Washington DC, August 12, 2022 – The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) presented a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), to declare the international responsibility of the State of Cuba for the violations perpetrated against 55 women for being part of the Damas de Blanco collective, and against the Cuban organization itself, with the purpose of dismantling it and preventing it from continuing its work in defense of human rights.
In the document, Race and Equality details a pattern of 3,086 short-term arbitrary detentions, 243 acts of criminalization, 226 cases of physical, racial, and gender violence; as well as the siege, surveillance and constant threats perpetrated by the Cuban government against the Ladies in White between 2013 and 2022, a period during which the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR in favor of the members of this organization are in force.
They will walk dressed in white until Cuba is free
“The communist regime is aware of the precautionary measures that the IACHR has granted us, but nothing has changed in its attitude and harassment, every day it attacks our members,” says Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, who spoke with Race and Equality on the human rights violations that she and the other women of this organization have suffered; as well as the prolonged arbitrary imprisonment that four of her partners are currently suffering, three of them for having participated in the peaceful protests of July 2021, known as 11J.
Berta, 59, is one of the founders of Ladies in White, a group that emerged in 2003 after 75 people were arrested for being dissidents of the Cuban government, in a series of arrests known as the “Black Spring”. She and other relatives, almost all of them women, met at the Villa Marista prison in Havana to find out how their loved ones were doing and demand that they be released, on March 30, 2003, they decided to go dressed in white to the Santa Rita de Casia Church, a parish in Havana that pays tribute to the saint of “impossible causes.” Thus, going to mass, she started this organization, whose name was coined by the independent journalist exiled in the United States, María Elena Alpízar.
“Since then we have been victims of aggression, and more than 12 members have been imprisoned. Currently, four of our members are in jail; one who was about to serve four years in prison and when she was released they created a new case for her and sentenced her to five years and four months in prison, for not having agreed with State Security to leave the country with her family; she is Aymara Nieto Muñoz. The other three women are Sissi Abascal, Tania Echevarría and Sayli Navarro, who were arrested for having participated in the 11J protests and were sentenced to between six and eight years of imprisonment”, says Soler.
The Ladies in White have been arbitrarily detained, beaten and even stripped naked for taking to the streets and demonstrating against the State of Cuba. “The regime has stolen money from us and has arrested our sons and our daughters’ husbands to pressure us to desist from being part of this organization, which in 2011 was made up of more than 250 women throughout the country,” says Berta, who proudly says that one of the collective’s achievements has been to achieve, together with the Cuban church and several human rights organizations, the release of the prisoners of the ‘Black Spring’, who despite being sentenced to up to 28 years in prison, have only served seven years in prison.
As a result of the multiple attacks, on October 28, 2013, the IACHR granted precautionary measures in favor of the Ladies in White. The Commission asked the Cuban government to adopt a series of actions “to preserve the life and personal integrity of the members of the organization ,” and also to present a report on the investigations carried out to clarify the acts of violence that have occurred. against the collective. However, none of this has happened and human rights violations against the Ladies in White have persisted.
“State Security, when they stop us, threaten to take us to prison, tell us that we cannot go to mass or even meet. They threaten us all the time that the Ladies in White are going to disappear… many times they arrest us and keep us inside the patrols or in the cells, and the next day or whatever time they establish to keep us imprisoned, they release us and they impose fines on us without telling us why we have been fined,” says Berta, who also states that she is not afraid of being arrested. She and the more than 50 women who are still part of this organization say that they will continue dressed in white walking towards any church on the island, until there are no people deprived of liberty for political reasons, and Cuba is free.
A petition to end the persecution
Race and Equality presented this petition to the IACHR so that it formulates a series of recommendations to the Cuban State that will allow an end to the prolonged and systematic persecution implemented against Ladies in White, and each and every one of its members. In addition, reparations were requested from the victims and their relatives, and to adapt laws, public policies, procedures, and practices to international human rights standards, to guarantee that the island’s women activists can demonstrate, demand changes, congregate and mobilize without being violated.
From the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights we will continue to support the independent civil society of Cuba, so that universal rights are recognized on the Island, and the inhabitants of this country can demand changes from the Cuban State, without fear of being victims of repression and arbitrary arrests.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Resolution 6 / 2013. Precautionary Measure N. 264 – 13. Ladies in White Matter regarding the Republic of Cuba. https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/decisiones/pdf/MC264-13-esp.pdf