The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Cuba is a signatory but not a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 of the ICCPR governs the right of peaceful assembly.
The right of peaceful assembly is, though, a fundamental human right that is part of the corpus of customary international law. It is also a general principle of law.See Art. 38(1), 1945 Statute of the International Court of Justice.
At regional level, Cuba is not a member State of the Organization of American States (OAS) and is not a State Party to the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Article 54 of the 1940 Constitution of the Republic of Cuba:
The rights of assembly, demonstration and association are exercised by workers, both manual and intellectual; peasants; women; students; and other sectors of the working people....
There is no national legislation protecting the right of peaceful assembly in Cuba. Article 209 of the Penal Code stipulates that organisers of illegal assemblies or demonstrations can be subject to a term of imprisonment from three months to a year or a fine.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
There appears to be no law restricting police use of force in Cuba.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
There appears to be no law restricting police use of firearms in Cuba.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Cuba is not a State Party to the ICCPR.
In the 2018 Universal Periodic Review of Cuba under the UN Human Rights Council, the government did not address specifically the right of peaceful assembly.
In 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the authorities in Cuba to respect everyone’s rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly and association and to stop arbitrarily arresting people, in particular before, during and after peaceful demonstrations. He called for the release of all those who had been arbitrarily arrested.
In its 2015 Annual Report, the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights called on Cuba to take the measures necessary "to prevent violence in the context of public demonstrations"; establish "reasonable limits, governed by the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality, to ensure they unfold peacefully"; and "conduct serious, impartial, and effective investigations into the attacks, threats, and acts of intimidation" committed against social activists and dissidents.
Views of Civil Society
CIVICUS has reported that the arrest of musician Denis Solís González led artists and activists with Movimiento San Isidro to mobilise for his release. On 26 November 2020, the Cuban authorities raided the movement’s headquarters and detained 14 activists who had been on hunger strike for several days. As a pretext for the raid, authorities accused one of the activists of failing to comply with coronavirus-related regulations. Most of those detained were released the same evening.
On 27 November 2020, over 200 people gathered in front of the Culture Ministry to protest the violent raid and repression of Movimiento San Isidro artists. The demonstrators demanded Solís’ release and called for the government to open a dialogue with the artivist movement. The protest only ended after officials met with 30 of the demonstrators and agreed to continue the dialogue and to urgently review Solís’ case. However, authorities soon backtracked on the promise for dialogue.
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Cuba:
Restrictions on freedom of assembly remain a key form of political control. Security forces and government-backed thugs routinely break up peaceful gatherings or protests by political dissidents and civic activists. The existing constitution limits the rights of assembly and association to prevent their exercise “against the existence and objectives of the Socialist State.” While some of the harsher language banning independent or opposition gatherings was eliminated in the draft of the new constitution, it still qualifies the right to assembly by requiring that it be exercised “with respect to public order and in compliance with the precepts established by the law.”