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UN panel blasts Cuba on human rights abuses

Posted on Saturday, 06.02.12

UN panel blasts Cuba on human rights abuses

THE U.N. called Friday for an independent body to gather, investigate
and report on complaints of human rights abuses in Cuba.
By Juan O. Tamayo
jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

The U.N.'s Committee Against Torture hammered Cuba on Friday for a
lengthy string of human rights abuses and repeatedly complained the
island had provided few or none of the details about specific
allegations of abuses that it had requested.

The panel noted that it was "concerned by reports denouncing the use of
coercive methods during (police) interrogations, particularly the denial
of sleep, detention under conditions of isolation and exposure to sudden
changes in temperatures."

On Cuba's prisons, it wrote that it "continues to be supremely concerned
by the reports received about the … overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of
hygiene and healthy conditions (and) adequate medical attention."

There have been thousands of complaints of short-term detentions of
dissidents, it added, singling out José Luis Ferrer García and Oscar
Elias Biscet. And Cuban officials never explained the deaths of
dissidents Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Juan Wilfredo Soto García.

Cuba should establish an independent body to gather, investigate and
report on allegations of government abuses, and should meet its promise
to allow a visit by the U.N.'s top official on several types of
mistreatments, the committee noted in a 6,000-word report.

The report summed up the panel's conclusions after its May 22-23
hearings in Switzerland on Cuba's compliance with the Convention against
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Marked "unedited," it was issued by the U.N. media office in Geneva.

Using the U.N.'s typically diplomatic language, the report noted the
panel "laments," "expresses concern," "still worries," "disagrees," "has
serious reservations," "views with concern," "considers it
indispensable" and is "seriously concerned."

But the report Friday amounted to a harsh and detailed indictment of
Cuba's human rights record, especially in areas that involve physical
punishments or abuses, such as the justice and prison systems and the
harassment of dissidents.

Cuba's own report on its compliance with the convention on torture,
presented to the panel in May, was more than nine years late and "does
not fully meet the guidelines" set by the panel, it noted. The 10-member
committee reviews countries' records on a rotating basis.

In a sharply worded section, the report urged Cuba "to investigate,
without delay, exhaustively, without bias and in an efficient way, all
deaths of prisoners." Cuba told the panel that prison officials were not
responsible for any of the 202 such deaths in 2010-2011, but gave no
further information.

The report also blasted Cuba for the rapid increase in the use of
short-term arrests of dissidents without any judicial orders, usually to
keep opposition activists away from activities. Cuban officials told the
panel last month that all detentions follow due process.

Despite Havana's denials, panel member Fernando Mariño told a news
conference Friday, "it seems that this has been generalized of late."
Human rights activists in Havana reported the number of such arrests
doubled from 2010 to 2011.

The panel also condemned the "restrictions on freedom of movement,
invasive security operations, physical aggressions and other acts of
intimidation and harassment presumably committed by the National
Revolutionary Police or members of the Organs of State Security."

Cuba also should abolish vaguely worded crimes, such as "pre-criminal
social dangerousness," it added, and halt the "acts of repudiation" by
pro-government mobs against dissidents like the Ladies in White and
Cuban Patriotic Union "with the presumed connivance … of police
authorities."

Persons detained should be allowed immediate access to independent
defense lawyers and doctors as well as relatives, the report said. The
government also should guarantee the independence of the justice system
and resolve gaps in its due process regulations.

The report also repeatedly complained that Cuba had provided little or
none of the detailed information the panel had requested on some issues,
specifically the deaths of Zapata Tamayo after a long hunger strike and
Soto Garcia after an alleged police beating.

Cuba provided no details on the 202 prison deaths — "a number the
committee considers to be high" — or the 46 prison officials and guards
that the government claimed had been put on trial and convicted for
abuses. It claimed there's no prison overcrowding, but gave no numbers.

The committee "laments the reticence of the government … to present
complete information" on the short-term detentions, the report noted.
Cuba also presented no information on people convicted of "crimes
against the security of the state" — usually viewed as political prisoners.

On the positive side, the report praised Cuba for signing four
international agreements on the rights of children and disabled persons
and banning "forced disappearances," approving a multi-year plan to fix
up prison facilities and working to reduce family violence.

The report also noted that the Cuban government gave "an affirmative
answer" to a request for a visit to the island by the U.N.'s Special
Rapporteur on torture and other physical abuses, a sort of
super-investigator who reports to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

The job is now held by Juan E. Mendez, 67, an Argentine jailed for 18
months during the military dictatorships in the 1970s. He has lived in
the United States for many years and served as president of the human
rights branch of the Organization of American States in Washington.

Cuba also invited Mendez' predecessor, Austrian lawyer Manfred Nowak, to
visit the island in January of 2009. But Cuban officials then said they
were very busy, and Nowak left the post 22 months later without having
visited the island.

Mariño was quoted as saying at the news conference that allowing Mendez
to visit would show that Cuba "has no political fear of submitting to an
inspection by foreign organizations."

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/06/02/v-fullstory/2828219/un-panel-blasts-cuba-on-human.html

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