The U.S. Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF) has sharply criticized a proposed draft for Cuba’s new constitution for its removal of key references to religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
This February, Cubans will vote on the new constitution through a public referendum and the Constitutional Commission is currently reviewing proposals for changes and is expected to submit a revised draft constitution to the National Assembly for approval in January.
The USCIRF — an independent, bipartisan federal government entity — said that the initial draft constitution proposed by Cuba’s National Assembly had omitted several vital protections for religious freedom and removed the words “freedom of conscience,” which had existed in the prior constitution.
The draft also neglected to include language protecting religious freedom from Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Cuba signed in 2008.
“The exclusion of these tenets, the vagueness of the new language, and the current legal provisions that limit protection of religious freedom raise great concerns about the Cuban government’s commitment to ensuring this basic human right for its citizens,” said Kristina Arriaga, vice-chairman of the USCIRF.
“This is a pivotal point in Cuba’s history when the government has the opportunity to effect real reform through its new constitution,” Ms. Arriaga said.
In its statement Tuesday, the USCIRF called on the Cuban government of Cuba to honor its pledge to to include language in its constitution that upholds international standards for religious freedom and to conduct an inclusive and transparent constitutional process.
“The integrity of this historic process is in serious question if religious leaders are being ignored, then pressured to publicly support a new constitution that fails to protect their rights,” said Arriaga.
“We urge the Cuban government to immediately cease all intimidation tactics and to fully consider the proposals put forth by religious organizations to ensure freedom of religion and conscience for Cubans of all faiths or none,” she said.
In its 2018 Annual Report on religious freedom, USCIRF documented the widespread harassment of religious leaders and activists in Cuba, a phenomenon that continues today.
“The Cuban government engaged in harassment campaigns that included detentions and repeated interrogations targeting religious leaders and activists who advocate for religious freedom,” the report stated.
“The government continues to interfere in religious groups’ internal affairs and actively limits, controls, and monitors their religious practice, access to information, and communications through a restrictive system of laws and policies, surveillance, and harassment,” it said.
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