GENEVA, Switzerland, June 3, CMC – The United Nations Committee Against Torture has blasted Cuba’s Raúl Castro administration for an alleged string of human rights abuses, including an increasing wave of political detentions, poor prison conditions, and the use of isolation, sleep deprivation and other coercive interrogation tactics.
In a strongly-worded 6,000-word report, issued here on Friday, the panel said the socialist government in Havana provided few or none of the details about specific allegations of abuses that it had requested.
The panel said 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”.
It said it was “supremely concerned by the reports received about the overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of hygiene and healthy conditions (and) adequate medical attention” in Cuban prisons.
The UN panel said it had received thousands of complaints of short-term detentions of dissidents, singling out José Luis Ferrer García and Oscar Elias Biscet.
Cuban officials also never explained the deaths of dissidents Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Juan Wilfredo Soto García, the panel said.
But the report acknowledged Havana’s apparent approval of a request for a visit by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture and other physical abuses, a key UN investigator who reports to the UN Commission on Human Rights. There was no indication as to when the visit would occur.
And the UN praised the Communist Party government 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 body urged Cuban authorities to establish an independent body to gather, investigate and report on allegations of government abuses, and meet its promise to allow a visit by the UN’s top official on several types of mistreatments.
The report urged Havana “to investigate, without delay, exhaustively, without bias and in an efficient way, all deaths of prisoners”.
Cuban officials 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 condemned 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. Critics say a highlight of this tactic was the jailing of dissidents just before Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba in April.
But Cuban officials told the panel last month that all detentions follow due process but human rights campaigners in Cuba have said the number of 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.”
It said Cuba should also abolish vaguely-worded crimes, such as “pre-criminal social dangerousness” 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”.
The report urged that persons detained should be allowed immediate access to independent defence lawyers and doctors, as well as relatives.
It said the government should also 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. Cuba also presented no information on people convicted of “crimes against the security of the state” — usually viewed as political prisoners.