Cuba signed two major human rights treaties at the UN in New York on Thursday. The country’s Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The treaties commit Cuba to respect rights including freedom of expression and association, and freedom of movement
Amnesty International welcomed the news and called on the country to ratify both treaties without reservation. Fernanda Doz Costa, Cuba researcher at Amnesty’s Americas Programme, said that the Cuban authorities "must honour their human rights commitments by introducing measures to guarantee freedom of expression and independence of the judiciary, starting with the unconditional release of the current 58 prisoners of conscience.
"Amnesty International urges Cuba to accept the full range of obligations under these covenants, because human rights norms are the legal expression of the essential rights that every person is entitled to as a human being."
The covenants were signed just days after 76-year-old Raul Castro was unanimously selected to succeed his brother Fidel as leader by Cuba’s National Assembly. Speaking about the new Cuban leadership, Amnesty International Special Advisor Javier Zuñiga said that they "must take advantage of this change to introduce much needed reforms to guarantee the protection of human rights."
Zuniga also called for "the judicial review of all sentences passed after unfair trials, the abolition of the death penalty and the introduction of measures to ensure respect of fundamental freedoms and the independence of the judiciary."
Cuba has recently released four political prisoners arrested during a crackdown on the opposition in 17 & 18 March 2003. Reporters Jose Ramon and Alejandro Gonzalez, dissident Omar Pernet and trade unionist Pedro Alvarez were among 75 prominent figures convicted of being mercenaries in the pay of the US government. Amnesty International also welcomed their release considering it "a very positive step", but urged Raul Castro to urgently release the 58 remaining incarcerated prisoners of conscience.
Mr Roque announced the Cuban government’s intention to sign the agreements in December 2007. The announcement coincided with an increasing crackdown against dissidents between 21 November and 10 December – International Human Rights Day – when many political dissidents were arbitrarily arrested because of their involvement in peaceful protests.
At the time of the announcement, Kerrie Howard, Deputy Director at Amnesty International’s Americas Programme, said that "the Cuban government must signal its true commitment to human rights treaties by acting to release all those detained solely for their peaceful political activities and ensuring that all human rights are respected and promoted across the country."