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When Working on SDG16 Becomes a Crime | Cuba & Nicaragua

New York

Tuesday, September 19
2:00 - 3:30 pm
UN Church Center 777
United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017

This is a free, but private event. Only those who register in advance will be allowed to attend. English translation will be available in-person and online.

Join the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights, in partnership with PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) and PEN International on Tuesday, September 19, for a panel discussion with Nicaraguan and Cuban human rights activists who will talk about the escalating threats encountered by activists trying to carry out their work. The speakers will also discuss how growing government repression of civil society in Cuba and Nicaragua is impacting each country’s progress in meeting its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets. 

This event is timed to coincide with the UN’s two-day SDG Summit, a strategic focus of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Speakers will urge UNGA delegates to condemn the serious human rights violations documented in both countries, where the criminalization and forced exile of voices critical of state authorities represent a failure of the governments to comply with their commitments to work towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.

Event Schedule

  • Welcoming Remarks: Julia Dellasoppa, Race & Equality
  • First Panel: Criminalizing the defense of human rights is failing to comply with the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Second Panel: Discussion on the role of the international mechanisms of human rights and the international CSOs in the protection of human rights defenders in countries with closed civic spaces: cases of Cuba and Nicaragua
  • Questions and Comments
  • Closing Remarks: Julie Trebault, Artists at Risk Connection, PEN America


  • Laritza Diversent - Cuban lawyer, independent journalist, human rights defender, and director of Cubalex, which provides free legal assistance and advice to victims of human rights violations and groups in vulnerable situations in Cuba.
  • Martha Beatriz Ferrer - Daughter of Cuban political leader José Daniel Ferrer who remains incarcerated for participating in the peaceful protests of July 2021.
  • Pedro Vaca - Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (RELE - IACHR).
  • Christina Fetterhoff - Senior Legal Program Officer at the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights.
  • Yader Parajón - Formerly incarcerated Nicaraguan student and LGBTI+ activist.
  • Alexa Zamora - Founder of Innonica, a consortium of civil society organizations dedicated to promoting human rights, youth political participation, and peace in Nicaragua. Ms. Zamora was arbitrarily stripped of her Nicaraguan nationality.
  • Julie Trébault - Director of Artists at Risk Connection, PEN America. Lead editor of Método Cuba: Independent Artists’ Testimonies of Forced Exile.


Both Nicaragua and Cuba are signatories to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (only Nicaragua has ratified it). As UN members, both countries are obliged to respect the principles, values and rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and, according to the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, should provide support and protection to human rights defenders in the context of their work. And both have committed to implementing the 2030 Agenda. And yet, despite these commitments, the governments of Nicaragua and Cuba continue to regularly violate the rights and ability of human rights defenders to carry out their work.

In Nicaragua, the government continues to “unduly limit the space of the country’s civic and democratic spaces, increasing its control over institutions and public spaces, and restricting activities by individuals and groups with dissident voices,” according to a report from the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, presented on September 12, 2023.

Arbitrary detentions, a documented count of 89 cases of political dissidents subjected to detainment and torture, the revocation of Nicaraguan nationality for a minimum of 316 citizens, and at least 27 instances of Nicaraguans being barred from reentry due to immigration bans represent only a fraction of the violations committed by the Nicaraguan government against individuals attempting to exercise their right to advocate for human rights.

In Cuba, over 700 people continue to be held in detention following their participation in the historic July 11, 2021 protests, when thousands of Cuban citizens took to the streets to call out their country’s deepening social, political, and economic crisis. The situation has since deteriorated further with a surge in arbitrary detentions, short-term disappearances, internet disruptions, travel restrictions, and the forced exile of activists, artists, and human rights defenders. 

The new Cuban Penal Code and the recently approved Social Communication Law have compounded the extent of repression and harassment on the island, driving hundreds of Cubans to risk their lives fleeing their country. The International Organization for Migration estimates that in 2022 alone, some 150 Cuban people drowned while attempting to reach the United States.


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