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France - Cuba24 April 2003

Reporters Without Borders calls on French foreign minister to focus on human rights in France’s ties with Cuba

Reporters Without Borders has urged French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin to step up French contacts with regime dissidents in Cuba and their families and to give them more support. It also urged him, in an 18 April open letter, to apply to France’s relations with Cuba the joint stand adopted by the European Union making closer links conditional on allowing multiparty democracy and basic freedoms.

Dominique de Villepin
Foreign minister
Ministry of foreign affairs
37 quai d’Orsay
75007 Paris.

18 April 2003

Dear Minister:

Exactly one month ago, the Cuban authorities took advantage of the imminence of the US invasion of Iraq to launch an unprecedented crackdown on its domestic critics. In less than a week, 78 dissidents were arrested, including 26 independent journalists. Since then, they have been convicted after summary trials and sentenced to terms of up to 27 years in prison. Cuba is now the world’s biggest prison for journalists.

Reporters Without Borders is appalled that France did not condemn this wave of repression until 9 April, three weeks after the first arrests, and only after requesting "details" of the arrests from the Cuban government, according a French statement.

The Spanish, Canadian and German ambassadors were refused entry to the courthouse where the trials were being held. But the French ambassador was not seen and the Quai d’Orsay has refused to say if he went to the courthouse or not. Unlike Britain and Canada, France also did not consider it necessary to summon the Cuban ambassador in Paris to express disapproval of the arrests and trials.

The 15 member-states of the European Union (EU) adopted a common stand in December 1996 saying that closer links with Cuba would depend on it allowing multiparty democracy and basic freedoms. But the EU position, which has been reiterated several times since then, has not been respected by France.

In 1999, Cuba was included in France’s "priority solidarity zone" - countries with which France aims to have "a strong partnership as an expression of solidarity and to support sustainable development." The French ambassador Cuba, Jean Lévy, told the Cuban official daily paper Granma in a December 2001 interview that French aid to Cuba had been increased "sevenfold and then tenfold." A new draft agreement, to "boost bilateral cooperation," was signed by Pierre-André Wiltzer, junior aid minister, during a visit to Cuba in February this year.

After the heavy sentences passed on the independent journalists and dissidents, Reporters Without Borders expects France, which is proud of being a country that defends human rights, to pay closer attention to the Cuban opposition by increasing contacts with the dissidents and their families and giving them more support.

Reporters Without Borders also calls on the French authorities to apply to its relations with Cuba the common EU stand making closer ties conditional on respect for democracy and basic rights. It calls on France to reconsider its inclusion of Cuba in the "priority solidarity zone," one of whose aims is "consolidation of the rule of law and entrenchment of democracy" in partner countries.

We also urge you to push for the EU to suspend consideration of Cuba’s application to join the Cotonou Agreement (that allows 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to get economic aid and preferential trade terms from the EU) until political prisoners in Cuba are released. The human rights situation in Cuba, where news is a state monopoly, violates article 9 of this agreement which says partnership must be based on respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law.

We trust you will give our appeal your careful consideration.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Ménard

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