March 24, 2009
It has now been six years since 75 human rights defenders were imprisoned in Cuba for nothing more than peacefully demanding fundamental rights.
In March 2003, activists throughout the country were arrested by the Cuban government and summarily tried and sentenced to as many as 28 years in prison. Today, 54 of them remain in jail, many with severe illnesses they’ve developed from poor prison conditions.
Their wives, sisters, daughters, and loved ones have formed the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, who march every Sunday through the streets of Havana to demand the release of their family members and to promote human rights in the face of constant harassment. This year, they held six days of religious services, peaceful marches, and assemblies in front of government offices to mark the anniversary. Their events were repeatedly broken up by government-organized mobs. On March 8, their commemoration of International Women’s Day was also interrupted. On both occasions, members of the organization who live outside Havana were reportedly prevented from traveling to attend the events, a violation of their rights to movement and peaceful assembly.
In a recent report to the UN Human Rights Council, the Cuban government claimed that all Cubans “fully and universally enjoy all human rights.” The unjust jailing of 75 human rights defenders, and the continued harassment of peaceful activists such as the Ladies in White, undermines such a claim and violates fundamental human rights.
Please call on the Cuban government to end the imprisonment of the 54 human rights activists jailed six years ago, and to respect the efforts of the Ladies in White to promote human rights.
For more information, read Human Rights First’s submission to the UN Human Rights Council on Cuban defenders here.
Raul Castro Ruz
Presidente Interino de Cuba
c/o Cuban Interests Section
2639 16th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
I am writing to you today to mark the sixth anniversary of the unjust imprisonment of 75 Cuban human rights defenders in March 2003. At that time, peaceful activists throughout the country were arrested by government agents and summarily tried and sentenced to as many as 28 years in prison. Today, 54 of them remain in jail, many with severe illnesses they’ve developed from poor prison conditions.
Their wives, sisters, daughters and loved ones have formed the Damas de Blanco, who march every Sunday through the streets of Havana to demand the release of their family members and promote human rights despite constant harassment. In 2006, Human Rights First recognized them for their brave defense of human rights.
Their efforts to commemorate the six-year anniversary of the imprisonment of their loved ones were recently broken up by government agents and government-organized mobs. Similar events they organized on International Women’s Day, an international holiday honored by the United Nations on March 8, were likewise disrupted, and on both occasions Damas de Blanco traveling from outside Havana were prevented from attending.
Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cuba became a signatory in February 2008, holds that every person has the right to liberty and security of person. Article 12 guarantees freedom of movement for all persons. Several articles of the ICCPR, as well as the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, protect freedom of expression, assembly, and association.
The provisions of the Cuban legal code under which the 75 activists were sentenced, known as Article 91 and Law 88, violate international law by abrogating fundamental rights to free expression, association, and assembly. The continued detentions and the harassment of peaceful human rights defenders, such as the Damas de Blanco, violate your international obligations as laid out in the ICCPR and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I ask that you release the jailed human rights defenders and take concrete steps to end the harassment of the Damas de Blanco by state agents.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.