Banned books and other forms of censorship

On the banning of books, censorship and other freedom of access issues

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

UN special rapporteur reports on Cuba repression

United Nations Special Rapporteur Christine Chanet reported to the United Nations Human Rights Council on continued human rights concerns in Cuba. Chanet, who had been given a mandate to investigate this issue, couched her report in the context of detailed criticism of the U.S. embargo of Cuba and policy in general; she also noted positive accomplishments made within Cuba on literacy and other issues. Nevertheless she noted the following concerns:

19. One subject of concern relates primarily to the arrest of almost 80 persons in March-April 2003 in what the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention regards as arbitrary detention. In its Opinion No. 9/2003, the Working Group categorized them as persons

20. Most of those detained support the Varela project, which involves the collection of signatures for the organization of a referendum on changing the electoral system and the fostering of other legislative reforms.

21. The charges levelled against the accused persons fall in some cases solely under article 91 of the Cuban Criminal Code, covering acts contrary to the independence or integrity of the State, and in others under article 91 combined with Act No. 88, on protection of Cuba’s national and economic independence.

22. Several of the accused persons have been charged with such actions as receiving funds from foreign countries or engaging in activities deemed to be subversive by the State, giving interviews to Radio Martí, a network broadcasting from the United States, communicating with international human rights organizations, possessing radio or video equipment, or participating in trade unions, associations or academic groups deemed to be “counter-revolutionary”.

23. These persons were tried in very short order, sometimes within a few days, denying them sufficient time to prepare their defence. Neither independent counsel nor diplomats nor foreign journalists were allowed to attend these trials. Prison terms ranging from 6 to 28 years were imposed.

24. Moreover, in 2005 more people were arrested and convicted for openly expressing dissident political opinions.

25. On 28 July 2005, the Personal Representative of the High Commissioner sent a letter to Cuba seeking information on the situation of 9 persons still being held following the arrest of 33 persons by the security services during a demonstration in front of the French Embassy in Havana on 22 July 2005. On 26 July 2005, the Special Rapporteur on the question of torture, the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders and the Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had sent an urgent appeal on the same subject.

26. The persons concerned are: Santiago Valdeolla Pérez, Julio César López Rodríguez,Francisco Mouré Saladrigas, Oscar Mario González, Miguel López Santos, Jesús Adolfo Reyes, Raúl Martínez Prieto, Ricardo Medina Salabarria and René Gómez Manzano.

27. The Personal Representative of the High Commissioner has not received any response to her request for information made on 28 July 2005.

28. In May 2005, a number of journalists and members of the European Parliament were deported from Cuba.

29. The Personal Representative of the High Commissioner is alarmed at the allegations of ill-treatment in detention submitted by families of prisoners. Food and hygiene are substandard and medical care either unavailable or inappropriate. Some prisoners are kept in solitary confinement, while others are subjected to dangerous levels of overcrowding with ordinary prisoners. There have been several reports of guards humiliating and even striking prisoners. Relatives encounter many problems when trying to arrange visits to prisoners, who are often detained far from their homes.

30. Several prisoners have been on particularly stressful hunger strikes. In that regard, the Personal Representative of the High Commissioner has taken note of the appeal in favour of three hunger strikers issued on 29 September 2005 by the European Union.

31. Relations with the Catholic Church deteriorated in 2005, in particular following the ban on public religious ceremonies imposed by the Cuban authorities on 8 September.

She presented her report, originally prepared last January, to the UN Human Rights Council for debate on Sept. 26. She said she had made several attempts to contact the Cuban authorities to initiate a dialogue but had not received any replies.


Chanet was bitterly denounced by the delegate from Cuba, who dismissed her report as a "libellous document," which "did not deserve any respect or credibility;" and called upon her mandate to be terminated immediately. Joining Cuba in denunciation of Chanet were delegates from some of the most repressive regimes in the world, such as China, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Algeria and Belarus. Delegates from Germany and Finland, on the other hand, responded favorably to her report, while the U.S. delegate defended U.S. policy.

For written transcripts of the debate, click here and here. For the webcast, click here.

Within the American Library Association and the International Federation of Library Association, there have been highly acrimonious debates on various online forums about Cuba, particularly regarding the independent library movement there. I will comment more on this issue later.

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