Experts of the Committee against Torture Commend Cuba on the Criminal Code, Ask about the Death Penalty and the July 2021 Protests
The Committee against Torture today concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of Cuba on its efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture, commending Cuba for beginning a reform of the Criminal Code, and asking questions about the death penalty and the protests in July 2021.
Sebastian Touze, Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Cuba, commended Cuba for having started a reform of the Criminal Code, asking about a timetable and when the reform would take place.
Claude Heller, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Cuba, said that although the death penalty had not been used since 2003, the Cuban Government had indicated that it was not ready to eliminate it from the Criminal Code. The Committee had a clear position on the death penalty, believing it was one of the most serious violations of human rights, undermining human dignity. Would Cuba be willing to turn the de facto moratorium on the death penalty into a permanent one for ethical reasons?
Mr. Heller said there were question marks about the incidents in July 2021, which included street protests relating to the pandemic, the lack of food, the low standard of living, as well as the harsh embargo with drastic sanctions against Cuba. There were reports of violence with businesses ransacked, and transport vehicles overturned and destroyed. Police allegedly carried out detentions with excessive use of force on unarmed people who were peacefully protesting, with severe sentences handed down by the courts. Exactly how many people were detained in the aftermath of the 11 July protests and how many were set free? Could information be provided on the total number of people detained and how were they differentiated from those who were detained and charged with sedition?
Concerning the death penalty, the delegation said that this could not be addressed in isolation, but in the context of the specific conditions of each country. Cuba was
confident that the day may come when the conditions existed to abolish the death penalty in the country. However, this decision would need to be linked to the cessation of the policy of hostility and aggression practiced against Cuba by the Government of the United States, so that Cuba could move forward in its economic, political and social development, with full assurances of respect for its sovereignty.
Rodolfo Benítez Verson, Directeur General for Multilateral Affairs and International Law at the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Cuba and head of the delegation, said the riots of 11 July 2021 had been grossly manipulated by the media. The Government of the United States aimed to overthrow the Cuban revolution through an intense political-communication campaign. Nowhere in the world would such riots qualify as peaceful demonstrations. The trials of those involved had been carried out with observance of due process and respect for constitutional rights, including the use of lawyers, as established in current legislation.
Mr. Verson said he spoke on behalf of Cuba, a democratic State besieged by a foreign power which had imposed a criminal economic blockade on it for more than 60 years. Cuba did not recognise the Government of the United States as having any moral authority to judge and classify other States in arbitrary and slanderous lists. Not a single person in Cuba was deprived of liberty for the exercise of human rights or for political positions. The Cuban State recognised and guaranteed the enjoyment and universal exercise of human rights to each person, in accordance with the principles of progressivity, equality and non-discrimination. Detentions were carried out in accordance with the law.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Heller thanked the delegation for coming from Havana for the exchange and hoped that the dialogue would have a positive and constructive follow up. He wished them a very safe return to Cuba.
The delegation of Cuba consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Ministry of the Interior; the Attorney General’s Office; the Supreme People’s Court; and the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The webcast of the Committee against Torture meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Committee against Torture’s seventy-third session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 May, to begin its review of the third periodic report of Kenya (CAT/C/KEN/3).
The Committee has before it the third periodic report of Cuba (CAT/C/CUB/3).
Presentation of Report
JUAN ANTONIO QUINTANILLA ROMÁN, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations Office at Geneva , reading out the statement of RODOLFO BENÍTEZ VERSON, Directeur General for Multilateral Affairs and International Law at the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Cuba, said that Cuba could not exercise its jurisdiction in the sovereign territory of Cuba that was illegally occupied by the United States at the Guantánamo Naval Base, which was an international torture centre.
In 1995, Cuba became a State party to the Convention and had since fulfilled its contractual obligations throughout the national territory. In 2019, after an extensive process of popular consultation, the new Constitution of Cuba was ratified. The new Magna Carta reflected Cuba’s commitment to international human rights instruments, including the Convention against Torture. Article 51 of the new Constitution stipulated that "Persons may not be subjected to enforced disappearance, torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".
To guarantee full and strict compliance with the new Constitution, Cuba had embarked on a comprehensive reform of its substantive legal norms. In a few weeks, a new Criminal Code and new procedural laws would be adopted, and the draft Family Code was under popular consultation. The new Criminal Code was consistent with Cuba's international obligations and recommendations arising from previous examinations before this Committee. The new Constitution and Criminal Code explicitly criminalised the crime of torture and defined it as per the Convention. A new law on criminal procedure had also been implemented, which reinforced the guarantees of the system and the rights of victims and took due account of the universally recognised principles in this area. This new legal norm guaranteed the right to defence of every accused person and to have legal assistance from the beginning of the judicial process.
There was a new legal framework to combat gender-based violence and other forms of domestic violence. The challenge was to achieve high levels of awareness and training of the operators of the justice system in Cuba, to guarantee its proper application, and to safeguard prompt and effective justice.
Existing legislation in Cuba, including recently adopted regulations governing conduct in places of detention, contained universally accepted fundamental guarantees to protect all persons against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The State took the necessary measures to prevent the execution of acts prohibited in the Convention against Torture and to punish them severely if they occurred. Although an effort had been made to improve prison facilities, difficulties and material constraints continued to be faced, affecting living conditions in some of the centres. This was a result of the impact of the serious obstacles and shortcomings imposed by the economic, commercial and financial embargo applied against Cuba by the United States. Despite this, Cuba had managed to vaccinate prisoners against COVID-19.
Cuba was aware that it must increase its capacity to generate specialised statistical data, which still failed to meet the high level of detail demanded by the Committee. The implementation of the new legal norms approved in Cuba would bring about a better quality in the collection of data and statistics.
Mr. Verson’s statement said that the Government of the United States had opportunistically used the pandemic to impose a policy of maximum pressure on Cuba to strangle the economy. It had intensified unilateral coercive measures, dictated new sanctions, and reinforced programmes of destabilisation and subversion against Cuba. An intense political and media campaign had been unleashed, including an attempt to manipulate the United Nations human rights machinery. It was Cuba’s duty to alert the Committee to these actions, which were aimed at hindering an objective, impartial and unprejudiced assessment of the Cuban reality.
Questions by Committee Experts
SEBASTIAN TOUZE, Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Cuba, said that there was no provision in Cuban legislation which effectively allowed for the criminalisation of acts of torture. Cuba was commended for having started a reform of the Criminal Code which would introduce this specific criminalisation. What was the timetable for this to take place? The definition of torture was nearly a literal quotation of the definition in the Convention, however, there was an important detail, it lacked the word “namely”, which would mean that the list mentioned in the definition was not exhaustive. There was no limit to potential acts of torture.
The statute of limitations in Cuba still raised some doubts. If the prison sentence was 10 years or more, the statute of limitation was 25 years. If the sentence was between two to six years, the statute of limitation was 10 years from the events that led to the charges. The Committee would like to be clarified further on this. The Committee would also like to have more information on the actual implementation of article 65-1. What was the statute of limitation in the new draft Criminal Code, especially in the case of aggravating circumstances?
Mr. Touze congratulated Cuba for the progress it had made on the new Constitution. The Committee were aware that the separation of powers was not a principle that was unanimously recognised, and it was not under the Committee’s competence to take a stance on the domestic organization of Cuba, including its legal system. Despite that, the aim of this review was to ensure that the State party placed the necessary guarantees in order to prohibit torture. It was important to ensure that the diverse members of the legal system were independent and that there was no political interference in the exercise of their functions. The appointment of magistrates was an issue. He asked for further information on what Cuba was doing to ensure the independence and the impartiality of judges and prosecutors, including that their appointments rested on objective criteria.
Concerning the security of the tenure of magistrates, Mr. Touze asked whether examples could be provided when magistrates had been removed from their posts and the reasons for this? Could statistics be provided on examples regarding sanctions handed down to magistrates and the nature of shortcomings and failings?
With regard to Cuban lawyers, could information be provided on the number of lawyers in Cuba and their status? Information was requested on the obligations which needed to be fulfilled to represent someone in court? A non-governmental organization had highlighted that the Ministry of Justice exercised huge powers when it came to surveying lawyers’ professions and had the prerogative to inspect the national body for lawyers. Was this affecting the independence of lawyers? What measures were being taken to overcome such interference?
Mr. Touze said that it was difficult to assess the state of the police stations in Cuba and what the hygiene conditions in the cells were like. Could information on the custody conditions in police stations be provided? Trust in the revolutionary police force had whittled away since July 2021, with non-governmental organizations stating that hundreds of demonstrators had been arrested, including political opponents. The Committee welcomed the fact that the law on conditions prevailing for arrest was being amended, however, there could be possible secret detentions occurring.
The Co-Rapporteur spoke about an arrest that was carried out violently without an arrest warrant, where the man was then held in secret detention, meaning he was not able to challenge his detention or receive legal aid. This example highlighted the problem of secret detention which seemed to be a consistent problem in Cuba. According to national rules, there were no specific rules setting out how someone could be brought into custody. An article setting out conditions for custody was necessary and would help to mitigate cases of arbitrary arrest.
Mr. Touze raised the issues of records and registers. He said that minors had been arrested in July 2021 and they were currently still detained. Many of their relatives did not even know where they were imprisoned, which was a major shortcoming. Was it possible in Cuba to say custody was null and void when a proper register was not initially established upon arrest? Figures had not been provided to the Committee on the prison population since 2012, which had shown Cuba as the sixth country globally in terms of the prison population. Were there alternatives to prison which could be envisaged? Was there a plan in Cuba to build new penitentiaries with capacity to take in the increasing number of detainees? Could information on the budget of the penitentiary system be provided?
No figures had been provided to the Committee about prisoners in temporary detention. Could figures be provided to give an overview of the impact of temporary detention? Concern was raised regarding the state of prison cells. Could the delegation respond to these allegations, which were based on eyewitness accounts from detainees? Would the Government consider earmarking a budget to improve the state of the cells and the living conditions of detainees? What was the current state of the renewal plans for penitentiaries and had future plans been scheduled?
Access to healthcare was also an issue for prisoners, and it was stated that the prisons in Cuba suffered medical shortcomings without a clear response from the Government. The recommendations to increase the budget for medical care had not been followed. Perhaps Cuba could use the surplus of doctors available to review healthcare in prisons?
Mr. Touze said the Committee was aware of the difficulties linked to Guantanamo Bay, however, the treatment of the 39 detainees there was still an issue of concern. Although Cuba could not have a presence there, it would be interesting if Cuba could open the justice system to people who had suffered under violence from those other than the Cuban authorities.
The Co-Rapporteur noted with concern that enforced disappearance in Cuba was not yet considered an autonomous criminal act, despite recommendations from the Committee. Could additional information on enforced disappearances be provided, to see what measures could be adopted to make improvements in this area?
Mr. Touze welcomed initiatives by non-governmental organizations in Cuba to prevent gender violence, with several actions supported by the Cuban authorities. Were there statistics on the number of victims who had access to these campaigns, namely in rural areas? To allow victims to speak freely, awareness must be raised; had the Cuban authorities been adopting such measures? Had progress been achieved on including feminicide in the Criminal Code?
Figures were difficult to come by concerning cases of prostitution and human trafficking. Mr. Touze said human trafficking needed to be a priority for Cuba. What specific measures were being taken to combat trafficking? Reliable statistics, including the number of individuals and their biographical statistics, were also needed. Attention also needed to be focused on combatting sex tourism.
CLAUDE HELLER, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Cuba, said the new Constitution recognised induvial guarantees which were non-existent in the previous norms, including defining the country as a socialist state. He noted that the Constitution expressly included the right to life, freedom, justice and moral integrity. It was important to mention the normative framework, with mention already made about the definition of torture. To date, it was not expressly defined as a crime. No crime could justify cruel or degrading treatment from torture.
Mr. Heller said that the elements which were contained in the Convention, such as torture as a way of extracting a confession, needed to be included in the definition of torture. In a few weeks, a new Criminal Code would be approved which would explicitly criminalise torture and would stipulate sentences which were commensurate with the seriousness of the acts of torture. The Committee looked forward to the approval of this code.
Cuba did not have any national mechanism to determine refugee status, hence recognition by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was the only way of obtaining universal protection. Could the delegation explain why Cuba was not a signatory to the refugee convention? Cuba should establish official mechanisms for identifying individuals who required international protection, with the assistance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Could updated information be provided on the number of individuals, specifically people from Haiti, who tried to get to the United States and ended up in Cuba? The closure of the United States’ consulate in Havana was noted, with Mr. Heller asking whether the conversation had resumed regarding migration with the United States, and whether any advances had been made?
Could more information be provided on what was happening with training for all staff working with detainees and prisoners? Was the Istanbul Protocol included in the training of professionals, for example lawyers or doctors? Mr. Heller was concerned about the absence of a national monitoring mechanism which was empowered to carry out visits to detention centres and make recommendations to the authorities. It was important for Cuba to consider signing and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention and set up an independent monitoring mechanism. Did Cuba intend to create a national human rights institution, which could be the first step towards the creation of a national prevention mechanism?
The impact of the pandemic and the unilateral measures should be noted, as they had led to a severe drop of gross national product by 11 per cent since 2020. How had this affected conditions in the penitentiary system?
Mr. Heller said he was struck by the fact that the constitutional reform of 2019 was not used as an opportunity to prohibit the death penalty, which was still punishment for a significant number of crimes. Although the death penalty had not been used since 2003, the Government had indicated that it was not ready to eliminate it from the Criminal Code. The Committee had a clear position on the death penalty, believing it was one of the most serious violations of human rights, undermining human dignity. Would the State be willing to turn the de facto moratorium on the death penalty into a permanent one for ethical reasons?
Mr. Heller said there were question marks about the incidents in July 2021, which included street protests relating to the pandemic, the lack of food, the low standard of living, as well as the harsh embargo with drastic sanctions against Cuba. There were reports of violence with businesses ransacked, and transport vehicles overturned and destroyed. Police allegedly carried out detentions with excessive use of force on unarmed people who were peacefully protesting. Those arrested were tried by courts and the sentences handed down were quite severe, with several non-governmental organizations saying these people were being made an example to deter further protests.
Exactly how many people were detained in the aftermath of 11 July and how many were set free? Could information be provided on the total number of people detained and how were they differentiated from those who were detained and charged with sedition? The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had urged Cuba to put an end to arbitrary detentions, particularly those due to peaceful protests. Mr. Heller said he was concerned about the automatic dismissal of any independent voice or opinion, and denying the legitimacy of any protests. It was incumbent upon the Government of Cuba to overcome the difficulties of the present with hopes of a better future.
A Committee Expert asked about juveniles in Cuba, saying that the age of criminal responsibly in Cuba was set at 16 years of age. Could an update on measures which had been implemented to establish a justice system for children be provided? Did the national legislation provide for non-custodial alternatives for minors who had reached the age of criminal responsibility? Could an update be given on the prison regime for minors in detention, including disciplinary actions and solitary confinement?
Another Committee Expert asked about the legal training of judges and whether the delegation was aware of any instances where judges had made reference to the Convention against Torture? Were there still prisoners on death row?
One Committee Expert could not agree with the idea expressed in the report which stated that because there was no specific law prohibiting gender-based violence, this did not mean that the victims were not protected. A holistic approach was needed for the prevention and control of gender-based violence. A specific law was indeed necessary.
Another Committee Expert said that Cuba had said that mechanisms were set up allowing detainees to challenge prison staff. Could more information on the channels of appeal be provided? Non-governmental organizations said there were no channels for detainees, so it would be good to receive clarification from the State.
Reports indicated exile was enforced on individuals, particularly those opposing the regime. Could the delegation say if these practices existed and what were the grounds that these measures could be based on? Could more information be provided on the extradition procedure? How could it be ensured that it was in line with the Convention?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation reiterated that Cuba could not exercise any jurisdiction on Guantanamo Bay, which was an “international torture centre”. Concerns expressed in this regard by the Committee should be passed on to the United States’ Government as they were running this part of the territory and should be accountable for the acts of torture against detainees which had passed in these premises. There was a misinformation campaign being carried out by the United States and it was regretted that the Committee seemed to be echoing false information on the situation in Cuba. This needed to be flagged so that some of the questions and comments raised by the Committee could be answered.
The delegation regretted that Committee Experts had referred to a State Department report, which Cuba did not recognise. The delegation invited the Committee to look at Cuba’s own report on human trafficking, which set out the policies on preventing and tackling trafficking and how victims were cared for. There was zero tolerance when it came to human trafficking.
RODOLFO BENÍTEZ VERSON, Directeur General for Multilateral Affairs and International Law at the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Cuba and head of the delegation, said he spoke on behalf of Cuba, a democratic State besieged by a foreign power which had imposed a criminal economic blockade on it for more than 60 years. Mr. Verson said that a Committee member had used a false example to reach a conclusion about the operation of detention centres in Cuba. Alleged non-governmental organizations, which were not based in Cuba, had been cited as sources, and their allegations were not credible.
Cuba did not recognise the Government of the United States as having any moral authority to judge and classify other States in arbitrary and slanderous lists. None of the cases mentioned by a member of the Committee on the first day of the review were credible. Not a single person in Cuba was deprived of liberty for the exercise of human rights or for political positions.
The Cuban State recognised and guaranteed the enjoyment and universal exercise of human rights to each person, in accordance with the principles of progressivity, equality and non-discrimination. Harassment, threats, violence or intimidation were not a practice in Cuba. The behaviour of the security forces in Cuba corresponded to the highest international standards. The statistics on detentions in Cuba were false, as well as their arbitrary nature. Detentions were carried out in accordance with the law.
Mr. Verson said that the riots of 11 July 2021 had been grossly manipulated by the media. The Government of the United States aimed to overthrow the Cuban revolution through an intense political-communication campaign. Nowhere in the world would such riots qualify as peaceful demonstrations. The trials of those involved had been carried out with observance of due process and respect for constitutional rights, including the use of lawyers, as established in current legislation.
The delegation said that in Cuba, no person was detained outside the cases and formalities established by the criminal procedure law. There were no secret arrests, arbitrary detentions, or use of torture against detainees in the country. There were no enforced disappearances and Cuban standards were consistent with the provisions of the Convention against Enforced Disappearances. The right to a lawyer was guaranteed in all cases. When a person was detained, he or she appeared before a prosecutor within 24 hours of arrest and received humane and dignified treatment throughout the process. The criminal procedure law approved in December 2021 provided the conditions for a person to be placed in preventive detention.
If detention records recorded in the Administrative Register were found to be incorrect, this was investigated by designated officials and appropriate measures, including disciplinary measures, were taken. Violations could result in disciplinary measures for perpetrators. If a criminal act was carried out, this was reported to the Military Prosecutor's office for investigation. Detained persons had the right to address complaints and petitions to the authorities that were obligated to process them. Since the adoption of the new Constitution, victims of violations could access judicial remedies and claim restitution before the courts.
On the issue of gender violence and domestic violence, Cuba actively defended the rights of women and girls. Guarantees were included in the Constitution for the sexual and reproductive rights of women. The protection of families was enshrined, with special reference to domestic violence, which was considered destructive and was penalised by the law. The Comprehensive Strategy for the Prevention of Gender Violence and Domestic Violence had been agreed, aiming to strengthen the protection mechanisms and improve the national legal framework in line with international law.
The draft of the new Criminal Code punished anyone who caused serious bodily injury to another person. There were aggravated circumstances when such acts were carried out on the grounds of gender or racial discrimination, religious hatred, sexual orientation or gender identity. A hotline was available to address issues of violence.
It was factually incorrect that aggression against a minor between the ages of 14 and 16 was punishable in Cuba by deprivation of liberty for three to nine months. The current Criminal Code provided for penalties of 3 months up to 30 years of deprivation of liberty or death, taking into account the seriousness of the crime committed. Cuba did not provide for the crime of femicide in the Criminal Code, but the protection of women was safeguarded through different provisions contained in the current Criminal Code and the criminal procedure law.
Prosecutors inspected penitentiary establishments with the participation of military prosecutors and specialists. The Office of the Attorney-General had various means of communication to enable victims to exercise the right to complain. From 2017 to 2021, the Attorney General's office attended to complaints from more than 650,000 people, including 11,000 complaints from inmates, detainees or their families.
Concerning the juvenile justice system, the age of criminal responsibility in Cuba was 16 years of age, established by the current Criminal Code, so no minor under that age could be held in a penitentiary establishment. The administration of juvenile justice in Cuba, for cases between 16 and 18 years of age, was carried out in strict observance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The allegation that mothers did not know where their children were imprisoned was false.
In Cuba, there were no detention facilities or procedures other than those legally established. Families knew where their relatives were detained and could visit them. As part of Cuba’s legislative update, the possibility of a future study on the establishment of a justice system for children under 16 years of age had been raised.
Cuba agreed with Committee Experts that the separation of powers was not unanimously accepted at the international level. The exercise of the judicial function in Cuba was subject to the rule of law and governed by the principles of judicial independence. The Supreme People's Court exercised the highest judicial authority and its decisions were final and mandatory. In Cuba, all guarantees of due process, including the independence of judges, were recognised and respected.
The delegation said that for persons to practise law in Cuba, it was not always required to be a member of the National Organization of Collective Law Firms, which brought together more than 2,000 practicing lawyers. Joining the organization was free and voluntary. A lawyer was independent in the exercise of his functions and only owed obedience to the law.
Persons who were part of the judicial system received training in international law, especially with regard to the Convention against Torture. Both the Attorney General's Office, the Supreme People's Court, and the National Union of Jurists of Cuba annually provided diploma and postgraduate training for judges and prosecutors, which also included medico-legal training provided by the Institute of Legal Medicine.
Once Cuba's ratification of an international treaty was decided, actions were taken immediately to ensure that there was no contradiction between domestic law and international law.
The figures used by the Committee concerning police stations was incorrect; there were 239 police stations in Cuba where the necessary conditions existed for adequate medical, legal, and food care and fair treatment to be provided to people brought to these facilities.
For persons evading justice, once arrested, they appeared before the courts immediately. In all cases, detainees had the right to receive medical care, food at least three times a day, access to health service, family and legal access, telephone communication and a mattress. No person deprived of their liberty slept on the floor. Inmates could voluntarily join socially useful work and receive economic remuneration according to their work results.
Cuba had improved the custody register of detainees, which was ensured by an administrative control established in the Automated System for Information to the Population. This system was updated in real time and enabled in all units of the national revolutionary police and criminal investigation of the country. The data recorded was verified through identity documents or data existing in automated systems, where the photo of the person was added for identification. In penitentiary centres there was the legal registry in which all the data of the people who were incarcerated was recorded.
The delegation said that Cuba was making great efforts to guarantee dignified living conditions for people held in all units and prisons. Work was being done to preserve the elementary norms and rules of personal hygiene. Protocols were applied for the detection of HIV-AIDS, syphilis and other contagious diseases, as well as antigens and PCR tests in the face of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Inmates had been vaccinated free of charge against COVID-19. Persons held in detention centres had the right to family visits, conjugal wards, to receive and send correspondence, and to make telephone calls.
An investment plan for the Veguitas Centre, in the province of Granma,
aimed at improving the living conditions of the prison population and would continue to be implemented in the coming years.
In Cuba, there was a trend towards a decrease in the number of prisoners; therefore, the construction of new penitentiary centres was not planned and focus would be on the continuity of investments to improve existing centres.
Law enforcement officials and civil servants studied in specialised schools, and their studies included topics related to the Convention against Torture.
The delegation said that last January marked 20 years since the establishment of the world-renowned centre for arbitrary detention and torture in Guantanamo territory. During that time, United States’ governments had ignored the call of the international community and the United Nations human rights mechanisms, which had demanded the closure of that centre.
The delegation said that Cuba respected the right to peaceful demonstration, within the legality and safeguarding of security and public order. The guarantees provided by Cuban laws protected all these freedoms and prescribed punitive measures for those who try to violate them.
Cuba had a zero-tolerance policy against any form of trafficking in persons and an excellent performance record in prevention efforts.
Regarding a national human rights institution, there was no single model for the establishment of such institutions. Cuba had a well-functioning national system for the promotion and protection of human rights that offered tangible results. Further measures had been adopted and others were being considered to continue strengthening the legal-institutional framework guaranteeing the effective promotion, protection and realisation of all human rights for all citizens.
With regard to the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, Cuba ensured respect for the physical and spiritual integrity of each person and had effective national resources to ensure the response to individual complaints. For this reason, it had not been considered necessary to assume obligations with procedures of supranational jurisdiction for the processing of individual communications.
The delegation spoke about the death penalty, saying this could not be addressed in isolation, but in the context of the specific conditions of each country. Cuba was
confident that the day may come when the conditions existed to abolish the death penalty in Cuba. However, this decision would need to be linked to the cessation of the policy of hostility and aggression practiced against Cuba by the Government of the United States, so that Cuba could move forward in its economic, political and social development, with full assurances of respect for its sovereignty.
The application of the death penalty in Cuba was a matter of very exceptional nature. The Cuban State respected efforts to move progressively in the direction of abolishing the death penalty. No death penalty has been issued by the Cuban courts in many years, and it had not been applied in Cuba since 2003.
The delegation said that Cuba was currently engaged in a process to update its model of economic and social development and improve the country's institutions.
As part of that process, the relevance of Cuba's accession to a number of other international conventions was being analysed. Regarding the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the provisions of paragraph 297 of the national report remained in force. On the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol, this would be addressed in a timely manner by the competent Cuban authorities to determine whether the country was capable of being bound by these legal instruments. Cuba had always guaranteed dignified and humane treatment to refugees and asylum seekers during their temporary stay in Cuba.
As of 1 January 2022, there were 201 people considered as refugees in Cuba. Refugees were given free access to education, health and the possibility of acquiring the goods and services of the basic food basket, on equal terms with Cubans. Such persons were not forced to return to their country and be at risk of being subjected to torture. Responding to questions about Haitian citizens in Cuba, it was affirmed that hundreds of Haitian citizens tried to emigrate from their country in dilapidated boats, with some boats stopping in Cuba. These citizens received all the necessary attention free of charge and were housed in several well-equipped facilities. Cuba would continue to provide, unconditionally, its solidarity aid to Haiti.
The delegation said that Cuba had reiterated its concern about the measures carried out by the Government of the United States that prevented legal and orderly migration and generated the socioeconomic conditions that incited emigration. These measures had caused loss of life and the commission of crimes of smuggling. The United States must cease to hinder and violate the rights of Cubans to travel to third countries in the area. The extradition treaties signed by Cuba established that extradition would not be carried out in the event that the crime charged provided for the death penalty as one of the sanctions. No foreign citizen would be extradited by Cuba if there was a danger that, in the receiving country, they would be subjected to torture, inhuman treatment, or cruel or degrading punishment.
Questions by Committee Experts
SEBASTIAN TOUZE, Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Cuba, noted that the Committee was not a political or diplomatic body and never took a position on different policies or politics affecting countries. Mr. Touze noted that the sources cited by the Committee were cross-checked and came from a variety of established organizations, including civil society. When questions were submitted, the sources were systematically quoted and Cuba’s input was requested.
Concerning pre-trial detention, Mr. Touze asked for statistics on how many people were deprived of their liberty and why? Where were people in pre-trial detention held and what was the average length of pre-trial detention? What was the length of time between the moment of arrest and pre-trial detention?
Regarding gender violence, Mr. Touze noted the refusal to put femicide in the legislation, saying there was a real need to provide proper protection for certain categories like women. What was the role of the Cuban Women’s Federation?
Questions were posed around visits by prosecutors to prisons, with Mr. Touze asking why Cuba could not allow other parties, such as civil society, to also conduct these visits? The judiciary was a fundamental body to prevent acts of torture and Cuba had said their judiciary was fully independent. However, allegations had been made by civil society regarding certain practices. Could more information be provided about lawyers, and whether national authorities were able to interfere in the exercise of their profession?
It would have been useful to have had more clarification on the categories for alternative sentencing. Could these be provided? What were the specific practical mechanisms that allowed relatives of detainees to know where they were and why they had been arrested? What were the means allowing relatives to maintain contact? Could detailed data on persons in detention be provided?
It was positively noted that Cuba wished to reduce the number of inmates. How would this be achieved? Would it be through legislative measures or other alternatives? Could more information be provided? Mr. Touze concluded by asking for more detailed information on extradition. He thanked the delegation for their answers and noted everything discussed was done so with a constructive spirit in mind.
CLAUDE HELLER, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Cuba, said that the Committee was not a political body and did not subscribe formulas on how a State should work. Instead, recommendations were provided to allow for better implementation of the Convention. He noted that significant regulatory steps had been taken and that the new Criminal Code would be approved in May this year, which included a definition of torture. However, all activities needed to be coordinated. Cuba had a great deal of doctors who could contribute to the improvement of facilities.
Mr. Heller said it would be advisable for Cuba to have a mechanism in place for the prevention of torture. If there was a national preventive mechanism with a national report, this would greatly assist the Cuban State when confronting reports from abroad.
There were question marks about the incidents in July 2021, which included street protests relating to the pandemic, the lack of food, the low standard of living, as well as the harsh embargo with drastic sanctions against Cuba, Mr. Heller said. There were reports of violence with businesses ransacked, and transport vehicles overturned and destroyed. Police allegedly carried out detentions with excessive use of force on unarmed people who were peacefully protesting, with severe sentences handed down by the courts. Exactly how many people were detained in the aftermath of the 11 July protests and how many were set free? Could information be provided on the total number of people detained and how were they differentiated from those who were detained and charged with sedition?
The automatic labelling of any independent voice and the denial of such legitimacy was concerning. Cuba was generous given in mind the challenges its society faced. It was incumbent upon the Cuban Government to overcome the present difficulties. Mr. Heller concluded by highlighting the importance of cooperation with the United Nations, saying he hoped that in the future Cuba could ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It would be beneficial for Cuba to consider adopting a moratorium on the death penalty.
The registration of detainees was very important. Could examples be given concerning the use of Cuba’s registration system? The social and economic life of the Cuban people had been impacted by the blockade. It was noted that the implementation of the Convention needed infrastructure investment. Could the delegation please indicate the negative impact of the blockade on the implementation of the Convention? What was the response of Cuba to the reported allegations of politicisation of human rights in the implementation of the Convention?
A Committee Expert said the creation of a national human rights institution would act as a counterweight in obtaining information and assessing the situation of human rights in Cuba. The Expert recommended that such an institution be created.
Responses by the Delegation
RODOLFO BENÍTEZ VERSON, Directeur General for Multilateral Affairs and International Law at the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Cuba and head of the delegation, addressed the issue of sources. Cuba fully shared with the Committee how important it was to take other sources into account. This was healthy; however, such information should be cross-checked, including with non-governmental organizations. Why were all the sources used by the Committee not present in Cuba? Mr. Verson invited the Committee to expand their range of sources. A balanced approach in the use of sources was needed.
The delegation said that Cuban law established terms for the detention of the individual. There were 24 hours to establish whether the individual needed pre-trial detention, or if another measure should be taken. The person held was then notified so that he or she were aware of their rights. There was a requirement that the body that monitored the Criminal Procedure Code, the prosecutor, had to monitor these procedures and whether the individual should remain in pre-trail detention. Pre-trial detention was always reviewed.
The trend in Cuba had been to reduce the prison population, which had been benefitting from alternatives to sentencing, among other measures. Regarding visits to prison establishments, the delegation said this was not exclusive to the prosecutors. The courts also participated, as well as legislators, among others.
The Federation of Cuban Women had a role in informing people on the rights of women, operating at provincial, municipal and national levels. This meant there could be direct care for women in the community who had suffered from violence. In the total number of 11,000 complaints made by prisoners or persons in detention, 7 per cent were found in favour of the complainant after all complaints were investigated.
The delegation said that Cuba was updating its economic and social model. A system was in place that protected human rights, and Cuba hoped to perfect this. A new national legal instrument was being created to promote and better guarantee human rights within the country.
CLAUDE HELLER, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Cuba, thanked the delegation for coming from Havana for the exchange and hoped that the dialogue would have a positive and constructive follow up. He wished them a very safe return to Cuba.
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