14ymedio, Madrid, June 10, 2022 — The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child urges the Cuban State to review the penalties imposed on minors “declared guilty of exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the context of the July 2021 protests.” This is one of the conclusions of the periodic report carried out by this body, based in Geneva, which was issued this Thursday.
In the 14-page document, the UN expresses its concern about several issues since the 11J demonstrations, which are mentioned again in the section on rights violations and torture. Although the committee considers that, in general terms, Cuba doesn’t have problems of this type, “it is very concerned about the complaints received about abuse and ill-treatment during the arrests of children and adolescents that occurred as a result of the protests of 2021.” For this reason, the report urges not only to investigate them, but also to “identify, prosecute and punish those responsible (…) and offer reparation” to the victims.
Freedom of association and peaceful assembly are also of concern to the UN, which considers that the rights of minor political activists and their children are severely restricted. In addition, focusing again on 11j, it highlights that some, “just 13 years old, were violently detained, stolen from their homes during the night without their families being informed of their whereabouts, held incommunicado and transferred to different facilities for lengthy interrogations after participating in the protests. Some of them, it emphasizes, continue to be deprived of their liberty, and the committee is concerned about the “criminal prosecution” of these children under the age of 18, several of whom are sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison for exercising their rights peacefully.
For all these reasons, the Government is urged to put an end to arbitrary restrictions and the criminalization of the right of assembly, in addition to taking measures to prevent the excessive use of force and allow minors to freely associate.
The Committee considers it positive that the age of criminal responsibility is 16 years and not less, as is the case in some countries, but this doesn’t prevent it from recommending an end to the preventive detention of minors, reducing their sentences and establishing a better system of access to justice, which must comply with the norm. They also call for the acceleration of the juvenile penal system, so that appeals, “in particular those for surveillance and detention” linked to 11J are rapidly reviewed and completed.
Beyond the repression of protests, which are new in this period’s report, the document focuses on some other issues. One of them is linked to forced separations from the family due to “international missions.”
The text calls for the amendment of article 135 of the Criminal Code, in order to eliminate obstacles to family reunification, which provides for penalties of between three and eight years in prison for “the public official or employee in charge of carrying out a mission in another country who abandons it or, having completed it and required at any time to return, refuses.”
In addition, and it’s symptomatic, the UN is concerned about the “negative effects” on children whose mothers have been deprived of liberty and urges the Government to look for alternatives for internment of pregnant women and mothers of children.
On another matter, the Committee’s concern about the nutrition problems of Cuban minors is noted. In the midst of a terrible shortage of food products of all kinds, ranging from animal proteins to dairy fats, fruits and meats, and beginning to affect even beans, traditionally used to assuage hunger, the UN warns that despite positive state policies concerning children’s health, the high and growing rate of iron deficiency, as well as childhood obesity, attributed to poor nutrition and excess sugar, is beginning to be very worrying.
In the same section, maternal and child health (PAMI) programs are praised, but strengthening the prevention of prenatal deaths and “promptly addressing the shortage of medical supplies and personnel to care for children” is recommended.
In the last two years, Cuba has worsened in these indicators, which have been partially influenced by the pandemic, but also by the abandonment of programs due to lack of funding and the flight of doctors, which affects the country. Thus, and although the island maintains good rates in relation to the continent, some provinces have higher infant mortality data than other globally worse countries, such as Mexico or El Salvador. Ciego de Ávila, in particular, is the worst, with a rate of 13.8 babies deceased per thousand births in 2021, almost double the island’s average, with 7.6 per thousand.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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