IACHR warns of new wave of repression in Nicaragua
October 18, 2018
Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), through information recorded by the Special Follow-Up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) in recent weeks, observes an increase in acts of violence and repression to deter public demonstrations in Nicaragua. The IACHR also warns about the detention and criminalization of political and social leaders. It also expresses concern about the particular effects that the crisis generates on the rights of women, children and adolescents.
In the context of the events that have taken place since April 18, the Commission updates the death toll to 325, of which 21 are police officers and 24 are children and adolescents. In view of the inconsistency of the figures provided by the Nicaraguan authorities and their questioning of the registry of deaths reported by the IACHR, the Commission reiterates to the State of Nicaragua the urgent need to guarantee access to detailed information on all the people who have died in the context of the situation the country is going through, so that the IACHR can compare and verify the figure with the data provided by the state authorities.
Social protest and criminalization
As part of its monitoring activities, the MESENI has recorded a number of serious events aimed at dissuading the population from publicly demonstrating in protests and criminalizing social protest in Nicaragua.
In this sense, the IACHR was made aware of National Police press release number 115-2018 of September 28, which qualifies public protest demonstrations as illegal for the sole reason that they have produced specific violent acts and holds those who have called and organized them legally responsible. In this sense, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RELE) expressed their extreme concern about the position of the Nicaraguan National Police, which declares the protest demonstrations illegal and holds its conveners criminally responsible.
On October 13, a new note from the National Police (116-2018) established that any mobilization in any part of the country must take place once the organizers have requested the corresponding permit from the police authorities and it has been granted. In this sense, he reiterated that he would not allow "any action that violates the right of Nicaraguan families to Peace and Life and recalls that any provocative, instigating and violent activity will be punished according to the Political Constitution and Laws of Nicaragua.
On October 14, MESENI learned of the repression of the initial group of participants in the "United for Freedom" march led by the Blue and White National Unity (UNAB). As noted, the convening group was surrounded by a large deployment of riot police and the National Police. On Sunday, October 14, MESENI witnessed strong repression and a significant number of arrests in the context of marches called by civil society organizations. In this regard, the IACHR calls on the State to immediately cease the repression of demonstrators and the arbitrary detention of those who participate in the protests, as well as to guarantee the safety of people in the context of public demonstrations.
Through an official communiqué, the National Police reported the detention of 38 people for being "involved in instigating and provocative activities that violate the right of Nicaraguan families to move around freely and to carry out their economic, commercial, religious, sports and recreational activities normally. For its part, MESENI recorded the detention of at least 50 people. Some of them, mostly journalists, were released on the spot. The rest were transferred and, in the course of the same day, October 14, eight people were released. The rest were released the next day. Among those detained were opposition leaders, journalists and human rights defenders such as Suyen Barahona, Ana Margarita Vigil, Francisco Ortega and José Antonio Peraza, among others.
In particular, the IACHR expressed concern about the detention of Haydée Castillo, a human rights defender who was a beneficiary of IACHR precautionary measures, detained at the Augusto C. Sandino International Airport when she intended to travel to participate in an activity organized by the IACHR; as well as the detention of Allan de Jesús Cordero Ocón, a Costa Rican national, who was deprived of liberty along with his wife, Marcela M. Guzmán.
The IACHR strongly condemns any type of impediment imposed on a person to exercise their right to use the mechanisms available in the inter-American system for the protection of human rights, or any type of reprisal or stigmatization undertaken by a State motivated by the participation or action of individuals or organizations before the organs of the inter-American system, in the exercise of their conventional rights.
The IACHR has observed with concern the persistence of the use of detention as a form of repression of social protest, as well as the criminalization of persons who participated in the various forms of peaceful demonstration against the Government of Nicaragua since April.
Examples of these situations are the records of the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders, according to which on August 24 and 25 more than 50 arbitrary detentions were carried out, of which more than half corresponded to students who are members of the Coordinadora Universitaria por la Justicia y la Democracia (CUJD), an organization that participates in the National Dialogue Table. According to public information, twenty members of the CUJD were detained at a checkpoint on August 25 while on their way to participate in a demonstration to be held in Granada. According to the testimonies received by the Mechanism, agents of the National Police allegedly transferred the women and children to the police station. On August 25, in León, university leaders Byron Corea Estrada, Christopher Nahirobi Olivas, Yaritza Rostrán Mairena, Luis Arnulfo Hernández, Levis Josué Artola, Juan Pablo Alvarado and Victoria Obando, transgender woman and LGBTI rights activist, were arrested while participating in a demonstration. Days later, the young men and women were charged by the National Police with homicide, arson, kidnapping, robbery with intimidation, death threats and terrorism. According to information received by MESENI, the hearings in which these charges were formalized were not public, according to the pattern already recorded by the IACHR.
On September 4, Arianna Moraga, Edwin Carcache, Grecia Rivera, Alejandro Centeno, Judith Mairena, and Iskra Malespín, some of them with precautionary measures granted in their favor, were arrested near the Carretera Sur, in the city of Managua, without being informed of the reasons for their detention. The women were released hours later; Alejandro Centeno remained in detention until Friday, September 6; and Edwin Carcache was presented by the National Police as responsible for the assault, destruction, and burning of a police patrol, among other crimes.
The IACHR also learned of the charge of terrorism against retired Major Tomás Maldonado, after being detained for more than twenty days without access to a lawyer. On August 30, Carlos Brenes, also a retired military officer, was allegedly accused of committing the crime of terrorism. On September 7, Francisco Sequeira and Lenin Salablanca - who participated in blockades that took place in the department of Juigalpa-Chontales - were presented by the National Police as members of a terrorist group. Mr. Salablanca spent more than twenty days in prison without being charged.
In this regard, the IACHR reiterates that a detention is arbitrary and illegal when it is practiced regardless of the motives and in the cases established by law and when it is executed without the observance of all procedural formalities by the judicial and police authorities. In this regard, Commissioner Joel Hernández, Rapporteur for the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, indicated that "all detentions made previously, during or immediately after situations of social protest and demonstrations, must comply unrestrictedly with the principles and standards enshrined in international human rights law.”
The IACHR also noted new acts of violence in the context of protest demonstrations in Nicaragua. On September 2, during the "March of the Flags," doctor Carlos Fletes was injured by a firearm fired from a truck that was transporting people wearing pro-government emblems. According to public information, the vehicle from which the shot was fired was guarded, after the attack on the march, in the facilities of District V of Managua's mayor's office. During the demonstration, the National Police also reported on the assault and burning of a patrol by "hooded subjects". National Police officer Melvin Antonio Romero Moraga and Deputy Inspector Harling José Echaverry Salazar were injured in the attack. The IACHR condemns violent acts that exceed peaceful protest and urges demonstrators to refrain from using violence in protests.
The expulsion from the country of the Austrian-American documentary filmmaker and journalist Carl David Goette-Luciak, on October 1st, without having been charged with any charge, and for information to which MESENI had access, due to publications of his authorship in which he denounces the Government, is also cause for concern. With respect to these facts, the Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, has pointed out that "even in administrative or migratory contexts, the sanctions against people for issuing information or opinions are subject to the limitations of respect for freedom of expression, which must be guaranteed without regard to the nationality of the people who exercise it", for which reason the State must refrain from expelling foreigners from the country due to the use of their freedom of expression.
On these facts, IACHR Rapporteur for Nicaragua Antonia Urrejola indicated that "the State must investigate all acts of violence committed in the context of protests and demonstrations, impartially and with due diligence, and guarantee the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
On the other hand, the IACHR has observed the persistence of actions tending to impede the development of social protest through harassment tactics, carried out by a broad deployment of pro-government groups that are sometimes armed and agents of the National Police stationed on the routes and places where demonstrations, marches and sit-ins take place. This situation would have made it necessary, on several occasions, to suspend protest actions or change the course of the mobilizations. On August 27, in León, a demonstration demanding the release of the detained students was suspended due to the convocation of a countermarch for the same time and place. On August 28, demonstrators participating in a sit-in demanding the release of students also detained in León, were attacked by pro-government groups. On September 4, in Ticuantepe, members of the Sandinista Youth allegedly blocked the passage of a march organized in support of female teachers who had been arbitrarily dismissed. On September 9, pro-government groups reportedly fired firearms and attacked demonstrators in Jalapa, Nueva Segovia, injuring at least two people. On September 9, demonstrations were cancelled in Carazo, León and Rivas due to the strong presence of pro-government groups and agents of the National Police.
In this regard, Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren, Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, recalled that "social protest can become the only means that allows sectors of the population and groups that are discriminated against or marginalized from public debate to make their social demands and demands heard. In this sense, "the State of Nicaragua must adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the free exercise of the right of assembly and freedom of association, as well as cease the criminalization of activists and student and social leaders because, for the leading role they occupy, can have the effect of discouraging the exercise of social protest," he added.
Likewise, the IACHR notes with concern the aggressions and acts of harassment committed against members of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua. On 3 September, the bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, was insulted and harassed by pro-government groups at a police checkpoint in the presence of State agents. On 9 September, pro-government elements broke into the church of La Merced in Granada, insulting and threatening the priest who officiated at the mass. On the same date, the priest Edwin Román Calderón, beneficiary of precautionary measures No. 660-18, was assaulted and harassed by government sympathizers in the vicinity of the church of San Miguel, in Masaya. The IACHR points out that, since the beginning of the protests in the country, members of the Catholic Church have suffered a campaign of stigmatization for their efforts to protect the integrity of the demonstrators and for their role in the National Dialogue. The IACHR calls on the State of Nicaragua to guarantee and protect the integrity not only of Catholic authorities and parishioners, but of all people.
On the other hand, the IACHR has observed the differentiated effects that this crisis has on women's rights. MESENI has taken note with great concern of reports of cases of sexual violence against women and even acts of rape in the context of repression, and continues to monitor precedents on other possible cases and patterns of violence against women. MESENI has also documented situations of harassment by state authorities against mothers of detainees; based on discriminatory stereotypes based on their gender, these women would be being held responsible for violence against their children by "not having taken care of their education". In addition, MESENI collected information on smear campaigns, harassment and threats against women demonstrators and women human rights defenders, challenging stereotypes traditionally assimilated to their gender. These aggressions extend to their sons, daughters and their family nucleus.
Some of the women defenders who have publicly denounced having been victims of these acts were Azahálea Solís, feminist lawyer and defender of women's rights; Mónica López Baltodano, lawyer and advisor of the University Coordination for Democracy and Justice (CUDJ); Sandra Ramos, Executive Director of the Women's Movement "María Elena Cuadra"; and Haydee Castillo, director of the Segovias Leadership Institute, arrested on October 14 and identified in a video as responsible for acts of terrorism and murder. All are beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the Commission.
The Commission recalls that the State of Nicaragua, by virtue of its international commitments and the provisions contained in the Convention of Belém do Para, has the obligation to prevent, investigate and punish all acts of violence against women in a serious and diligent manner. In particular, the Nicaraguan State has the obligation to act with due diligence to prevent, punish and eradicate all acts of violence and discrimination against women human rights defenders. In this regard, Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, President of the IACHR and Rapporteur on Women's Rights, stated that "Nicaragua must take into account that in the case of women human rights defenders, the inherent risk involved in their work is compounded by the history of structural discrimination they have suffered because of their gender, which determines that in some contexts they are exposed to an increased risk of suffering acts of violence, threats, harassment and other violations of their right to live a life free of violence.”
The IACHR also recalls that States must publicly recognize the fundamental role played by women human rights defenders in ensuring the development of democracy and the rule of law in society and adopt the necessary measures to prevent acts of violence against them. Furthermore, the Commission recalls that States should incorporate a differentiated approach in the protection, investigation, prosecution, punishment and reparation of all cases of violence against women, including gender and ethno-racial perspectives.
Children and adolescents
The number of 24 children or adolescents killed in the context of protests in the country is extremely serious and reflects the fact that there is no consideration for appropriate standards in the treatment and care of these people in protest contexts. On Sunday 23 September, 16-year-old Matt Andrés Romero, a teenager, died of a gunshot wound as part of the violence that occurred during the march "We are the Voice of Political Prisoners".
Indeed, children and adolescents represent a group particularly affected by the various forms of repression and criminalization in Nicaragua. Among the negative impacts on children, civil society organizations denounce actions of political indoctrination in some public schools; alteration of school schedules and calendars as a consequence of the crisis; school desertion due to the increase in child labor, due to economic difficulties that particularly affect displaced families and force some children and adolescents to take care of their lands, in order to prevent them from being taken. Similarly, children and adolescents have had their rights to rest, leisure, play and culture affected by the presence of armed agents in communities and public spaces.
In this regard, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, stated that "it is essential that the institutions responsible for the promotion, protection and defence of the rights of children and adolescents in Nicaragua act in a timely and comprehensive manner to guarantee children and adolescents an environment free of violence, especially in the school and community environment". In order for this context to take place, it considered it "indispensable to guarantee articulation with all the actors involved, including the voices of civil society and the opinions of children and adolescents".
On the other hand, the Commission notes with concern the reports of cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment committed by State security agents against children and adolescents. On 23 August, a teenager was reportedly detained by the National Police on his way to school for questioning. When he refused, one of the officers would have drawn his gun and pointed it at him, while another took him by the arm to take him to the police station, where the initials FSLN on the inside of his left arm would have been marked with a syringe needle. MESENI recorded detentions in detention centers where adults are deprived of their liberty, in some cases with long periods of detention of adolescents without charges. With respect to these facts, the IACHR calls on the State of Nicaragua to initiate an immediate investigation, with due diligence, to identify those responsible for these detentions in each case. Likewise, the IACHR urges Nicaragua to implement all necessary measures to prevent the violation of the rights of children and adolescents.
Within the framework of its training activities, MESENI in the field organized three training workshops, reaching the number of 77 persons trained. On August 29, a workshop on refuge and international protection was given to more than 40 people, among them activists, human rights defenders and human rights defenders. On September 6 and 8, workshops were held on human trafficking, international standards, and the monitoring and protection mechanisms of the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights for women human rights promoters.
The IACHR calls on the State of Nicaragua to obtain official information relevant to the monitoring and follow-up of the human rights situation in the country in accordance with its international obligations assumed voluntarily. Once again, the IACHR requests information on persons detained and prosecuted, data on persons who have died, as well as on investigations carried out to clarify the facts that have occurred in the country in the context of the protests that began last April. The IACHR reiterates its request for access to the country's prisons as well as to the public agencies pertinent to the follow-up and monitoring carried out by MESENI in the field.
"Within the framework of the monitoring of the human rights situation in the country and as part of the obligations assumed by the State of Nicaragua as part of the Inter-American System of Human Rights, it is essential to be authorized to have access to prisons and other official bodies," said Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão. He also pointed out that "one of the recommendations freely and sovereignly accepted by the State within the framework of the report issued by the IACHR after its visit refers to the opening to international scrutiny, which must be effectively guaranteed to the Commission and its Follow-up Mechanism through the timely response of each and every one of the requests for information submitted to the State.
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 defense of 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.