Justice Sought in Cuban Dissident’s Death

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Case of Human Rights Defender Oswaldo Payá’s Death Displays Lack of Judicial Independence in Cuba

One of Cuba’s most prominent human rights activists, Oswaldo Payá was also one of the country’s most endangered political dissidents. While fighting for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and other civil rights—notably through his Varela Project—Oswaldo and his family found themselves under constant threat from the Cuban state. Oswaldo’s fight eventually cost him his life.

In July 2012, the car Oswaldo was riding in crashed, killing him. The Cuban government maintained that the crash was simply an accident, in which the car lost control and hit a tree. But substantial evidence indicates another car was involved and that the crash may have been caused by Cuban state agents running Oswaldo’s car off the road. Ángel Carromero Barrios, the Spanish national who was driving, was drugged and forced to make a false confession while in detention and was ultimately sentenced to a four-year prison term for wrongful death.

The truth of what happened in the crash—which also killed fellow dissident Harold Cepero—has been obstructed by the Cuban government for years, leaving Oswaldo’s family without a clear path to justice. The family was also denied the right to participate in the legal process, as Cuban criminal law does not allow it.

Why is This a Key Case?

Oswaldo’s case is illustrative of the prosecution of political dissidents and human rights defenders in Cuba. Many such defenders have been driven into exile following threats to themselves and their families and have been accused by the Cuban state of being mercenaries paid by the United States—which Oswaldo proudly never took any funding from, specifically to head off those claims. The case also exposes the lack of independence of the judicial power in the country.

How is RFK Human Rights Supporting Oswaldo’s Case?

The organization filed a petition in 2013 with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Oswaldo’s family, claiming that Oswaldo was denied his right to life by the Cuban state and that his family was not guaranteed an adequate and effective remedy. Precautionary measures were also sought for members of Oswaldo’s organization, who were under extensive threat following his death.

Name of the case (as it appears in the respective legal mechanism)

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas et al. v. Cuba

Month/Year of filing

April 2013

Legal mechanism in which the case is being litigated

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Rights and legal instruments alleged violated (OR found to have been violated)

Articles 1 (right to life, liberty, and personal security), IV (freedom of investigation, opinion, expression, and dissemination), VIII (right to residence and movement), XI (right to the preservation of health and to well-being), XVIII (right to a fair trial), XXV (right of protection from arbitrary arrest), and XXVI (right to due process of law) of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man

Procedural stage




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