Cuba Welcomes First Visit from UN Special Rapporteur in Nearly 10 Years
First the first time in nearly 10 years, a United Nations independent expert visited Cuba on an official country visit when the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, toured the country from April 10 to 14, 2017. The purpose of the Special Rapporteur’s visit was to assess the situation of victims of human trafficking, in particular for sexual and labor exploitation, and to assess measures that protect and provide victims with effective remedies. [OHCHR Press Release] Her visit concluded with a press conference in which she set forth criteria to combat human trafficking, including the establishment of awareness-raising programs regarding the perception of risk, and praised Cuba for its political will to combat human trafficking and its free healthcare, education, and social security systems, which help reduce vulnerabilities that can lead to trafficking. [Reuters; Cuba Debate (in Spanish)] The findings made during this visit will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2018. The last official visit to Cuba by a UN independent expert was conducted between October 28 and November 6, 2007, by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler. See Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, UN Doc. A/HRC/7/5/Add.3, 3 March 2008.
The Special Rapporteur’s Visit
During the visit, the Special Rapporteur met with both government officials and non-governmental entities. In visiting with the Special Rapporteur, the Cuban Minister reaffirmed the State’s commitment to implement its national action plan on trafficking and to protect victims of trafficking. The Cuban Minister also reiterated a desire for international cooperation to combat human trafficking. [ACN (in Spanish)] Cuba’s National Action Plan for the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons and the Protection of Victims for the period 2017-2020, which was submitted to the Special Rapporteur prior to her visit, confirms the State’s commitment to comply with the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which aims to facilitate the prevention and protection of human trafficking victims. [Permanent Mission to Cuba Press Release] Additionally, the Special Rapporteur met with the Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero, and held meetings with the President of the National Assembly of People’s Power, Esteban Lazo, and Justice Minister María Esther Reus, with whom the Special Rapporteur discussed Cuba’s action plan to prevent human trafficking. [Diario de Cuba (in Spanish)]
The Special Rapporteur visited the National Sex Education Center (CENESEX) to learn more about the organization, to evaluate Cuba’s political will in confronting trafficking in persons, and to assess the viability of Cuba’s national action plan. [Prensa Latina (in Spanish); Diario de Cuba] During her visit to CENESEX, the Special Rapporteur sought information regarding actions aimed at combating human trafficking, in particular with regard to the trafficking of LGBTI persons. [Diario de Cuba] She noted that transsexual individuals are especially vulnerable to violence and trafficking. [Diario de Cuba]
On April 14, the Special Rapporteur held a press conference to conclude her visit in which she identified challenges facing Cuba with regard to human trafficking. Specifically, she mentioned migrants in Cuba who have been deceived in third countries or are using Cuba as a launching point to immigrate to the United States. [20minutos (in Spanish)] She expressed concern over reported sexual abuse of children; Cuba’s legal framework which categorizes persons as minors only until they are 16 years old, not 18, for criminal law purposes; and the social stigmatization of prostitution, but considered positive that prostitution is not considered a crime. [Reuters; 20minutos]
Cuba’s Engagement with International Human Rights Mechanisms
Cuba has regional and international human rights obligations. As a Member of the Organization of American States, Cuba is subject to obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. Therefore, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights may decide complaints against the State and may also hold hearings or issue reports on the human rights situation there. Cuba has not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights nor has it accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Cuba has failed to show up to hearings before the Inter-American Commission in which it was named as the respondent State in the last few years. [Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights: April 2016; Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights: October 2015; Human Rights Brief: March 2015; Human Rights Brief: October 2014]
As a UN Member State, Cuba is subject to the oversight of various UN human rights bodies, including the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review and thematic special procedures. Although Cuba does not allow UN treaty bodies to review individual complaints against it, it has ratified the following treaties: the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
As a party to these treaties, Cuba has a duty to submit State reports to each treaty body that is associated with the relevant treaty Cuba has ratified. These reports must be submitted on a periodic basis and describe the steps Cuba has taken to implement the treaty provisions. In recent years, Cuba submitted a report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) in 2011, a report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 2010, and another report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on its optional protocol in 2015 that all addressed, at least in part, trafficking in persons. The CEDAW Committee issued concluding observations on Cuba in 2013, stating its concern that Cuba refuses to recognize the exploitation of prostitution, and the CRC most recently issued concluding observations on Cuba in relation to the optional protocol to the CRC in 2015.
Prior to the Special Rapporteur on the right to food’s visit to Cuba in 2007, the last UN special procedures mandate holder to visit the State was the Special Rapporteur on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination in 1999. Cuba has accepted the request of the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity to visit next month. See OHCHR, View Country visits of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council since 1998.
The Special Rapporteur said at the end of her visit that she hopes inviting her to conduct a country visit is the first step towards more serious engagement of Cuba with other aspects of the United Nations human rights system. Civil society members, though, have noted that Cuba is less likely to invite experts to visit who examine particular issues areas, such as torture and inhuman treatment, and freedom of expression. [Reuters]
Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children is charged with monitoring human rights violations against trafficked persons and combating these violations. The Special Rapporteur is appointed for a three-year period, during which time the Special Rapporteur conducts country visits, receives complaints and communicates with governments concerning alleged human rights violations against trafficked persons, and submits reports to the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council. See IJRC, Special Rapporteur in trafficking in persons, especially women and children. In July 2014, the mandate of the current Special Rapporteur was extended for an additional three years. See UN General Assembly, Resolution 26/8, Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/RES/26/8, 17 July 2014.
For more information on the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children and special procedures, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.