Press Release

IACHR Urges Nicaragua to Dismantle Parapolice Groups and Protect Right to Peaceful Protest

June 1, 2018

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the deaths in renewed violence in Nicaragua and urges the State to stop repressing protests. The IACHR further calls on the State to investigate and punish the use of force by parapolice forces, to dismantle such groups and to find a peaceful, constitutional and democratic solution to the ongoing political crisis in the country.

The Commission condemns the unfortunate events of May 30, 2018, during a peaceful march in support of the Madres de Abril (April Mothers) that was held on Nicaragua’s Mother’s Day. Those events deepened the human rights crisis in the country. According to publicly available reports, several so-called parapolice “shock forces” and armed third parties repressed the march and shot demonstrators. According to official data, 15 people were killed and 199 were injured in Managua, Estelí and Masaya. Further, thousands of people entered the premises of the Central American University (UCA) to seek refuge from attacks and received treatment on campus, the university said in a statement. According to publicly available information, shock forces attacked the facilities of the TV channel 100%Noticias with stones and mortars.
After these events, the number of people who have been killed by the violence since the beginning of the protests is 97 persons.

“We strongly condemn firearm attacks on participants at a peaceful march and are deeply saddened by the deaths and the injured persons that are reported as a consequence,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, the IACHR’s Rapporteur for Nicaragua. “The State must immediately end the repression and urgently adopt adequate measures to end the violence,” she added.

Last weekend, other violent events were reported in Nicaragua. According to publicly available reports, on May 25, masked attackers indiscriminately shot from moving vehicles in Ciudad Belén, Managua, which allegedly led to the death of Alejandro Tomás Hernández and left several people injured. Based on the information the IACHR has had access to, civilians responded by throwing stones at attackers, resulting in the death of Yader Castillo. The National Police issued a statement to confirm the deaths of these two people in an armed clash between groups linked to illegal land occupations, an account that contradicts the testimony of civilians who say they were attacked for no apparent reason.

The IACHR was informed that, on May 26, the local headquarters of the Frente Sandinista (Sandinista Front) in the town of Altagracia, on Ometepe island, were burned by unidentified third parties. In the early hours of May 27, masked attackers allegedly shot mortars at two guards who were watching the gate at the Central American University.

In another statement, issued on May 27, the National Police said that, due to the ongoing National Dialogue, police forces were in their barracks at the time to guarantee peaceful marches and noted that its agents are not active around university campuses. In that statement, the police denied any links to parapolice forces.

On May 28, students were reported to have occupied the Simón Bolívar Campus at the National University of Engineering (UNI, by its Spanish acronym). According to the information received by the IACHR, parapolice groups and riot squads attacked the students at the site using bullets, tear gas and mortars. Also on May 28, the IACHR received reports of clashes between demonstrators and the National Police at the Metrocentro traffic circle, which allegedly left 20 people injured and led to several arrests. Gerardo Antonio Aburto died in those events. There was also a fire at the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Masaya, whose cause needs to be investigated.

Attacks on journalists and media outlets were also reported on May 28. The EFE news agency complained that its team had been assaulted by National Police officers near the UNI, as it covered police repression against students who were occupying the higher education center. Unidentified attackers further set ablaze the radio station Nueva Radio Ya. The radio station’s reporters also denounced assaults by groups of demonstrators.

The IACHR stresses that the Nicaraguan State has the obligation to dismantle the repressive structures that are operating in the country, as well as the parapolice groups and the armed third parties. Those structures need to be investigated and brought to justice, and a legitimate and proportionate use of force needs to be restored, within the constraints of the rule of law.

“We reject any form of repression to prevent peaceful protests, and also arbitrary arrest practices. We insist on our call for an end to violence,” said Rapporteur Antonia Urrejola. According to IACHR Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão, “the State must facilitate demonstrations as an essential element of the functioning of a democratic society, and it must use force only exceptionally, with the aim of fulfilling its duty to protect the population.” The IACHR stresses that, when a protest or part of a protest becomes violent, police need to act in keeping with the law and make proportionate use of the least harmful means to disperse those people.

The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression notes that protecting the right to freedom of expression requires that the authorities enforce the conditions necessary for journalists to be able to cover events that are clearly of interest to the public, such as those linked to social protests. This Rapporteurship further demands that the perpetrators of attacks against media facilities be investigated and punished.

The IACHR expresses its concern over the information it has received concerning the seriousness and the persistence of attacks and the fact that scores of people have been injured with firearms and blunt instruments in the context of the protests. The injured need to be protected from attacks on their life, acts of violence and any hurdles to prevent them from receiving the immediate medical care they need. In certain circumstances, refusing or delaying medical treatment may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or torture. The Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights urges the State to comply with its strong obligation to protect the right to health, which means the State must anticipate suitable, good quality emergency medical assistance and facilitate timely access to it, respecting the autonomy and the dignity of injured patients without distinction.

The Commission further notes that, in the coming days, it will announce the names of members of its Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI, by its Spanish acronym) for Nicaragua, which has been created to assist in investigations of violent events, recommend legal approaches and identify responsibilities. The GIEI’s actions will be based on the IACHR’s Preliminary Observations following its working visit to Nicaragua, and on the conclusions held in the Final Report on that visit, which is set to be published in the coming weeks.

The IACHR acknowledges the declaration issued yesterday by the government, in which high Nicaraguan authorities condemned the violent events that have taken place in the country since April 18 and blamed the opposition for all that has happened. Without taking into account the individual criminal responsibility of those who are responsible for these events, under international human rights law, the responsibility to protect the population is of the State, which must protect rather than repress, and must adopt adequate and proportional measures for the violence to end. The IACHR further notes that it is the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Judiciary who have the responsibility to investigate events and to establish who is responsible for them.

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.

No. 124/18