Over the course of this year the Commission continued to receive disturbing information about grave violations of the human rights of persons deprived of liberty in Cuba. During the hearing held during the 153rd period of sessions,508 it was reported that the main problems continue to be overcrowding; the subhuman conditions of imprisonment to which the inmates are subjected, particularly the lack of medical care; the excessive use of force and the commission of acts of torture and cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, particularly beatings and the arbitrary and abusive application of solitary confinement in punishment cells, which in general are dark holes infested with vermin and insects; the corruption and lack of transparency in prison management; the lack of judicial control over arrests and the large margin of discretion given to the police; and the complete lack of mechanisms for independent oversight and for the inmates or their family members to submit petitions and complaints to the administration.
The organizations that participated in this hearing indicated that hunger strikes are quashed by confining inmates in punishment cells and depriving them of water as a deterrent. They also stressed that the exact number of inmates who die due to causes directly attributable to the authorities themselves is unknown and that truthful information is not given to family members nor are these deaths investigated. They further noted that family visits are arbitrarily restricted or prevented and special attention is not given to individuals who belong to vulnerable groups. The members of the Commission considered the situation described to be particularly serious and highlighted, inter alia, the need to establish independent mechanisms for the oversight of the general conditions of the prison facilities, to establish a specialized jurisdiction for cases of juvenile offenders, and to prevent, investigate, and disclose the true causes of death of persons in State custody. According to the hearing participants, there are reportedly between 65,000 and 70,000 persons imprisoned in Cuba.
In Cuba, the Prison Facilities Office of the Ministry of the Interior [Dirección de Establecimientos Penitenciarios del Ministerio del Interior] (MININT), under the authority of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers, is currently the body in charge of handling the fundamental elements of prison administration. In addition, pursuant to the Law of the Office of the Prosecutor, agents of the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Republic are authorized to perform prison inspections, to verify compliance with legal regulations regarding prison operations, and to monitor respect for the rights of the individuals imprisoned in any detention center. However, the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Republic reports to the People’s Power General Assembly and to the Council of State, from which it receives direct orders. In practice, this severely limits its independence and means that its legal monitoring powers are without effect. In this context, the hearing participants emphasized that one of the most serious problems facing the Cuban prison system is corruption, which is kept completely out of the public eye. Acts of corruption are allegedly linked, for example, to obtaining transfers, to the sale of certificates of good conduct, of psychological reports, or of participation in work or study activities, conjugal visits, or access to telephone services, among other services that the State is obligated to provide to the prison population in conditions of equality. In Cuba, prison facilities are managed and overseen by military personnel.
Furthermore, it has been observed that prison authorities typically disguise the reality of the prison facilities when individuals who are not part of the system visit them, or when images are to be given to the press. At these times, the prisoners are brought out of their cells, the food quality improves for the duration of the visit, and the sanitary and hygiene conditions are surprisingly improved. What is more, some prisoners are generally threatened to prevent them from describing the reality of the prison facility, and others are bought with incentives and the promise of privileges. Those who dare to express their opinions on the true prison conditions, however, are subjected to beatings, punishments, and transfers to distant sites509.
According to the most recent census in Cuba (2012) –the results were released in 2014– the Afro-descendant population constitutes 9.2% of the Cuban population (879.512 inhabitants)510. In this regard, the Cuban chapter of Regional Network of Afrodescendants in Latin America and the Caribbean (ARAC), during the celebration of the First Day against racial discrimination in Cuba (2014), noted that because more than 50% of the population are" non-white", the referred census does not acknowledge the "large sector of the Cuban [Afro-descendant] population" living in Cuba.511Likewise, the Citizens Committee for Racial Integration (CIR) has also expressed concern on the accuracy of the statistics related to this population in previous census.512
During 2014, various civil society organizations expressed concern on racial discrimination confronted by the Afro-descendant population, which is reflected in social inequality, and in the denial of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of this population513. Likewise, according to local press, the Cuban government would have perpetrated physical and psychological abuses against the "Cuban anti-racism activists", would have defamed them, and exercised "police repression on peaceful and inclusive anti-racist events and initiatives."514
In the Declaration emitted by the II CELAC Summit which was held in Havana in January 2014, the States representatives –including Cuba– established that they would give priority attention to the Afro-descendant population in order to promote the growth, progress and social inclusion in their States-515 this, in line with the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2025), proclaimed by the UN.