IACHR

Press Release

IACHR Takes Case involving Nicaragua to the Inter-American Court

November 9, 2015

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Merits Report in Word and PDF

Letter of submission (Spanish), in Word and PDF

Cases in the Court

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Director
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9001
mrivero@oas.org

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case 12.792, María Luisa Acosta et al., with regard to Nicaragua.

The case has to do with a failure to investigate diligently and within a reasonable time the murder of Francisco García Valle, the husband of human rights defender María Luisa Acosta, on April 8, 2002, in Nicaragua. The case also involves due process violations and the criminalization endured by María Luisa Acosta in the context of the proceedings subsequently brought against her. The Commission determined that the State did not conduct a diligent investigation into the motive for the murder. Specifically, the IACHR established that the context, María Luisa Acosta’s professional history, and the information contained in the court file clearly pointed to the hypothesis that the murder may have been committed because of María Luisa Acosta’s intense activity in defense of indigenous peoples’ rights.

Even though there were indications from the outset of the investigation that two men whose interests were directly affected by María Luisa Acosta’s work might have been behind the killing, that eventuality was not meaningfully and thoroughly investigated. To the contrary, proceedings against the men were hurriedly dismissed, in disregard of the requirements under the law, without an evaluation of essential evidence relevant to the case. Later, despite the emergence of evidence that supported the hypothesis that these men were the masterminds, the domestic authorities refused to reopen the investigations. The Commission found that these actions and omissions, along with other indications, were such that they could be considered deliberate abetment. The Commission also found that the denial of María Luisa Acosta’s appeal on grounds that she did not supply the court with the paper to issue the relevant photocopies constituted an unreasonable formality and a barrier to justice. The IACHR found that the State breached its duty to exercise due diligence with regard to the search for, identification, and punishment, as appropriate, of one of the perpetrators of the murder. Finally, the Commission determined that the time the investigation and criminal proceedings lasted did not meet the reasonable-time guarantee.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State of Nicaragua provide full reparation, both material and non-material, for the human rights violations found in the case. It also recommended that the State conduct and complete a full, effective, impartial, and prompt judicial investigation in order to clarify the circumstances of Francisco García Valle’s death; thoroughly investigate logical lines of inquiry as to the perpetrators and instigators of the murder; identify all those who participated, at every level, in the decision-making and execution; and, as applicable, impose the appropriate penalties. The Commission also recommended imposing appropriate administrative, disciplinary, or criminal penalties for the acts or omissions of State officials that contributed to the abetment and attendant denial of justice and partial impunity for the crimes in the case. It also recommended adopting measures of a legislative, institutional, or judicial nature aimed at reducing the exposure to risk of human rights defenders in a vulnerable situation.

On this point, the Commission recommended that the State strengthen the institutional capacity to combat the pattern of impunity surrounding cases of threats and killings of human rights defenders, by designing investigation protocols that take into account the risks involved in defending human rights, particularly the right to a healthy environment, and that lead to punishment of those responsible and adequate reparation for victims. The State should also ensure that when public officials are implicated in investigations into human rights violations, those investigations are effective and independent, the Commission said. It also recommended that the State of Nicaragua strengthen mechanisms to provide effective protection to any witnesses, victims, and family members who might be at risk as a result of their links to the investigations; develop swift and adequate institutional response measures which allow effective protection for human rights defenders at risk; and adopt legislative, institutional, and judicial measures to prevent the misuse of civil and criminal proceedings as mechanisms for intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the case to the Court’s jurisdiction on July 29, 2015, because it believed the State of Nicaragua had not complied with the recommendations contained in the Merits Report. The Commission submitted the entirety of the facts in that report to the Court.

This case provides an opportunity for the Inter-American Court to issue an opinion regarding the critical importance of investigating the motives of a violent act—particularly murder—that could have been carried out against a rights defender in retaliation for the work of defending human rights. In addition, the Court will be able to analyze how flagrant omissions in investigating who is behind a crime such as this one could be seen as a form of deliberate abetment. The case also offers the Court the opportunity to rule on the direct and indirect mechanisms used to criminalize human rights defenders for their activities, including the quest for justice.

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 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.

No. 126/15