By Richard Waddington | Reuters
A special U.N. rights envoy has urged Cuba to free all political dissidents, grant freedom of expression and lift restrictions on travel.
In her annual report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, French magistrate Christine Chanet said Cuba had continued to arrest dissidents, while journalists had been “threatened and intimidated.”
She also accused Cuba of giving “disproportionate” sentences to those jailed for the mere expression of views, and repeated her alarm at the jail conditions some prisoners faced.
Chanet, who was appointed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in early 2003 to probe allegations of abuse in Cuba, has been repeatedly refused permission to visit the Communist Caribbean state.
Amongst 10 recommendations in the report was a call to the Marxist government of President Fidel Castro to “release detained persons who have not committed acts of violence against individuals and property.”
Chanet also urged Cuba to halt the “prosecution of citizens who are exercising” such freedoms as expression, religion and assembly guaranteed under articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“In 2004, more people were arrested and given disproportionate sentences for expressing dissident political opinions,” she said.
The continuing detention of 61 of the some 80 dissidents, whose arrest in March and April 2003 caused an international uproar, while working as journalists, writers, members of associations, remained a deep concern.
Most of those detained had been involved in organisations collecting signatures for the calling of a referendum on changing the electoral system and other legislative reforms.
“The personal representative of the High Commissioner is alarmed at the allegations of ill-treatment in detention submitted by families of prisoners,” she said, repeating a concern she raised in her first report in February 2004.
Chanet said that Cuba could point to many positive developments in the economic, social and cultural areas, particularly in health and education.
It was also “impossible to ignore the disastrous and lasting economic and social effects” of the economic embargo enforced by the United States, and which had worsened in 2004.
Far from encouraging the granting of more freedom, the tensions created by the embargo, which she noted had been condemned by the U.N. General Assembly, such acts “provide the Cuban authorities with an opportunity to tighten repression.”
The United States is expected to press for another motion critical of Cuba at the annual six-week session of the commission, which begins in Geneva on March 14.
Last year, a resolution brought by Honduras, urging Cuba to carry out reforms, passed the 53-state body by just one vote.