Cuba and the rhetoric of human rights
We will now analyze the human rights situation in France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Czech Republic.
Human rights in the heart of the European Union
According to Amnesty International (AI), grave violations of human rights persist in France. In that regard, “ill-treatment and excessive use of force by police were alleged, including in at least one fatal incident”. Ali Ziri, a 69-year-old Algerian, “died following his arrest in Argenteuil on 9 June” after a routine police check. According to AI, security forces beat Ziri during his arrest and his transfer to the police station together with a friend. “One month later the Public Prosecutor closed the inquiry into his death stating that, on the basis of investigations conducted by the Argenteuil police, there was no evidence of ill-treatment.” Ziri’s family then demanded a second opinion from the Institute of Legal Medicine (IML) in Paris. The new autopsy “recorded multiple bruising on Ali Ziri’s body and stated that his probable cause of death was positional asphyxia”. Therefore a legal investigation was opened, but AI noted that “The police officers concerned remained on active duty.” The organization also condemned the impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these actions. Thus, “investigations conducted by law enforcement bodies and judicial authorities into such allegations often appeared to lack independence and impartiality and were slow to progress.” 1
AI also underscores the case of another murder committed by the police in January 2005. The IML in Paris published a report on it in July 2009. “Their report stated that he had died after being shaken violently and that police testimony alleging that he had thrown himself against a wall was contradicted by the medical evidence.” The investigative judge refused to order the testimony of officers responsible for the crime. 2
AI also denounced “the severe overcrowding and poor hygiene inside the existing center”, as well as the degrading living conditions of migrants from Calais whose squatter camps were destroyed by authorities.” 3
The organization made note of two new police registries created specifically to collect information on persons considered a threat to public order. According to AI, “Concerns remained about the extent of the personal information collected on individuals not accused of any crime, including on children as young as 13, and the vagueness of criteria for inclusion, such as ‘…may pose a threat to public security’”. 4
On June 14, 2010, France demanded that Cuba release “all prisoners of thought and conscience” without delay. Cuba, meanwhile, states that no one is imprisoned for crimes of thought, rather they are jailed for receiving financing from the US government, something the dissidents themselves acknowledge. 5
By contrast, Paris officially recognized the existence of "political prisoners", in the words of Minister of Justice Michele Alliot-Marie. The newspaper Le Monde reported this fact in an article from January 31, 2009:
"Asked about the government's promise to house Corsican prisoners near their families, Alliot-Marie declared, "We must be pragmatic. There are 28 cells in the Borgo prison (near Bastia) and 26 are already occupied...." She then continued, "Furthermore, of the 26, eight are political prisoners". Surprise broke out in the small town of Calvi where they are located. "Political prisoners"? The state had always refused to designate as 'political prisoners' those it considers to be common criminals or terrorists while Corsican nationalists themselves openly accept the term.” 6
According to AI, German authorities used “evidence allegedly obtained through torture” in the context of a case of international terrorism. “The prosecution’s indictment relied partly on statements made by the accused while in custody in Pakistan, where he claimed he was beaten and deprived of sleep”. The organization emphasized also that “German investigators had interrogated a detained witness in the presence of the Uzbekistani National Security Police in Tashkent, Uzbekistan where torture is systematic.” 7
Germany expelled “terrorism suspects to places where they are at risk of torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, in contravention of international obligations.” 8
Berlin also participated in the CIA program of secret detentions, despite a German parliamentary inquiry that absolved public figures and the intelligence services of any involvement. “However, Amnesty International found that both the inquiry and the report provided enough evidence to conclude that Germany was complicit in human rights violations”. At the same time, the Federal Constitutional Court found that “the government had violated Constitutional Law by not providing the parliamentary committee of inquiry with relevant documents, which the government said should remain classified in order to protect the welfare of the state”. 9
Germany ordered the expulsion of several asylum seekers to their countries of origin, where they were arrested and tortured by the authorities. Several Roma (“gypsies”) were also expelled to Kosovo, in spite of the risks they faced. According to AI, “the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe expressed concern about these expulsions”. 10
The organization notes that illegal migrants in Germany as well as their children “had limited access to health care, education, and judicial remedies in cases of labor rights violations.” 11
According to AI, security forces were implicated in the death of one detained person. In addition, Germany, in the framework of NATO, is responsible for the fatal air strike which killed 142 people near Kunduz in Afghanistan on September 4, 2009. Under pressure, “three high governmental and military officials were forced to resign in November.” 12
Finally, Berlin still has not ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. There is a specific reason for this, according to the organization: “Germany continued to be a destination and transit country for women trafficked for sexual exploitation”, i.e., a country where prostitution is legal. 13
According to AI, acts of torture and other mistreatment by the police and the security forces are frequent in Spain. “Again this year cases of torture and other maltreatment were documented involving representatives of the law.” The organization points out that after the installation of systems of total video surveillance (CCTV) in autonomous police stations in Catalonia, complaints of violence by police fell by 40 per cent compared to the previous year. Nevertheless, “the national police and the Civil Guard have still not implemented these measures.” In all, more than 230 complaints were filed in 2009 “for torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials”. The organization adds that “no steps had been taken to create an independent police complaints commission, despite repeated recommendations by international human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights Committee.” 14
Several policemen responsible for killings still have not been prosecuted in Spain. Others guilty of violent acts were required to pay fines (600 Euros). AI underscored “an increase in racially motivated identity checks by police”, and denounced attacks on the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. 15
Moreover, “the authorities continued to hold in incommunicado detention people suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activities, despite repeated calls from international human rights bodies for this practice to be abolished.” Thus, “under current legislation, detainees held incommunicado have severely restricted access to legal representation and are at increased risk of torture and other ill-treatment.” The UN Committee against Torture condemned these practices. Several cases of torture were reported in Spanish. 16
Spain is guilty of serious violations of the rights of children. “Children living in state-run homes were exposed to human rights violations.” The information gathered shows complaints of neglect, forced medication, excessive use of force, and both psychological and physical violence by staff.” 17
Also of concern is the situation of women, according to the organization. Domestic violence continues to cause severe harm in Spain. AI notes that “institutional response to other forms of gender-based violence, including human trafficking for sexual exploitation, remains inadequate,” and laments that there is “no institutionalized system for identifying victims of sex trafficking or referring them for assistance.” 18
AI condemns continued persistent discrimination in Spain based on ethnicity and country of origin. The recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia have not been implemented. The Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union has expressed its regret that Spain does not have a national agency to combat discrimination. 19
In Spain, forced disappearances are not yet among crimes registered in the Penal Code. The National Court has refused to investigate forced disappearances dating from the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. Several local criminal courts have described the discovery of mass graves as “ordinary crimes and closed investigations on the grounds that the alleged crimes had passed the statute of limitations”. 20
In the Czech Republic, Roma (gypsies) “faced increasingly overt public hostility”. They are victims “of segregation in schools and housing and discrimination in employment”. Attacks on Roma are common and judicial authorities refuse to disband militias from “the far-right Workers’ Party which organized vigilante patrols targeting Roma.” The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance condemns the “mounting anti-Roma hated speech in public discourse and at repeated demonstrations by extreme right-wing groups” and regrets that authorities refuse the “vigorous implementation of laws prohibiting racist violence and incitement to hatred.” As an example, a Romani family was severely injured after an arson attack on their home. 21
Discrimination against Romani children is also widespread in the Czech Republic. The European Court of Human Rights points out that Prague is guilty of having “discriminated against Romani children by placing them” – because they are Roma -- “in special schools”. According to AI, “Romani children continue to be segregated”. The organization adds that young Romani “were still over-represented in elementary schools and classes for pupils with ‘mild mental disabilities’”, or are placed together in “segregated mainstream schools and classes”, which “often provided inferior education”. The Czech school system “tends to exclude students with special educational needs”. According to a report on discrimination, “nearly half of the Romani pupils in elementary schools either failed their grade or were transferred to special schools”. Meanwhile, the courts dismissed various Romani defendants who denounced proven cases of discrimination. 22
Roma are victims “of segregation in housing”. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance deplored the government’s lack of action on this issue. 23
Recurrent cases of “enforced sterilization of Romani women” persist in the Czech Republic. The Constitutional Court dismissed the claim for damages of a Romani woman “who had been illegally sterilized.” 24
Finally, AI condemned cases of “torture and other ill-treatment” by the authorities. In this regard, “some psychiatric institutions continued to use restraint beds even where there was no risk to the patients or their environment.” In 2004 the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture had recommended without success “the immediate withdrawal from service of cage-beds and the removal as soon as possible of net-beds”. 25
The United Kingdom is guilty of “grave violations of human rights of people held overseas”, specifically of “torture and other mistreatment” carried out by “UK intelligence officers.” British authorities refused any independent investigation and have tried to conceal the involvement of the UK in these cases. 26
London has been implicated in the CIA-run program of illegal kidnappings known as “renditions” and has participated in abuses committed by US authorities. British authorities also made use of evidence obtained under torture. 27
The UK expelled several people to countries where they were at risk of “serious violations of their fundamental rights, particularly torture.” The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights also condemned several cases of violations of the “right of liberty” of Britons imprisoned without charge or trial. 28
AI condemned “control orders” that permit authorities to “restrict the liberty, movement and activities of people purportedly suspected of involvement in terrorism, on the basis of secret intelligence.”A number of people are detained without specific reason. 29
In Iraq, British authorities carried out acts of torture and various murders in detention centers administered by the UK. Thus, Baha Moussa died in Iraq after “having been tortured by UK troops over a period of 36 hours”. 30
In November 2009, Parliament adopted a law related to inquests (which are opened in case of violent death, either sudden or suspicious) that gave the executive “powers to order the suspension of a coroner’s inquest and institute instead an inquiry under the Inquiries Act of 2005, maintaining that the latter would be adequate to investigate the cause of death.” 31
Police and security forces committed “disproportionate use of force, the use of weapons such as batons and shields during charges against demonstrators, and the intentional removal of police identification numbers.” According to AI, “Publically available video footage appeared to show that on April 1 a police officer wearing a helmet and balaclava struck Ian Tomlinson, a 47-year-old newspaper seller, with a baton on the back of his leg, and pushed him over. At the time of contact, Ian Tomlinson had his back turned to a line of riot police, his hands in his pockets, and was walking away from them. Ian Tomlinson collapsed and died shortly afterwards. The police only admitted that contact had occurred following publication of the footage.” 32
In February 2009, the Public Ministry of England announced that “there was insufficient evidence that any offense had been committed by any individual police officers in relation to the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian shot dead by police in London in 2005”. According to AI, “that decision appeared to sanction impunity for the killing”. 33
AI condemns also the impunity for murders of a political nature committed with “state collusion” in the past in United Kingdom. It cites various cases, among them those of “prominent human rights lawyer” Patrick Finucane, Robert Hamill, human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson, and Billy Wright. 34
Lastly, AI points out discrimination against Roma, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. The organization also denounces the administrative detention of children and women. In addition, violence against women and children continues to be a recurrent problem in the United Kingdom. 35
According to reports by Amnesty International, it is difficult for the European Union to pretend that its 1996 Common Position, still in effect, is justified by the human rights situation in Cuba. In reality, the principle nations of the Old World also commit serious human rights violations, often times worse than those committed in Cuba. As such, the moral authority of Brussels becomes questionable in several respects. 36
Spain, through its Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, acknowledges that the current 27-nation European Common Position with respect to Cuba is difficult to defend due to its discriminatory character and Brussels’ lack of credibility. It calls for an end to a policy that has failed and that jeopardizes the image of Europe on the Latin American continent, which in its great majority opposes all arbitrary sanctions against Cuba. The road to normalization of relations between Havana and Brussels passes through the elimination of the Common Position. 37
1 Amnesty International, «Rapport 2010. La situation des droits humains dans le monde», mayo de 2010. http://thereport.amnesty.org/sites/default/files/AIR2010_AZ_FR.pdf(Site accessed June 7, 2010), pp. 115-17.
5El Nuevo Herald, «Francia vuelve a pedir excarcelación de presos de conciencia cubanos», June 14, 2010.
6 Isabelle Mandraud, «Un grain de sable dans la visite de ‘MAM’ en Corse», Le Monde, 31 de enero de 2009.
7 Amnesty International, op. cit. , pp. 14-15.
14 Amnesty International, op. cit. , pp. 101-04
21 Amnesty International, op. cit. , pp. 270-72
26 Amnesty International, op. cit. , pp. 275-79
36El Nuevo Herald, «La UE aplaza revisión de la Posición Común hacia La Habana», June 15, 2010.
37El Nuevo Herald, «Moratinos critica ‘posición común’ de UE», June 1, 2010.
Translated by David Brookbank