Inter-American Commission Holds Cuba Responsible for the Killing Of Pro-Democracy Leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero

Comisión Interamericana Responsabiliza a Cuba por el Asesinato de los Líderes Pro-Democracia Oswaldo Payá y Harold Cepero
12 June, 2023
El Senado de Estados Unidos aprueba unánimemente cambiar el nombre de la embajada cubana en DC en honor a Oswaldo Payá
14 June, 2023

In a landmark decision the Inter-American Commission held the Government of Cuba responsible for the killings of pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.

Read below a message released to the press by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center, lawyers of the Payá-Acevedo and Cepero families, with regard to the recent decision published by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), which holds the Cuban Government responsible for the killings of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.

[June 12, 2023] Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights celebrates a decision published today by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), which holds the Cuban Government responsible for the killings of pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero who were killed after a car crash provoked by Cuban state agents on July 22, 2012.

In its decision, the IACHR considered that there were serious and sufficient indications to conclude that State agents directly participated in the deaths of Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero. The IACHR also stated that Cuba was responsible for violations of the right to due process and judicial guarantees of Ángel Carromero, a Spanish citizen and witness, who was also present in the car crash that killed Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero. These violations included cruel and inhumane acts, and coercion to obtain a false confession from Mr. Carromero who was forced to claim responsibility for the car crash. Similarly, the IACHR held the Cuban government responsible for the violation of the right to physical and mental integrity of the surviving victims, for inflicting unnecessary pain and anguish, as a result of the lack of an effective investigation, as well as the harassment they were subjected to after the deaths of their loved ones, forcing them into exile. 

“On that July afternoon, upon receiving the tragic news, my heart immediately acknowledged the truth that this Commission today reaffirms: the Castros finally carried out their murderous threats. Yet, they failed to kill Oswaldo’s legacy. My husband’s lessons compel us to envision the future with optimism and realize that we possess the power to overcome our circumstances. The path towards liberation is already charted for Cuba – the Path of the People,” said Ofelia Acevedo, Payá’s widow.

“Today’s decision confirms to the world what we have known all along – that my father, Oswaldo Payá, and Harold Cepero were executed by State agents on orders of the Castros. We are now a step closer to justice, holding the Cuban Regime accountable for its atrocious acts.” Rosa María Payá, Payá’s daughter and founder of Cuba Decide, added. “This is not just a victory for our families, but for all the victims of the dictatorship and all Cubans who keep fighting for democracy and freedom.” 

On July 22, 2012, Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas, a renowned Cuban dissident and human rights leader, was killed by Cuban state agents near Bayamo, Cuba. Harold Cepero, a young activist who was traveling with him, died in the hospital soon afterwards. Both were prominent figures in the Christian Liberation Movement, which Mr. Payá had founded in the late 1980s to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba. The car’s two other occupants, Ángel Carromero Barrios from Spain and Jens Aron Modig from Sweden, survived with minor injuries. According to Mr. Carromero, who was driving that day, official state vehicles had been following them for hours when they were suddenly hit from behind. Cuban authorities detained, drugged and threatened Mr. Carromero, ultimately forcing him to publicly confirm the official narrative that he had lost control and hit a tree. The investigation and subsequent trial for the killings of Payá and Cepero were carried out with complete disregard to due process guarantees. The prosecution ignored complaints from the Payá family, based on findings they had personally obtained — that government officials had caused the car crash, killing Payá and Cepero. These facts were never made part of the investigation, and the family never had access to the formal autopsy of Payá and Cepero, nor to a transparent and efficient investigation into their deaths.

Left with no possibility of legal recourse in Cuba, Payá and Cepero’s family members turned to the IACHR. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights filed an initial petition on their behalf in 2013. 

Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, noted that it’s long been the human rights organization’s hope that by displaying all the details of the case the Commission would place direct responsibility on the State of Cuba for the murders of Payá and Cepero. 

We are gratified to see that is exactly what the IACHR did. This case was particularly important to me as someone who intimately understands the heartache and urgency involved in seeking justice after a loved one is killed.” she said.

Several members of the U.S. Senate have expressed their support for the IACHR decision.

“Thanks to today’s decision by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, the Cuban regime has been unequivocally exposed for what it truly is: a murderous dictatorship. After a decade of being fed distortions and lies by the Cuban regime, the world finally knows that Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were assassinated by regime officials for their pro-democracy work. It is incumbent upon the United States and international community to rally around the IACHR’s decision and demand not only justice and accountability for Payá and Cepero’s murders, but an end to the ongoing human rights atrocities facing the Cuban people.” said Senator Robert Menendez.

Senator Ted Cruz added that the “The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) finding will further highlight the Cuban regime’s responsibility for the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero. Payá bravely fought for democracy with unrelenting passion and dedication, and in the end paid the ultimate price for standing up to the corrupt Castro regime. Communism is an evil ideology, and this finding is a reminder that the crimes of Communist regimes will never be forgotten.” 

“At last, we have a clear verdict on what was suspected all along. After years of petty and cowardly harassment of Cuban patriot and democracy activist Oswaldo Paya, responsibility for his tragic death and that of his colleague Harold Cepero rests with the Cuban dictatorship,” said Senator Dick Durbin. “The culpability for Paya’s death also speaks to the many Cubans who have been and continue to be jailed, harassed, or tortured for simply demanding even a semblance of political or economic freedom. It is long overdue for the Cuban government to honor Paya’s dream for a more open society and to stop blaming the human suffering of the Cuban people on anyone but its own cruel ineptitude, mismanagement, and self-enrichment.” he added.