Fidel Castro (Fidel Alejandro Castro Rúz) was born in Mayarí, Cuba, on 13 August 1926. In 1945, he began studying law at the University of Havana. He achieved his PhD in 1950 and set up a law firm so that he could work to defend the poor. During his studies, he joined the “Manicatos” group, who fought for social justice. He took part in several uprisings and student protests and from 1949 he became part of the Cuban People’s Party.
On 26 July 1953, he led an assault on the Moncada region of Santiago, Cuba. The aim of the assault was to try to overthrow General Fulgencia Batista who had gained power following a coup d’état in 1952. The operation was a failure and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Following a general amnesty, he was freed on 15 May 1955.
He went into exile in Mexico with his brother Raúl, where, in 1956, he met Ernesto “Che” Guevara. On 2 December 1956, he arrived clandestinely in Cuba with around 80 men, including his brother and Ernesto Guevara. They came to start the guerrilla group that ended with the fall of Batista on 1 January 1959.
Fidel Castro became prime minister. He developed policies that supported nationalisation and agrarian redistribution. He wanted to break any ties and move away from the protection of the United States of America. Following the Bay of Pigs invasion on 1 December 1961, Fidel Castro declared the Cuban Revolution to have a Marxist-leninist character and he proclaimed their alignment with the USSR. On 26 March 1962, the various revolutionary bodies became co-aligned in a unified party known as the “socialist revolution unified party”. In 1965, this party was replaced by the Cuban Communist Party, of which Castro was the secretary general; a position he would maintain until 2011. In 1976, a new constitution was adopted and he became Head of State. He renounced his power in February 2008 and was replaced by his brother Raúl.
The Cuban system was and remains to be the subject of various dilemmas over whether it is dictatorial or not and it has been criticised with regards to human rights. However, some observers, although they do not deny the human rights violations, speak of the stigmatization of the regime being exaggerated.
The infractions reported by NGOs defending human rights, such as Amnesty International’s 2012 report, included, in particular, imprisonment and arbitrary detentions and the suppression of freedom of expression, association and political dissident meetings or journalists and human rights supporters.
On 5 November 1998, the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC), based in Spain, made a claim against Fidel Castro and other members of the Cuban government for genocide, murder and torture committed since Castro’s revolution in 1959.
According to the FHRC, Fidel Castro was responsible for having constructed and maintained a political system since 1959 that; suppressed freedom and disregarded human rights; systematically and extensively imprisoned political opposition while denying them of any method to defend themselves and submitting them to physical and psychological torture; sunk a ship of refugees on 13 July 1994 and ordered the murder of 42 people, 23 of whom were minors; applied the death penalty to approximately 15000 people since he became president and transported 149 detainees in a hermetically sealed lorry on 20 April 1961, which caused the death of nine people during the 11 hour journey.
TRIAL IN SPAIN
On 5 November 1998, the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC), based in Spain, made a claim against Fidel Castro and other members of the Cuban government for genocide, murder and torture committed since Castro’s revolution in 1959. In addition to Fidel Castro, the accused included his brother, the current president Raúl Castro, the minister for tourism, Osmani Cienfuegos, and the Cuban ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Carlos Amat.
The complaint was rejected in December 1998 by the national court (the court responsible for judging international crimes). On 3 March 1999, the criminal chamber of the national court confirmed this decision based on the impunity of heads of state according to international law. Such impunity impedes the commencement of a trial against Fidel Castro. Furthermore, the judge thought the acts committed by Fidel Castro did not constitute genocide or terrorism.
On 14 October 2005, the FHRC, together with Cuban citizens, presented a new lawsuit in Spain against Fidel Castro, a repeat of that which had been presented in 1998. The FHRC reiterated its claim after the decision taken by the constitutional court on 26 September 2005 that indicated that the principal universal competence is placed upon authorities to pursue those who commit genocide independently of their nationality and of the nationality of its victims.
On 4 November 2005, the claim was again rejected. The judge declared herself to be insufficient to trial a head of state and it was stated, as it had been in 1998, that the acts committed by Fidel Castro did not constitute genocide or terrorism.
On 26 February 2007, the Dissident Assistant Committee 2506 (CAD) made a claim against Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, Osmani Cienfuegos and Carlos Amat before the national court. This was also a claim for genocide, crimes against humanity, torture and terrorism. The claim referred, in particular, to the death by asphyxiation of 9 Cuban prisoners during a transfer in 1961.
On 13 December 2007, the criminal chamber of the Spanish national court rejected the claim under the pretext that they were the “same charges, the same crimes and even the same defendants” as claims that had already been rejected in 1998 and 2005.
TRIAL IN BELGIUM
On 5 October 2001, a claim was made against Fidel Castrol in Belgium for crimes against humanity. The claim was made by José Basulto, president of the ‘Brothers to the Rescue’ organisation. The claim was also made against Raúl Castro, Ulises Rosales del Toro, the former head of the armed forces and Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, head of the secret services.
On 24 February 1996, the Cuban air force supposedly demolished two small unarmed aircraft belonging to the ‘Brothers to the Rescue’ organisation, causing the death of four people. ‘Brothers to the Rescue’ is a group of exiled Cubans who often fly small aircraft from Florida to Cuba to search for and to help fugitives. The claim was based on a law that allows crimes against humanity to be trialled in Belgium, even if the crimes were committed outside of the country.
On 5 August 2003, this law was modified and its reach was drastically reduced and it now only applies in three cases: if the perpetrator of the infraction is Belgian, if the victim has lived legally and regularly in Belgium for at least three years and if there is a conventional or customary international law that applies to Belgium, then the perpetrator may be trialled. Additionally, if the perpetrator is not a Belgian citizen, he or she must be a citizen of a country where crimes against humanity are not trialled or where a legal trial may not take place.
As a result, on 12 December 2003, the Court of Cassation denied the Belgian jurisdiction to continue trials against Castro.