that restricted effective citizen participation. Some activists who campaigned against the new text reported that they had been intimidated, arrested and, in some cases, beaten up by the security forces, and that their homes had been besieged by the military the week before the referendum. The Commission condemns all forms of intimidation and aggression against dissidents, activists, human rights defenders and journalists.

The media reported allegations of election fraud on referendum day. Such alleged irregularities included voting in pencil, non-secret ballots, the exclusion of more than two million Cubans who live abroad and inadequate ballot boxes. The IACHR expresses its concern about the possibility that the referendum may not have complied with the conditions necessary for free, secret, reliable, independent elections that safeguard the principles of universality and plurality. For years, the IACHR has been critical of the lack of conditions in Cuba for authentic political participation from sectors representing various lines of thought. Such criticism persists in spite of the recent constitutional reform. In particular, criticism focuses on the fact that elections lack plurality and independence and involve the presence of just one party, the ban on associations for political purposes and arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression and the right to freedom of assembly, among other fundamental rights, as well as the need for plural participation in any constitutional reform process.

In spite of all that, the IACHR notes that, concerning human rights, the new constitution enshrines judicial safeguards like habeas corpus and the principle of presumption of innocence, along with a whole catalogue of civil and political fundamental rights including the right to life and the ban on forced disappearances, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as economic, social, cultural and environmental rights and the rights to water, health and free education, among others. The new constitution also incorporates the right to private property, along with the equality principle and the ban on discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnic background and disability. The new constitution states that Cuba’s international relations will be based on the defense and protection of human rights, and it mentions the State’s obligation to ensure “the inalienable, indivisible and interdependent enjoyment and exercise of human rights, in accordance with the principle of progressivity and without discrimination.”

“Including those rights in Cuba’s constitutional order could be taken as a step forward in the exercise of human rights in the region, as long as the policies, laws and structural practices that restrict the full implementation of those safeguards from a human rights approach are eliminated in Cuba,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, IACHR Rapporteur for Cuba. “Their interpretation and application in line with the highest human rights standards will be crucial to be able to consider this real progress for the Cuban people in terms of gaining fundamental rights,” Commissioner Urrejola added.

The IACHR calls on the State to turn the constitution into a reality based on respect for public and democratic liberties, taking measures that ensure the free movement of ideas and thought and enable the free and equal political participation of all Cuban citizens.

Finally, the Commission stresses the request it has made to the Cuban State to be able to conduct its first in loco observation visit to the country, which would allow it to monitor the human rights situation there. The Commission will continue to monitor this constitutional reform process in accordance with its mandate.

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. 058/19