CIDH denounces the weakening of the rule of law in the face of serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity in Nicaragua
Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) denounces the weakening of the rule of law in the face of the grave human rights crisis that began in the country on April 18, 2018. The IACHR urges the state of Nicaragua to restore conditions that guarantee the fundamental freedoms and human rights to its own people which are necessary for the democratic rule of law to remain in force.
The IACHR notes that the grave human rights crisis Nicaragua has been experiencing has extended for over eight months, following the de facto implementation of a state of exception that is characterized by the abusive use of public forces to repress dissidents, raids, the closure and censorship of media outlets, the imprisonment or exile of journalists and social leaders, and interference by the office of the president in other branches of government. These factors are perpetuating impunity around the human rights violations that took place during the recent state repression of protests that resulted in 325 deaths and over 2000 injuries, 550 arrests and prosecutions, the dismissal of 300 health professionals, and the expulsion of at least 144 students from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN).
According to the Nicaraguan Constitution, sovereign power is expressed through the legislature, the office of the president, the judiciary, and the electorate. Each of these powers has specific and separate functions, collaborating harmoniously with one another in order to achieve their ends. Likewise, Nicaragua perceives itself as a democratic, social state that is subject to the rule of law and promotes “the importance of human rights” and “adheres to the principles of international inter-American law, which have been independently recognized and ratified.” The IACHR observes that in Nicaragua the principle of the separation of powers has been weakened through the repression of those who dissent, directed by the office of the president through regular and irregular police forces, state monitoring bodies such as the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the judiciary. The office of the president’s interference in and control over the other branches of government is also the result of other factors such as partisan interference in all public institutions through the Sandinista Leadership Councils (CLS), control over the media, and the fact that the National Assembly does not counterbalance this interference.
The protests that began in April 2018 were repressed through use of lethal force by police and parapolice groups commanded by the office of the president, who is their supreme leader. Nicaragua is now in the hands of a police state which seeks to silence dissidents and shut down democratic spaces through measures adopted by the National Police Force such as the categorization of public demonstrations as illegal, the arbitrary demand for those who wish to conduct protests to do so with previous government permission, and the search and seizure of the offices of human rights organizations and independent media outlets. Consequently, hundreds of arbitrary arrests have taken place.
The IACHR also notes that the hundreds of arbitrary detentions that have taken place; the targeted and mass criminalization of demonstrators, human rights defenders, journalists, students, social leaders, and government dissidents on unfounded and disproportionate charges; the systematic pattern of violations of due process guarantees; the ineffectiveness of the recourse to habeas corpus; the irregularities around access to legal defense and public hearings; the handling of trials for criminal offenses such as terrorism which are interpreted in a way that is incompatible with democracy; the failure to comply with release orders for those who took part in the recent protests; and the general manipulation of criminal law to prosecute any opposition to the current government; taken together, reveal the lack of independence of the Nicaraguan legal system as a whole.
The IACHR has access to information that suggests that the Nicaraguan National Assembly has functioned for several years as part of the office of the president. During the current crisis, the assembly ordered the forced dissolution of nine dissident human rights organizations in retaliation for their work reporting on the gravity of events in Nicaragua, which the IACHR has also spoken out against.
In addition, the IACHR has received information pointing to the lack of independence and neutrality of Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council as a result of decisions that were made to weaken and marginalize opposition forces during elections. This has helped the incumbent party to maintain control of the National Assembly and to remain in power.
The IACHR insists on the importance of the separation of powers through a system of checks and counterbalances to guarantee effective oversight of the different branches of government. The independence of the judiciary is a fundamental feature of the separation of powers and it is needed to guarantee the democratic rule of law.
On December 21, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), established by the IACHR, presented their “Final Report on the Acts of Violence That Occurred between April 18 and May 30, 2018” (version available in Spanish only). The report confirmed the findings of the IACHR’s working visit to Nicaragua between May 17 and 21, 2018, regarding the excessive use of the police force to suppress demonstrations, the involvement of parapolice agents, a pattern of repression that included the arrest of hundreds of people, and the refusal to provide emergency medical care for the wounded as a form of retaliation.
The GIEI, established by the IACHR, concluded that the behavior that has taken place in Nicaragua was part of a widespread, systematic attack on the civilian population that should be considered as a crime against humanity, in accordance with international law. This conclusion is based on the number of victims, the seriousness of the repression, and the emergence of certain patterns implemented using state resources which were part of a policy that was established and endorsed from the very highest levels of government. The IACHR endorses the recommendations that the report made to the state of Nicaragua to help it overcome the current crisis. These include beginning a comprehensive reform of state institutions to guarantee the non-repetition of human rights violations and establishing the reforms and mechanisms necessary to guarantee that the acts of violence that have taken place since April 18, 2018, be brought before judges whose impartiality is guaranteed.
Given the configuration of crimes against humanity, the evidence available regarding the human rights crisis, and the resulting disturbances to the constitutional order of Nicaragua, the IACHR calls on OAS member states to act more energetically to ensure that conditions and structures that are conducive to the enjoyment and guaranteeing of human rights in Nicaragua are re-established, in accordance with the principles and values set out in the IACHR’s Democratic Charter.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.
María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9000