Wednesday, May 23, 2012

UN panel on torture wants information on Cuban prison deaths and dissident arrests

Posted on Tuesday, 05.22.12


UN panel on torture wants information on Cuban prison deaths and
dissident arrests

The same day the Cuban media published stories defending the island's
prison system
By Juan O. Tamayo

A U.N. panel on torture Tuesday demanded that Cuba provide information
on the deaths of several political prisoners, the repression of
dissident groups such as the Ladies in White and the 2,400 arrests of
government critics reported last year.

The demand came on the same day that Cuba's Granma newspaper and Prensa
Latina news agency published reports defending the island's prison
system, which faces allegations of "slave labor" in the 1980s and other
current abuses.

Members of the U.N. Committee Against Torture, which is based in Geneva,
Switzerland, requested the Cuban government explain the recent deaths of
dissidents Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Wilman Villar after lengthy prison
hunger strikes, and that of Juan Wilfredo Soto after an alleged beating
by security officials.

Complaints that Cuban prisons are plagued by overcrowding, malnutrition,
bad hygiene, and beatings for those who protest and forced exile for
others have been received in Geneva, said panel member George Tugushi.

Cuba also has been asked to explain the "aggressions and harassments"
against the Ladies in White, bloggers Yoani Sánchez and Orlando Luis
Pardo and Zapata's mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, the panel noted during
the first day of its two-day hearing on Cuba.

The U.N. committee also asked for explanations of the more than 2,400
short-term detentions of dissidents reported in 2011 by Havana human
rights activists, including Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz of the Cuban
Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

"We want Cuba to clarify all these cases," said Nora Sveaass, one of the
10 panel members and a Norwegian human rights attorney, according to
media reports from Geneva.

The panel, which monitors enforcement of the U.N. Convention on Torture
and Other Physical Abuses and Transgressions, reviews the records of
several U.N. member nations each year. This year it was Cuba's turn.

Cuba's Deputy Attorney General Rafael Pino defended his government
during his appearance before the panel, saying that "no one in our
country has been persecuted or sanctioned for exercising their rights,
including those of free expression and association."

Pino added that of the 263 complaints of prison abuses filed with the
government from 2007 to 2011, only 46 led to findings that security
agents were responsible. He gave no further details.

His comments came as Granma published an article defending the country's
prison system and Prensa Latina quoted Antonio Llibre, identified as a
Cuban expert in international rights, as saying Cuba has been "free of
torture" since 1959.

Those claims were disputed by human rights activists in Cuba and abroad.

"Former prisoners … consistently describe deeply inhumane conditions in
Cuba's prisons — from overcrowded cells to inadequate food and water,
from poor medical treatment to a hazardous lack of hygiene," said José
Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch.

Sánchez and Vivanco also have noted that Cuba does not allow the Red
Cross to inspect its prisons. "If Cuban prisons are model institutions,
why prevent people from seeing them?" Vivanco asked.

Cuba now has 57,337 inmates, including 31,494 "in locked conditions" and
25,337 "in open installations," Granma noted, without explaining the
meaning of those terms.

Sánchez previously estimated the prison population at 70,000 to 80,000.

He noted that before Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, Cuba had 14
prisons and 4,000 inmates in a population of 6 million, or about one
inmate per 1,500. Today, the 57,337 inmates in a population of 11.2
million equal one per 195.

About 27,100 inmates receive schooling and 24,531 are participating in
job training programs, added Granma, the official voice of the Central
Committee of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba.

Granma also reported that prisoners can play sports and engage in
religious activities. The paper noted that famed singer Silvio Rodríguez
and other artists played in 16 prisons during a tour in 2008.

It mentioned that inmates have a "strong health program" but gave no
details. A pro-government blogger wrote last week that prisons have one
doctor for every 300 inmates, a dentist for every 1,000 and a nurse for
every 120.

Criticisms of the island's prisons erupted this year amid reports that
the IKEA furniture chain had contracted for Cuban prison labor in the
late 1980s. A series of videos allegedly shot inside a Havana prison
showed dirty toilets and walls and leaking sewage.

The newspaper added that about 23,113 inmates are "participating in
labor" and receive a salary "according to the tariffs established'' for
others in the labor force, but gave no further details on their salaries
or employers.

Four Cuban-American members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to the
United Nations' International Labor Organization on Monday requesting an
investigation of the reports about IKEA's prison connection..

"The Castro regime has been given a pass far too many times by
international organizations willing to look the other way on Cuba's
grave human rights abuses," said the letter by South Florida Republicans
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and David Rivera, and New Jersey
Democrat Albio Sires.

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