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EU ANNUAL REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD 2020 COUNTRY UPDATES
#1 EU ANNUAL REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD 2020 COUNTRY UPDATES
EU ANNUAL REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD 2020 COUNTRY UPDATES
Republic of Cuba 1.
Overview of the human rights and democracy situation:
The human rights situation in Cuba remained difficult. Facing major economic challenges, Cuba launched a number of economic and financial reform measures, including unifying its two currencies and multiple exchange rates on 1 January 2021, with a potentially far-reaching social impact, in particular on inequality.
The transposition into law of key civil and due process rights introduced by the new Cuban constitution in 2019 was postponed, as several laws and decrees were rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Freedom of expression, association, and assembly continued to be subject to important restrictions in 2020, with reports of numerous arbitrary arrests and detentions. Freedom of movement and expression suffered further restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as strict measures adopted to contain the spread of the virus were also used against activists.
The pandemic also prompted the authorities to release over 6,000 detainees to prevent contagions in prisons.
Press freedom remained a reason for concern, with Cuba ranking among the ten ‘least free’ countries in the world.
47 Multiple sources reported threats of prosecution under charges of ‘contempt’ and ‘propagation of epidemic’ being used to restrict citizen reporting on social media, whereas a number of journalists and bloggers were fined under the Decree 370 on the Digitalisation of Cuban Society.
Improved access to the internet since 2018 has been a positive development, fostering citizens' access to information, allowing debates on social media and access to media content from abroad.However, a range of news websites are not accessible from Cuba. Political activists, human rights defenders and independent journalists continued to face restrictions on domestic and foreign travel, in addition to frequent measures preventing them from leaving their homes, de facto amounting to house arrest. Organised political opposition remains illegal.
To date, Amnesty International formally recognises three prisoners of conscience in Cuba (Josiel Guía Piloto, Mitzael Díaz Paseiro, Edilberto Ronal Arzuaga Alcalá). The emerging and increasingly diversified civil society has become more focused on its demands, often mobilising around specific issues and calling for real dialogue with the authorities. Cuba’s traditionally positive track record on social and economic rights has been eroding, as universal health coverage and education have been steadily undermined by financial shortages, economic inefficiencies, and the economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The US embargo, further tightened under the Trump administration, and its extraterritorial application have a crippling effect on Cuba’s economic development and its emerging self-employed sector, also limiting its ability to source medications and equipment to tackle the COVID-19 epidemic. The private sector was hit hard by the collapse of tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 200,000 self-employed closing their businesses and returning their licences.
Economic reforms announced in June 2020 could have a positive effect on the private sector in the long run. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba has adopted epidemiological measures thatwere successful in containing the spread of the infection and ensuring low mortality rates. The pandemic has increased demand for Cuba's medical expertise, with 55 health brigades deployed to 40 (including European) countries.
Cuba is also developing a number of potential vaccines.Cuba maintained its policy focus on non-discrimination, gender equality, protection of the rights of the child, as well as the rights of people with disabilities.
The problem of gender violence is recognised by the 2019 Constitution and the government adopted in November a National Programme for the Advancement of Women, having launched a programme against racial discrimination in 2019. Reform of the Family Code legalising same-sex marriage, initially scheduled to be put to referendum in 2021, has been postponed.
EU action - key focus areas:
In line with the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024, the EU focused in Cuba on protecting and empowering individuals and in particular:
•Support to human rights defenders;
•Monitoring and follow-up on cases of violation of freedom of association, peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, including artistic expression;
•Support for the promotion of economic rights, and in particular to the emerging private sector;
•Support to the promotion of women's rights and gender equality;
•Support for abolition of the death penalty.
EU bilateral political engagement:
Due to the pandemic, a number of EU-Cuba political dialogues and high-level meetings under the bilateral Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement were postponed, including the third human rights dialogue, rescheduled for early 2021.
In 2020, the EU started implementing the Gender Action Plan for Cuba, adopted in 2019, with the objective of strengthening the dialogue and cooperation by the EU and its Member States with the country, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. The EU also started preparatory work for drafting a Roadmap for engagement with civil society in Cuba. The EU and its Member States organised a number of activities around the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and financed various projects or initiatives that promote equal opportunities, including in the area of gender equality. The EU and its Member States were in regular contact with human rights defenders and other representatives of independent civil society, and continued supporting independent journalism in the country. The EU continued to raise specific cases of human rights defenders with the authorities.
EU financial engagement:
In line with the European Consensus on Development, all cooperation projects in Cuba follow a rights-based approach.A number of EU projects were implemented in 2020, promoting economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, including projects addressing food and energy security, cultural heritage, youth, persons with disabilities, healthy aging, gender-based violence, and care of older persons and persons with intellectual disabilities.
Culture was an important crosscutting issue within EU cooperation in Cuba, with a portfolio of EUR 23 million and 10 projects that promote culture as a vector for economic development and social inclusion. Other social projects (around EUR 3 million) concentrated on the needs and rights of older persons and people with disabilities. Promotion of gender equality was mainstreamed into EU cooperation projects, two of which had a specific focus on addressing the impact of gender on care-work and gender-based violence, linking them to the EU Gender Action Plan for Cuba. The EU continued to support different modernisation processes through the EU-Cuba
Experts Exchange Programme in areas such as economic planning, taxation, foreign trade and investment, statistics, and public registries, with a particular focus on digital government/governance, which could contribute to higher levels of efficiency, transparency and inclusiveness.
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolved, the EU identified a number of projects, totalling EUR 10 million, to support Cuba’s efforts in confronting the pandemic, including the local production of personal protective equipment, diagnostics and ventilators.
Cuba was re-elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the 2021-2023 term, where it is traditionally a very active player. EU and Cuban positions are not always aligned, but Cuba has been supportive of the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as gender and economic, social and cultural rights and the rights of the child. Cuba continues to maintain a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, albeit to date it has not abolished capital punishment.
Cuba has signed, but not ratified the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.Cuba has so far completed three Universal Periodic Review cycles (2009, 2013, and 2018) and the next is foreseen for 2023. Cuba usually does not support recommendations coming from EU Member States, especially when they fall in the area of civil and political rights.
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