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International Relations and Human Rights Observatory


Remarks before the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the OAS

CADAL’s Consultant on Global Projects participated in the Special Session of the CAJP on lessons learned and exchange of good practices on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs. He was the only representative of civil society to point out the situation in Cuba. Complained by colleagues from the San Isidro Movement (Cuba) and La Corriente Feminista (Nicaragua), member organizations of the Coalition for Freedom of Association.
By Carlos Lauría

In the Inter-American human rights system, the right to freedom of association is established in Article 22 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and article 16 of the American Convention on Human Rights. Likewise, with universal scope, this right is incorporated in article 20 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in article 22 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in practically all the main international human rights treaties according to the thematic specificity of each of them.

But in the Americas, the alarming democratic backslide has translated into a notorious decline of civic space in different countries of the hemisphere. At the same time, civil society organizations operate in contexts with repressive practices where existing regulations and other recent ones do not allow them to register or are directly banned and find it increasingly difficult to participate in multilateral meetings within the Organization of American states.

According to the tool used by the international organization CIVICUS to classify the civic space of a country, of the 34 states that make up the OAS -including Cuba-, 70 percent of the nations in the Western Hemisphere (24 countries) have a reduced civic space, including in this group more serious cases that CIVICUS categorizes as obstruction, repression and closed space.

The tool, known as CIVICUS Monitor, considers that a total of 9 countries currently have "obstructed" civic spaces, while another 5 are classified as repressed and one closed. These all correspond to nations in North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. A good part of the population of the Americas lives in them, which implies that the majority of the region's populations live in contexts with "obstructed", "repressed" or "closed" civic spaces, in which civil society organizations have their rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly severely limited.

CADAL is a member of a Coalition for Freedom of Association, currently made up of more than 20 international civil society organizations, with the purpose of exercising democratic solidarity among colleagues from civil society, claiming in a coordinated way for the recognition of right to freedom of association in countries where there are severe restrictions.

Some recent examples are symbolic of the increasingly restrictive situation in which civil society organizations carry out their work. Among the groups of the abovementioned coalition is the San Isidro Movement of Cuba, one of whose members, the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, was sentenced in June to five years in prison when he was considered by a court in Havana guilty of the alleged crimes of outrage against the symbols of the country, contempt and public disorder in "degrading acts accompanied by notoriously offensive and disrespectful expressions" that he later disclosed on social media networks, according to the sentence. The 34-year-old artist is one of the most prominent dissidents in recent years in Cuba, he is known for his works and performances with political content.

In Nicaragua, the closure of civil society organizations has been accelerating since 2018 and has already rushed out of control with two recent laws. In total, the Nicaraguan government has closed more than 1,000 civil society organizations, almost half of them in June alone. Among them is the Feminist Current, also a member of the coalition.

Faced with this situation, it is essential that the OAS member states that enjoy open civic spaces and have advanced standards for the exercise of freedom of association and peaceful assembly take on the commitment to demand that civic space and the work of civil society organizations is respected in countries where serious restrictions are verified and that, through their diplomatic representations in those countries, these member states express solidarity and support for the representatives of these organizations who are imprisoned, threatened and harassed.

At the same time, CADAL, on behalf of the coalition, has highlighted to various diplomatic delegations of the OAS that numerous civil society organizations in countries with restrictive contexts are unable to register with the organization and are prevented from participating in multilateral meetings.

Although we are aware of the firm commitment of the OAS to civil society, it would be significant stride for the organization to increase this commitment even more and expand the possibility of civil society participation, considering those situations that have been referred to, therefore allowing a legal framework which is both more flexible and tolerant. This inclusion effort by the OAS aims to achieve a fuller and more accessible participation of organizations whose right to freedom of association is being violated for political reasons by their States.

This is not a trivial question. When they exclude civil society, OAS institutions run the risk of becoming disconnected from those who are closest to the main problems that his important body must address. And this must also include the situation in Cuba, even though it has a particular status before the OAS. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) itself has interpreted and reaffirmed consistently that it has the competence to examine the situation in that country, arguing that "the exclusion from the inter-American system occurred with respect to the Government of Cuba, and not the State" and that "the international obligations contracted by the State of Cuba have legitimized the competence of the IACHR”.

Thank you very much.

Carlos Lauría
Carlos Lauría
Global Projects Consultant
Journalist and international press freedom expert. From September 2017 to November 2021, he headed the freedom of expression portfolio of the Open Society Foundation’s program on independent journalism, leading global activities on the safety and protection of journalists. Previously, for 15 years, he served as director of regional programs and responsible for the Americas program at the Committee to Protect Journalists. At CPJ, he led campaigns to combat censorship, fight impunity, and assist journalists under threat. He is the author of numerous reports and articles on the state of press freedom in the world. Called upon as an expert in congressional hearings and high-level conferences and panels. He began working as a journalist in Buenos Aires in 1986. In 1994, he settled in New York as chief correspondent for Editorial Perfil. Until 2020, he was a member of the jury of the Maria Moors Cabot Awards, administered by the Columbia University School of Journalism. He is a journalism graduate from Universidad Católica Argentina.

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