(FILE) Photograph of a classic car while crossing in front of the Cuban Capitol on October 31, 2023, in Havana (Cuba). EFE/ Ernesto Mastrascusa

Review, visit and trial put international spotlight on human rights in Cuba

Juan Palop

Havana, Nov. 12 (EFE) – The human rights situation in Cuba is once again in the international spotlight due to the upcoming UN review, the visit of a European Union specialist to Havana and the disobedience trial of a critical intellectual.

These three events will take place in mid-to-late November, just over a month after Cuba’s re-election to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), a key multilateral body in this matter, where the island’s inclusion has been both applauded by Havana and criticized by various NGOs.

(FILE) Delegates observe a minute of silence in honor of the Morocco earthquake victims during the 54th session of the Human Rights Council, at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 11 September 2023. EFE/EPA/SALVATORE DI NOLFI

“Cuba is in the midst of a human rights crisis. In addition to the systematic repression of critics and dissidents, there is a severe economic crisis that is affecting economic and social rights,” said Juan Pappier, deputy Americas director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

According to him, the review before the Human Rights Council and the visit of the EU’s special representative are “an opportunity to make this crisis visible and demand concrete improvements, such as the release of political prisoners.

The agenda begins on November 15 with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the island’s human rights situation, a review that all countries undergo and receive recommendations from the HRC every four and a half years.

A key issue will be the anti-government protests of July 11, 2021, the largest in decades, since which, according to the NGO Justicia 11J, 1,878 people have been imprisoned for political reasons and nearly 700 sentenced to up to 30 years in prison, while dozens of activists and opponents have left the island.

The NGO Amnesty International has sent a report to the Human Rights Council warning about the “mass arrests” of demonstrators, the situation of at least 13 “emblematic” prisoners of conscience (a “small fraction” of those who deserve this description), and restrictions on the Internet.

It also underscored that since the last review, “Cuba has expanded its sophisticated machinery of control over freedom of expression and assembly” and resorted to a “culture of fear” by criminalizing protests.

DemoAmlat, another NGO, has recommended that Cuba, in view of the UPR, eliminate all laws that restrict the exercise of human rights, allow elections and political parties, and guarantee freedom of the press, assembly and demonstration.

EFE asked the Cuban government for comment, but has not yet received a response.

In this cases, the ruling party usually highlights free education and health care, the recent electoral processes and the approval in 2022 of the Family Code, which allows marriage and adoption by homosexual couples.

Cuba’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, Juan Antonio Quintanilla, recently wrote in X that “Cuba respects its commitments and obligations” under the 44 international human rights instruments it has signed (out of the 61 recognized by the UN).

(FILE) Eamon Gilmore, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights, delivers a message in Caloocan City, Metro Manila, Philippines, 30 March 2023. EFE/EPA/ROLEX DELA PENA

“Cuba continues to strengthen its legal and institutional framework for the promotion and protection of human rights,” Quintanilla said, highlighting “progress” in areas such as civil society organizations.

Barely a week after the UN visit, the EU’s special representative for human rights, Eamon Gilmore, will arrive, a trip heralded as a success after the April visit to the island by the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, Josep Borrell.

The trip, originally scheduled for November 23 and 24, does not yet have a public agenda, although Gilmore is expected to meet with representatives of the Cuban government’s Ministries of Justice and Interior, as well as members of civil society, to get an overview of the human rights situation on the island.


One week after the visit, the trial of leftist intellectual Alina Bárbara López Hernández will be held in Matanzas (western Cuba).

López faces up to a year in prison for an alleged crime of disobedience for failing to comply with a summons from State Security and refusing to pay the resulting fine.

(FILE) Cuban historian, philosopher, essayist and editor Alina Bárbara López speaks during an interview with EFE on March 29, 2023, in Havana (Cuba). . EFE/ Ernesto Mastrascusaa

“More than worried, I come expectant to see how they will solve the problem they have created. I did not violate the law,” the Marxist historian, philosopher, essayist and editor told EFE.

She adds that she is willing to “take risks” for “coherence and dignity.

The trial (with a single session and sentencing on the same day) was scheduled for November 16, between the UPR and Gilmore’s visit.

On Friday, however, the postponement to November 28 was announced, citing a problem with the judge’s agenda.

López considers this “an example of such political ineptitude” and also denounces “many contradictions” in the prosecution’s arguments.

“Since July 11, 2021, actions have been taken without measuring the consequences,” she warns, also pointing to the “educational” dimension that his trial will have by demonstrating the “type of state” that operates on the island.

More than a thousand people, many of them in Cuba, have signed a letter of support for the intellectual.

In addition, several diplomats have contacted her in recent days, some directly, despite the precautionary measures imposed on López. “I feel a great deal of support,” she says.

The NGO Prisoners Defenders, which describes the trial as “summary” and “without guarantees”, assures that the trial is “politically motivated” and seeks to “repress the exercise of rights or freedoms” in Cuba. EFE jpm/mcd