IACHR

Press Release

IACHR Confirms Reports of Criminalization and Legal Persecution in Nicaragua

August 2, 2018

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
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mrivero@oas.org

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has updated its findings on victim numbers in Nicaragua and confirms that the state has been persecuting and criminalizing demonstrators, dissidents, and people who have participated in the different forms of protest that have taken place in Nicaragua since April 18, 2018. The IACHR urges the Nicaraguan state to comply fully with its international human rights obligations.

According to information gathered by the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) during the five weeks it spent working in the field, as of July 30, some 317 people had died in the country since April 18, 2018, 21 of whom were police officers. The IACHR also confirms that 23 boys, girls, and teenagers have died during the current crisis.

“The IACHR condemns all the murders on record and urges the Nicaraguan state to begin swift, serious investigations into each and every one of these crimes. The state must keep a reliable, transparent, up-to-date record of all deaths,” said the rapporteur for the country, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola.

As was reported in press release 156/2018, as of July 19, through its work in the field, MESENI had confirmed and documented an increase in repression and raids carried out by the National Police Force and parapolice groups as part of the so-called operation for peace. These achieved the objective of dismantling the barricades that had been erected in different cities around the country.

Between July 19 and 30, MESENI received alarming information regarding the implementation of legal persecution and criminalization practices targeting dissidents, demonstrators, students, activists, and human rights defenders. Based on the information available and the testimonies it has received, the IACHR has found that, following the erection of barricades and roadblocks in different parts of the country, Nicaraguan authorities made numerous arbitrary detentions involving the use of force. These were carried out by masked, armed groups who detained people against their will. The detainees reported that they were mistreated after being handed over to the National Police Force or the Legal Police Unit in Managua. According to information that the IACHR has received, the detainees were not informed of their rights nor of the charges against them at the time of their arrest, no arrest warrants were shown, nor were their families told where they would be held.

For example, MESENI became aware of the arrest of Irlanda Jerez Barrera, one of the leaders of a grassroots group of stallholders from the Mercado Oriental, a large market in Managua, “for being found guilty of fraud and stellionate (link in Spanish).” Jerez Barrera had presumably been interrogated about her role in the demonstrations that began in Nicaragua on April 18. Likewise, MESENI has received information regarding the arrest of Christian Rodrigo Fajardo Caballero and María Adilia Peralta Cerrato at the Peñas Blancas border crossing on July 23. The two are members of the 19 de abril movement in Masaya and are being accused of terrorism, financing terrorism, organized crime, and obstructing public services. Another case that has come to light is that of Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena, who were held until July 25 at El Chipote penitentiary, where they were beaten and mistreated before being transferred to the Modelo penitentiary.

“It is with great concern that we have become aware of the dramatic increase in the number of people who have been arrested without the guarantees of due process. We call urgently on the Nicaraguan state to ensure strict compliance with the law and other procedural guarantees for all detainees, in line with the corresponding international standards. The state must ensure the prompt release all people who have been detained arbitrarily or on unfounded charges,” said Commissioner Joel Hernández, Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty.

Furthermore, the IACHR has received large quantities of information regarding current barriers to accessing appropriate legal counsel. These entail restrictions around access to interviews with lawyers and civil society organizations and a refusal to provide information on the legal status and health of detainees. The IACHR is reiterating its recommendation that the Nicaraguan state establish and make available a public register containing the following information: the number of people who have been detained since the start of the protests on April 18; the grounds for these arrests; the number of days that those arrested have been deprived of their freedom; the place of detention; the number of people that are currently being held in connection with the protests that have been taking place since April 18; and the number of people who have been released. The information in question should include details regarding detainees’ gender, age, and occupation.

Furthermore, the IACHR is aware that legal persecution and criminalization are being used in conjunction with menacing, stigmatizing statements from state authorities, the most worrying of which describe the people in question as being “terrorists,” “attempting to start a coup,” or as “criminals” in the context of the ongoing legal investigations. On this matter, the Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren, stated that “we are extremely concerned about the undue use of criminal law and, in particular, the recent antiterrorism law, which seeks to criminalize those who exercise their right to engage in social protest and defend human rights. We call on the Nicaraguan state to cease its criminalization of those who take part peacefully in demonstrations and to abstain from using broad, vague, or inappropriate terrorism-related expressions to respond to protests and the airing of social grievances.”

Likewise, the IACHR is concerned about the lack of a state response to its request to make regular, unlimited visits to the country’s main penitentiaries to interview those who have been detained in response to the current crisis.

On July 21, during a widespread call for people to take part in a march asking for “justice for terrorism victims,” MESENI ascertained that threats were made against the families of detainees who had gathered at the entrance to El Chipote penitentiary. The people in question were evacuated to Managua Cathedral by the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), working in partnership with the Bishops’ Conference. On that occasion, MESENI received numerous testimonies regarding arrests that had taken place in the previous weeks as part of operations to remove barricades in Carazo, Masaya, Granada, and Managua. The families of the detainees that were interviewed said that they did not have any information about which detention center their relatives were being held at. They also described the numerous obstacles they are facing in accessing legal counsel and ascertaining which judge will oversee the legal proceedings around this case. After the march in question, El Chipote penitentiary was guarded by pro-government groups who intimidated the families who arrived there to find out about the legal status and health of their relatives.

MESENI has also received worrying information regarding the arrest in Masaya of two boys aged 14 and 15 who were allegedly transferred to El Chipote, where they were held for five days. According to the testimonies MESENI has received, during their detention and transfer, one of the boys was the victim of cigarette burns to his neck and the other suffered injuries caused by one of his captors placing his full weight on the boy’s body to get him to reveal information about other people who had been involved in the barricades. The boys were released on the morning of Saturday, July 21. With regard to this case, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, Vice President of the IACHR and Rapporteur on the Rights of Children, stated: “when the state is dealing with a child, in addition to the legal obligations that apply to any person, there are additional obligations that derive from article 19 of the American Convention on Human Rights and article VII of the American Declaration. Consequently, when the person in question is a child, the state must perform the role of guarantor with greater care and responsibility and it must take additional measures to comply with the doctrine of the best interests of the child.” As a result, the IACHR reiterates that it is the duty of the Nicaraguan state to implement all measures necessary to avoid any abuse or excesses on the part of its agents that violate people’s rights.

On July 29, journalist Roberto Antonio Collado, the Granada correspondent for Channel 10, was beaten and held by masked individuals while he was reporting on a demonstration in the city. The group then handed him over to the National Police Force. Despite having identified himself as a journalist, Collado was beaten with firearms by his captors in the presence of these police officers and was told by the former that they were doing so because he had spread lies. MESENI has also been monitoring the case of Francisco “Paco” Espinoza, the Jinotega correspondent for the Acción 10 news program, who has been detained and accused of kidnapping, robbery, torture, attempted homicide, and causing injury, according to news reports. Given the importance of the work of journalists who cover demonstrations and protests, the state must provide them with the maximum possible protection as they go about their business. This responsibility is not limited to authorizing specific protection measures for members of the media, but should also include the obligation to create the conditions necessary for mitigating the risks that come with exercising their profession in these situations. In connection, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, stressed that “journalists who cover protests are carrying out a fundamental role by reporting on the conduct of the state and public forces during demonstrations, preventing the disproportionate use of force and abuse of authority.”

On July 27, at least 40 employees at Oscar Danilo Rosales Hospital (HEODRA) in the city of León were dismissed without grounds in retaliation for their having treated or expressed their support for people who were wounded during the protests. On July 28, another 40 people were dismissed from the Santiago Regional Hospital in Jinotepe over their alleged involvement in occupying the hospital. In response, the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) and the IACHR wish to remind the state of its obligation to protect people’s right to work and to abstain from retaliating against individuals for expressing their opinion. In this sense, the IACHR calls on the state to refrain from making arbitrary dismissals or harassing or threatening government workers because they have expressed criticism of the government or taken part in protests. Medical staff who treat the sick and injured should be protected from outside interference to ensure that they can conduct their work ethically and treat anyone in need regardless of their political, religious, or philosophical positions.

“Any sort of intimidation or punishment of healthcare workers for simply going about their professional duty to preserve the right to healthcare is unacceptable, regardless of whether it takes a direct form or an indirect one, such as fines or dismissals,” stressed Soledad García Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on DESCA. REDESCA and the IACHR call on the Nicaraguan government to protect the healthcare personnel who have treated and are continuing to treat those injured as a consequence of the crisis, who include firefighters, humanitarian workers, and healthcare professionals at hospitals and clinics. Any government action that allows or encourages restrictions to medical care could damage the right to life, integrity, and health of those who require such care.

Between July 1930, the government of Nicaragua sent the IACHR information via official reports on different acts of violence, notably the kidnapping of the political secretary of El Almendro Municipality in Río de San Juan Department; operations to capture people connected with the supposed attack on the police post at Sislao Paraska Comarca Pueblo Nuevo; and the attack on police officers using firearms and mortars in Sandino neighborhood in the city of Jinotega, which left at least three people dead and and five police officers injured. The IACHR has also received information on the death of Brazilian student Rayneia Gabrielle Da Costa Lima. According to official sources, on the night of July 23, “in circumstances that have yet to be ascertained, a private security guard fired a gun” at the student, who was transferred to the Military Hospital, where she died. In response, the IACHR condemns any actions that seek to place limitations on the life and integrity of any individuals, irrespective of who they are. It also wishes to remind Nicaragua of its obligation to guarantee the integrity of all people. It reaffirms that the actions described above should be duly investigated and sanctioned as part of legal due process that complies with the corresponding human rights standards.

The IACHR has also received information on the occupation of land that took place on July 29 in Chinandega, a department northwest of Managua. As is publicly known, these occupations have been “reported as being a mechanism of government repression.” In the case in question, the local press has described how a group of “heavily armed masked men arrived in vans and occupied three properties belonging to the Coen Group in Chinandega,” in the west of the country.

The IACHR also states its deep concern over the forced displacement of thousands of people who have had to flee their homes as a consequence of the serious human rights violations that have taken place since protests began in April 2018. As the IACHR published in its report, as a consequence of this violence and different forms of persecution, students, demonstrators, human rights defenders, victims, and their families have been forced to flee their homes and move to other parts of the country. Likewise, many of these people have had to leave the country altogether to seek international protection, mainly by traveling to countries such as Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, the United States, as well as other countries in the region. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of Nicaraguans requesting asylum in Costa Rica has increased exponentially. An average 200 requests for asylum are currently being filed in the country each day. According to information from the Costa Rican authorities, around 8,000 applications for refugee status have been filed by Nicaraguans since April of this year, and another 15,000 people have been given appointments to do so at a later date as the country’s processing capacity is currently overwhelmed. “The IACHR urges the Nicaraguan government not to adopt measures that prevent people from migrating and exercising their right to request and receive asylum in other countries. Likewise, we acknowledge the measures that Costa Rica and other countries are adopting to allow Nicaraguans to enter their territories and the steps they are taking to receive Nicaraguan asylum seekers and refugees,” said Commissioner Luis Ernesto Vargas, Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants.

To consolidate the data on Nicaragua that has been recorded, analyzed, and published by the IACHR, MESENI has implemented a rigorous monitoring process through which it examines and compares different sources of information, particularly the figures and reports gathered by civil society organizations whose mission is to defend human rights, information reported by the media, and that documented by the state, as and when this is made available. To gain access to up-to-date information from the state, the IACHR has accepted, in writing, the government’s public invitation to verify records of the deaths that have occurred as part of the human rights crisis that has been unfolding in the country since April 18, 2018, with the government’s cooperation, adding that all statements and information on Nicaragua expressed by its Executive Secretary reflect the IACHR’s official position and have been approved by the organization.

Commissioner Antonia Urrejola also stated that “we will continue to monitor and document the human rights situation in Nicaragua with the seriousness and responsibility that the IACHR is known for.” In accordance with its mandate, the IACHR will continue to make recommendations to the Nicaraguan state, the main focus of which will be its work with victims of human rights violations. “We wish to stress once more that the IACHR is permanently available to help generate spaces of understanding. The IACHR is committed to seeking dialogue and democratic solutions to the grave crisis that is affecting the people of Nicaragua,” said Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão.

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. 169/18