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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers Cuba's report

GENEVA (16 August 2018) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined nineteenth to twenty-first periodic report of Cuba on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez, Director General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, noted that no country had succeeded in completely eradicating all forms of racial discrimination, which should further motivate the authorities to counter all manifestations of that scourge.  It was not possible to address the fight against racial discrimination in Cuba without speaking about the Cuban revolution which had triumphed in the country almost 60 years ago.  It was the revolution that had eliminated conditions for exclusion, inequality and poverty to which the majority of the population in the country had been condemned to, especially the black and mixed population, farmers and women.  There was no concept of pure origin in Cuban culture.  Accordingly, there had never been a legal or political recognition of different ethnicities or national minorities.  There was no institutionalized or structural racial discrimination in Cuba.  The Constitution of 1976 prohibited any discrimination based on race or skin colour, and the right to equality was fully incorporated in the national legal order.  The Criminal Code of 1987 severely punished the crime of apartheid and the crime against equality.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts highlighted Cuba’s strong commitment to the Convention, to the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, and the International Decade for People of African Descent, and its solidarity with developing countries in the areas of health, education and culture.  Nevertheless, they noted that racial discrimination continued to be present in Cuban society, in spite of the efforts of the authorities in the past decades.  It had structural characteristics and a disproportionate effect on people of African descent.  The Committee Experts further inquired about the definition of racial discrimination in line with the Convention, statistical data about race and colour, the implementation of the principle of self-identification, national plans and strategies to combat racial discrimination, national anti-discrimination legislation, the prison population, the protection of human rights defenders, the State’s dialogue with civil society, the situation of Afro-descendant women, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, new migration policies, the provision of the Criminal Code on illegal entry into Cuban territory, the lack of a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles, the  representation of black Cubans in political leadership, the rights of indigenous people, and the multiple forms of discrimination faced by women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

In concluding remarks, Silvio José Albuquerque Silva, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Cuba, noted that divergences and discrepancies in perception were healthy and they expressed the vitality of the United Nations human rights monitoring system.  It was important to be sensitive and balanced when dealing with a wide range of sources of information, and to bring closer victims’ and States’ perspectives.
 
On his part, Mr. Reyes Rodriguez thanked the Committee Experts and expressed satisfaction with the dialogue.

Committee Chairperson Noureddine Amir thanked the Cuban delegation for having shed light on many issues of concern for the Committee.  The delegation had based its answers on the history of forging Cuban national identity, and presented the Cuban nation as it was and not as others wanted to see it.  

The delegation of Cuba included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office, and of the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to consider the combined tenth and eleventh periodic report of Japan (CERD/C/JPN/10-11).  

Report

The Committee has before it the combined nineteenth to twenty-first periodic report of Cuba: CERD/C/CUB/19-21.  

Presentation of the Report

RODOLFO REYES RODRIGUEZ, Director General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, said that the State party’s report was the result of a participatory process of consultations, which had involved Government institutions and civil society.  Cuba was taking part in the dialogue with the Committee in order to continue advancing the protection and promotion of all human rights for all at the international level, and to fight racial discrimination.  Mr. Reyes Rodriguez noted that no country had succeeded in completely eradicating all forms of racial discrimination, which should further motivate the authorities to counter all manifestations of that scourge.  It was not possible to address the fight against racial discrimination in Cuba without speaking about the Cuban revolution which had triumphed in the country almost 60 years ago.  It was the revolution that had eliminated conditions for exclusion, inequality and poverty to which the majority of the population in the country had been condemned to, especially the black and mixed population, farmers and women.  The revolution had definitively eradicated institutionalized racial discrimination and the practices of segregation which had existed in the country before 1959, and which had been the outcome of its colonial past and of foreign models which were not in line with the ethical standards of the Cuban people.  It was the Cuban revolution that had supported the liberation of South Africa from apartheid.  It was part of the revolution’s foreign policy to condemn the crimes against humanity committed through slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which constituted the root of many profound social and economic inequalities.  The will of the Cuban people to fight injustice was evident in their resistance to the unjust economic blockade imposed by the United States.  

The head of the delegation stressed that Cuba was proud of its mixed ethnic and racial diversity, which constituted its national strength.  There was no concept of pure origin in Cuban culture.  Accordingly, there had never been a legal or political recognition of different ethnicities or national minorities.  The concept of “Afro-Cuban” or “Afro-descendant” was alien to the Cuban reality, as were “Hispano-Cubano” and “Indo-Cubano.”  Everyone was Cuban.  There was no institutionalized or structural racial discrimination in Cuba.  The Constitution of 1976 prohibited any discrimination based on race or skin colour, and the right to equality was fully incorporated in the national legal order.  The Criminal Code of 1987 severely punished the crime of apartheid and the crime against equality.  There was no discrimination in guaranteeing victims’ access to legal recourse, and there was no room for impunity of public officials in case of abuse.  

According to the latest census in 2012, 35.9 per cent of the population considered themselves as black or mixed-race.  The Government accorded utmost importance to the protection of life of all persons under all circumstances.  The results achieved in the areas of education, health, social protection, comprehensive care for family, children, persons with disabilities, elderly, and women had benefited the entire population, without any distinction on the basis of skin colour.  In 2017, infant mortality stood at 4 per 1,000, which was the lowest ever in the history of Cuba, whereas maternal mortality stood at 38 per 100,000 live births.  The head of the delegation underlined that 41 per cent of parliamentary deputies were black or mixed-race.  They also made up 26 per cent of the Council of Ministers.  The International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2025) was implemented through a national plan of action with commemorative activities, awareness raising campaigns, and academic debates.  Despite all those activities, there were still racial stereotypes, prejudices and racist speech.  In 2017, the authorities had identified a case of racial discrimination which had been ruled as a crime against the right to equality.  Another challenge was the gathering of reliable statistics on racial discrimination.  Although Cuba did not have a national plan for the eradication of racial discrimination, it did have several sectoral plans, which would constitute the basis for a future national action plan.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

SILVIO JOSÉ ALBUQUERQUE SILVA, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Cuba, highlighted Cuba’s strong commitment to the Convention, to the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, and of the International Decade for People of African Descent, and its solidarity with developing countries in the areas of health, education and culture.  Notwithstanding the serious economic obstacles faced by Cuba, partly due to the United States blockade, the Country Rapporteur welcomed the State party’s efforts to implement economic programmes that benefited mostly black and mixed-race populations.  

Mr. Albuquerque Silva noted that racial discrimination continued to be present in Cuban society, in spite of the efforts of the authorities in the past decades.  It had structural characteristics and a disproportionate effect on those of African descent.  It was not limited only to inter-personal relations.  The issue of mixed race in Latin America had been used to construct national identity in many countries since the 1920s.  However, the mixing of races and ethnicities had not impeded racial discrimination.  Accordingly, the Committee was interested in receiving more details about how Cuba gathered statistical data about race and colour.  Was data collection based on self-identification?  

Turning to national plans and strategies to combat racial discrimination, Mr. Albuquerque Silva inquired about their progress and impact on the prevention, registering, investigation and adjudication of racist or xenophobic incidents.

Speaking of national anti-discrimination legislation, the Country Rapporteur observed that Cuba had not incorporated in its legislation a definition of racial discrimination in line with article 1 of the Convention.  He recommended that the State party adopt a clause that would making racial discrimination as an aggravating circumstance.

Mr. Albuquerque Silva further asked for statistical data on the prison population, and about the national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles.  

What measures had been adopted to ensure that victims of racial discrimination received adequate information about their rights and legal recourses available to them?  What kind of sentences had been handed down for acts of racial discrimination?  What measures had been taken to protect human rights defenders, particularly when they defended the rights of persons of African descent?  The Country Rapporteur further asked about statistical data on the excessive use of force by the police against persons of African descent.

Mr. Albuquerque Silva underlined that he had received information that some representatives of Cuban civil society had been prevented from traveling to Geneva to participate in the dialogue with the Committee.  There may have been acts of reprisals against human rights defenders.  

On the freedom of expression and opinion, the Country Rapporteur said that the Committee had received reports on the harassment of and threats to independent Afro-Cuban journalists, as well as limitations on peaceful assembly of citizens.  

The Country Rapporteur also inquired about the access of Afro-descendent women to the key sectors of the economy, and their participation in political life, as well as about public policies to combat violence against women.  

What measures were in place to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity?  Could the delegation elaborate on the proposal to include it as a ground for non-discrimination?  

Turning to the situation of refugees, asylum-seekers and other non-nationals, Mr. Albuquerque Silva inquired about the new migration policies which had entered into force in 2018, and about the provision in the Criminal Code on illegal entry into Cuban territory and its incompatibility with international law.  

As for dialogue with civil society, the Country Rapporteur said that it was not clear what kind of consultation mechanisms were in place.  How many non-governmental organizations had participated in the drafting of the State party’s report?  What were their names?  
 
Questions by Other Experts

GUN KUT, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, informed that Cuba had submitted its follow-up report one year later than expected.  The Committee was interested in knowing about appropriate legal remedies for the violations of the Convention.  The second issue concerned combatting of racial stereotypes and prejudices in general, and particularly in the media, whereas the third issue referred to the Criminal Code article on illegal entry into Cuban territory.  

Experts inquired whether the draft Constitution contained specific provisions on Cubans of African descent.  Was Cuba ready to take a step forward in recognizing its cultural diversity?  They further asked about how the population census was carried out and how the principle of self-identification was applied.  How could the Cuban economy be structured to end the exclusion of Cubans of African descent, considering that most of them lived in shanty towns with very limited access to basic services?  How many Cubans of African descent were in the leadership of the Communist Party?

Would the State party consider amending the current Labour Law to directly prohibit direct and indirect discrimination in all facets of employment, and not only access to employment?

An Expert praised Cuba’s contribution to international peace and security, namely with respect to the recent signing of the peace agreements between FARC and the Colombian Government, echoing the Cuban motto that it did not share its crumbs, but what it had on the table.  While other countries sent armed commandos to Latin American countries, Cuba had sent teams of medical doctors, another Expert observed.  

One Expert agreed that there was no institutionalized and structural racism in Cuba.  Cuba had a very high life expectancy, very low maternal mortality, and a very low crime rate, with results rivalling those of Canada and Chile.  And yet, according to the risk of falling into poverty, Cuba ranked as thirteenth in the region.  Economic development had left most people of African descent behind.  
 
Speaking of the constitutional reforms, Experts inquired about the intention of the State party to include a definition of racial discrimination in line with the Convention.  How many cases of racial discrimination had been brought to court, prosecuted and adjudicated?  What was the composition of the prison population in Cuba?  

What was the recognition process for the rights of indigenous people in Cuba?  Was there any statistical data on access to tertiary education disaggregated by ethnicity and skin colour?  

There was no information on invoking the Convention before courts, one Expert said.  Had the State party adopted measures to assist victims to lodge complaints?  Had members of the judiciary received any training about hate crimes and on providing assistance to victims?  

Experts also inquired about multiple forms of discrimination faced by women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.  Were there specialized units to address crimes committed based on ethnicity, race, sexual orientation and gender identity, and disability?  

What measures had the State party adopted to ensure a safe environment for human rights defenders?

Replies by the Delegation

RODOLFO REYES RODRIGUEZ, Director General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, thanked the Committee Experts for their expressions of recognition of Cuba’s efforts.  Cuba did recognize the concept of Afro-descendants and had supported it throughout Latin America.  Cuba’s struggle for independence was the struggle against slavery and racism.  Some 36 per cent of the Politburo members was black or mixed-race.  

Cuba supported the fourth international conference on racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia and found that it was necessary in light of the ongoing discrimination against black migrants in the United States and elsewhere, the head of the delegation noted.

It was important to respect how people self-identified.  Mr. Reyes Rodriguez could not offer statistical data on the composition of the prison population, but he did say that it reflected wider social self-identification of people.

The United States embargo against Cuba was not an isolated measure; it was clearly intended to destroy the economic and social system in Cuba, and was part of a broader hostile policy of the United States since the 1960s and the Bay of Pigs invasion, and part of a pattern of terrorist activities by Cuban Americans financed by the United States Government until the 1990s.  

The United States had great clout on forging international opinion.  Many human rights defenders were no more than lackeys of the United States, getting a pay check from the United States Administration.  In Europe, the radical right filled their pockets.  They had produced alleged cases of harassment against human rights defenders.  Mr. Reyes Rodriguez denied that the Government had carried out any such reprisals and harassment.  If any people had been subjected to sanctions, it was because they had broken Cuba’s laws.  No one had gone missing, been tortured or been extrajudicially killed.  Alleged reprisals were part of political propaganda by United States’ organizations, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the head of the delegation clarified.  

A delegation member recounted his experience as a young Cuban fighting against apartheid and colonialism in Angola and Namibia, and stressed that Cubans of African descent were primarily Cubans.  Only a race-free society could show that socialism was the truest form of civilizing power.  All Cubans had an African grandmother, a Spanish grandmother, and a Chinese grandmother.  Cubans were not structured into ethnic majorities and minorities.
 
RODOLFO REYES RODRIGUEZ, Director General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, thanked the Secretariat for having uploaded the written contributions of two Cuban non-governmental organizations.  

Speaking of the self-identification of Cubans, the delegation said that the latest census had taken place in 2012 and it was the first one which had taken into account self-identification.  Cubans usually grouped themselves in three categories: black, white or mixed-race.  However, those categories did not precisely reflect the ethnic origin of people, nor did they correspond to how people self-identified.  Latin culture was a mestizo culture, with regional variations.  The mestizo culture in Cuba had its own particularities; there was a single mestizo culture there.  But it was not a solution to racial prejudices.  
     
The draft article 42 of the Constitution no longer contained the reference to “race.”  Instead, legislation spoke of origin.  The five centuries of colonial racial discrimination could not be so easily overcome by the 60 years of efforts.  There was no ethnographic segregation in Cuba and there were no exclusively black, white or mestizo neighbourhoods in the country.  However, there were disadvantaged neighbourhoods, but they did have access to basic services.  

The history taught in Cuban schools was not about European white men in Cuba; it dealt with all of the diverse ethnic groups in the country.  

Sectoral plans contained specific tasks that bodies had to fulfil to combat racial discrimination.  The José Antonio Aponte Commission coordinated the drafting of sectoral plans with the Government.  Recognizing the challenges for Afro-descendant women, the delegation noted that 53 per cent of parliamentarians in Cuba were women.  Black and mixed-race women were well represented across different sectors.  At the institutional level, the staff reflected the general population of Cuba, for example prosecutorial staff was made of 65 per cent of whites, 22 per cent mixed-raced persons, and 12 per cent blacks.  
 
Turning to indigenous peoples, the delegation explained that there were native Arawakans, as well as other indigenous peoples brought from other parts of Latin America as slaves.  Many of them had mixed with other ethnic groups, and they were part of the genes of the Cuban people.

The Criminal Code regulated the crime of apartheid and the crime against the right to equality.  It did not regulate racial motivation as an aggravating circumstance.  As part of the process to bolster the legal framework of the country, many laws had been updated.  The inclusion of racial motivation as an aggravating factor was currently being discussed.  The Criminal Code provided the Attorney General with the power to examine all elements of crimes of racial discrimination, which could carry a prison sentence of three years.  Any citizen could lodge a complaint to competent authorities.  

Racial discrimination was not a socially widespread phenomenon in Cuba.  Nonetheless, several institutions were working to encourage a legal culture among citizens and to ensure that all victims of crimes were aware of their rights and legal recourses available to them.  Courts had not had proceedings on crimes of apartheid and crimes against the right to equality, except for one recent case which had been done in administrative terms.  

The Labour Code stipulated the fundamental principles governing the right to work and barred any discrimination based on skin colour, gender, sexual orientation and origin in employment or remuneration.  The term “race” had been deleted.  There were various channels to make complaints before the administration and courts with respect to the right to work.  Article 63 of the Constitution recognized the right of all citizens to lodge complaints, including for racial discrimination.  There were no public prosecutors that dealt strictly with the crimes under article 4 of the Convention (i.e. promotion and incitement to racial hatred).  But there were public prosecutors dealing specifically with victim protection.  

The authorities had strengthened the communication campaigns and dissemination work of the Attorney General’s Office to enhance citizens’ knowledge about whom to turn to in case their rights were violated.  International conventions were part and parcel of Cuban legislation, and they took precedence over national legislation.  Even though the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination had not been invoked by courts so far, other international conventions had been invoked.  The new draft of the Constitution contained more specific regulations on referring to international conventions in national law.

As for the provision of the Criminal Code on illegal entry into Cuban territory, the delegation explained that its occurrence was rare and linked with trafficking of migrants.  With respect to the new migration measures, including those to end statelessness, the delegation informed that requirements for acquiring Cuban nationality had been relaxed for children born to Cuban parents abroad.  

The activities of human rights defenders covered many areas and there were no limits on their work, the delegation stressed.  The Government did not use harassment, threats, and excessive use of force against them.  The police intervened only to maintain public security and order, in line with the law.  Many human rights defenders mentioned by Special Procedures had been sanctioned because they had broken Cuban law, and not because they had acted as human rights defenders.

On cooperation with civil society while drafting the State party’s report, the delegation reminded that the authorities had consulted all relevant non-governmental organizations.  The delegation noted that the Paris Principles were not the only internationally accepted standards for setting up national human rights institutions.  Cuba had a variety of organizations to receive, investigate and prosecute any complaints by citizens.  So far, the Cuban authorities had not seen any need to create a national institution to comply with the Paris Principles.  

Speaking about mechanisms to fight against discriminatory behaviour in the police force, the delegation reminded that the Criminal Code contained aggravating circumstances with harsher sentences for public officials who committed abuse of power.  In addition, the police and army forces received training on their responsibilities and human rights.  The authorities were not pleased with the results achieved so far, and were accordingly working on enhancing the outcomes of the training.

Second Round of Questions by Committee Experts

SILVIO JOSÉ ALBUQUERQUE SILVA, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Cuba, clarified that he had spoken of structural discrimination that was a result of a certain historical process.  Mr. Albuquerque Silva underlined the difference between external identification and self-identification.  The only Latin American countries that had consistently collated information on “blackness” throughout the twentieth century were Brazil and Cuba.  To what extent had the method of self-identification in Cuba jeopardized the implementation of the Convention?  

The Country Rapporteur asked about the legal basis for preventing certain Cuban human rights defenders from traveling to Geneva and taking part in the dialogue with the Committee.  Reprisals and threats against human rights defenders in Latin America were frequent, and particularly those defending lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons could face life threatening situations.  It was therefore perplexing that there had been no reprisals against human rights defenders in Cuba since the revolution.  There was an absolute lack of punishment for threats against human rights defenders for major violators, namely the State, Mr. Albuquerque noted.  

Experts commended the efforts of the Cuban authorities to foster a unified Cuban identity.  However, if there were no distinctions, where did racism come from?  What about discrimination that was historically entrenched?  

How was the National Action Plan for Combatting Trafficking in Persons 2017-2022 implemented?  

Speaking of the Chinese community in Cuba, whose members had arrived there as contracted labourers since the 1850s, an Expert inquired whether they were fully integrated in the Cuban population?

How was the part of history when Cubans had helped liberation movements across Africa portrayed in Cuban history books and taught in schools?

Replies by the Delegation

RODOLFO REYES RODRIGUEZ, Director General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, said that different people thought different things, and that perhaps the Committee and the delegation would not see eye to eye on many issues.  There were people who manipulated information against Cuba.  That information was not consistent, but it did not seem to pose a problem for the credulous people who believed it.  There was an attempt by some to privatize human rights and reinforce the idea that only human rights defenders lodged complaints.  Government officials were also human rights defenders.

The head of the delegation confirmed that there had been attacks on black leaders, such as the murder of Jesus Menendez, a leader of workers in the sugar cane industry in 1948.  Before 1959, there was a high-level conflict between the State authorities and social leaders.  A qualitative change in society had taken place in Cuba after the revolution.  But there were still prejudices in Cuba nowadays, such as the recent case when a white taxi driver had refused to provide service to a black woman.

The Chinese community existed in Havana.  Many of the Chinese labourers who had first arrived in Cuba in the mid-nineteenth century were single men who had married black or mixed-race women because they had been discriminated against by whites.  Most of them had lost ties with China.  

PEDRO LUIS PEDROSO CUESTA, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations Office at Geneva, welcomed the legitimate questions by the Committee Experts.  Cuba was different from other countries and, therefore, it should not be strong armed into accepting positions it found illegitimate.  Nobody was the holder of the truth and no one should be boxed into one globalized way of thinking.  Cuba did not have to accept such a way of thinking.

Turning to human rights defenders, the Ambassador invited the Committee to study the history of Cuba.  No one seemed to be concerned about the 20,000 Cubans murdered by the Bautista.  The revolutionary army had not executed or tried a single soldier of the Bautista regime.  During the invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961, the revolutionary army had not murdered a single invading mercenary.  Nobody spoke about the illegal imprisonment of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was the main human rights defender in Brazil.  None of the non-governmental organizations who usually accused Cuba of violating human rights had criticized the daily murder of political leaders in other Latin American countries.  The concept of human rights defenders had become misused.  There was no significant dissidence in Cuba; most people supported Castro.  Transnational media companies had imposed certain views and determined the content circulating on social networks.

The delegation acknowledged that the Committee was looking at Cuban society from a different prism, but its response remained the same: there was no structural discrimination in Cuba.  

Concluding Remarks

SILVIO JOSÉ ALBUQUERQUE SILVA, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Cuba, restated his appreciation for the State party’s commitment to take part in the dialogue.  Divergences and discrepancies in perception were healthy and they expressed the vitality of the United Nations human rights monitoring system.  It was the Committee’s obligation to objectively analyse States’ efforts to implement the Convention.  It was important to be sensitive and balanced when dealing with a wide range of sources of information, and to bring closer victims’ and States’ perspectives.  The role of the Rapporteur was not to ignore the progress made by States parties.  Cuba had indeed made efforts to implement the Convention, even though they had not always been sufficient.
 
RODOLFO REYES RODRIGUEZ, Director General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, thanked the Committee Experts and expressed satisfaction with the dialogue.

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, thanked the Cuban delegation for having shed light on many issues of concern for the Committee.  The delegation had based its answers on the history of forging Cuban national identity, and presented the Cuban nation as it was and not as others wanted to see it.

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