National Lawyers Guild and Other Organizations Call on UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and UN Human Rights Committee to Launch Formal Investigation into Cuban Five Case
Sept. 27, 2007
Reprinted from Progressive NewsWire
NEW YORK - September 27– The National Lawyers Guild and several legal and human rights organizations have called on the U.N. Human Rights Committee and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture to launch a formal investigation of the United States government’s continuing violation of human rights of five political prisoners known as the Cuban Five.
In a letter to the High Commissioner for Human Rights the groups noted that “The case of the Five continues to reveal a pattern of reliably attested violations of human rights, as reviewed and affirmed by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. In 2005 the Working Group criticized the treatment of the Cuban Five as arbitrary in nature and in contravention of Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. There has been no meaningful progress in the intervening two years.”
The Five are Cuban Nationals who are being imprisoned without a fair trial or sufficient proof of culpability: Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez, Fernando Gonzalez Llort, Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo, Ramon Labañino Salazar and Rene Gonzales Sehwerert. They were arrested in 1998 and charged with conspiracy to commit espionage and conspiracy to commit murder, among other lesser counts.
The ability of the Five to make an effective defense was compromised, if not eliminated, by the actions of the United States government. First, following their arrest, the Five were kept in solitary confinement for 17 months, during which limited communication with their attorneys and restricted access to evidence inhibited their ability to mount an adequate legal defense. Second, access to documents containing evidence for their defense was impaired. Finally, the climate of anti-Cuban bias and prejudice in Miami against the accused rendered it an unsuitable place for a trial in violation of Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States is a party.
Guild President Marjorie Cohn said, "The treatment to which the Cuban Five have been subjected, especially being held incommunicado for 17 months awaiting trial, constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment which violates the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States has ratified both treaties, which makes them part of U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution."
Oral arguments in the appeal of the case of the Cuban Five were recently heard on August 20, 2007, in Atlanta, Georgia. The five Cuban nationals still remain under the same conditions and are each being held in different prisons throughout the country. Not only are they away from their family, which violates the sanctity of family, but two of the wives have repeatedly been denied visas to visit their husbands in the United States. These severe, prolonged systemic violations are in need of international attention, regardless of the outcome of the August 20 arguments.
According to Heidi Boghosian, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild, “From arrest and conviction to imprisonment, treatment of the Cuban Five manifestly fails to meet standards enshrined in international law. The viability of a human rights legal framework rests on the demonstration of its effectiveness and impartiality, and it would be dealt a severe blow if these clear violations of norms of international law go unchallenged.”
Groups signing on to the letter are the American Association of Jurists, the Center for International Policy, Global Exchange, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, and the National Organization of Legal Services Workers NOLSW/UAW Local 2320, AFL-CIO.
Founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association which did not admit people of color, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.