IACHR

Press Release

Amid Ongoing Restrictions on Public Protest, IACHR Urges Nicaragua to Comply with Implementation of Agreements

April 30, 2019

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

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Washington, DC—More than a year after the current crisis in Nicaragua began, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the ongoing restrictions around the Nicaraguan population being able to take part in public protests and the repression of those who wish to make their voices heard. The IACHR urges the state of Nicaragua to implement the agreements reached during the dialogue process by liberating all people who have been deprived of their liberty during the crisis and restoring their rights and guarantees.

As part of its monitoring work through MESENI, the IACHR has recently observed new forms of repression against demonstrators that entail brief arrests during which detainees are not taken to police facilities. These are part of measures that seek to dissuade people from participating in public protests, such as large-scale, permanent police surveillance of all public spaces in which demonstrations could take place. According to the information the IACHR has received, the demonstration that was organized by the Unidad Nacional Azul y Blanco group to mark the first anniversary of the beginning of the crisis, April 17, was prevented by a police operation that led to the brief arrest of 68 people. According to the information the IACHR has access to, these people were subjected to ill-treatment within police vehicles and then later released in different parts of the city. According to information in the public domain, the police force allegedly banned this demonstration in advance by means of a public announcement (link in Spanish). In a later press release (link in Spanish), the police force denied that any arrests had been made during the course of the day.

MESENI also learned of the arrest of the journalist Abixael Mogollón, who works for the online media outlet Artículo 66, while he was covering the announcement of the April 17 demonstration in Managua. The journalist and four women were arrested by riot police. All those arrested were allegedly kicked, punched, and beaten with police batons while receiving serious verbal threats to dissuade them from taking part in demonstrations. Their belongings were also seized, including their professional equipment. The four women in question were also allegedly subjected to acts of sexual violence involving inappropriate touching. This degrading ill-treatment allegedly took place inside a police van in the area where they were arrested. They were later released elsewhere.

For more than a year, the IACHR has been documenting a series of crimes that have been committed by the state of Nicaragua as part of a widespread, systematic attack on the civilian population that GIEI-Nicaragua argues should be considered a crime against humanity. The different forms of repression of demonstrations in the country include excessive use of force by state agents and parapolice forces; extrajudicial executions; large-scale damage to personal integrity; arbitrary detention; the criminalization of protest; dismissals; threats and harassment; and the elimination of the legal status of civil society organizations, which has led to the forced displacement of thousands of people and caused others to seek international protection abroad. In view of these events, the IACHR has recorded and documented the ways in which demonstrators have changed and restricted their forms of protest. Over the course of March and April, the IACHR has noted the spread of so-called express picket lines; brief acts of protest in private places; organized horn honking; brief sit-ins or protests; scattering of confetti or drinking straws; or making of paint marks on the streets in Nicaragua’s national colors.

The IACHR was made aware of information in the public domain regarding the arrest of Tamara Dávila in Carazo department on April 9. Ms. Dávila was allegedly arrested in front of her children, aged 16, 9, and 4 years old, and held in the Jinotepe police station in Carazo department, until 12 April, when she was released. According to eyewitness accounts, the reason for the arrest was that Ms. Dávila had scattered blue and white drinking straws on the street. The IACHR also learned of a similar arrest that took place on April 19 in Managua, in which a group of adolescents were held by the police just before they implemented a so-called express picket line. Most of the group were reportedly released the following day, but one of them, aged 17, will allegedly face criminal charges for the illegal possession of weapons.

The IACHR once again calls on the state of Nicaragua to respect the right to social protest, which is one of the ways in which people can exercise the right to assembly and freedom of expression. The IACHR wishes to remind the state of Nicaragua that protecting the right to freedom of assembly entails more than the mere obligation on the part of the state not to interfere with this people’s ability to exercise this right. Under certain circumstances, it also implies that the state take positive action to guarantee that people can exercise this freedom, such as by protecting those who are taking part in a demonstration from being subjected to physical violence from others who hold opposing views.

“We call once more on the state of Nicaragua to reestablish guarantees and rights throughout the country. Being able to freely exercise human rights, even in situations of conflict, is a step toward reaching lasting, peaceful solutions,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, IACHR Rapporteur for Nicaragua.

The IACHR acknowledges that the agreements between the government and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy that were published on March 27 and 29, 2019, were a step forward. Despite this, the IACHR also observes that according to official sources, only 236 of the people who have been deprived of their liberty since the crisis began have been released. Furthermore, according to information provided by civil society organizations, at least 700 people are being subjected to criminal proceedings and many of these people are still being deprived of their liberty. The IACHR also notes that serious criminal charges are being pressed against most of those who have been released, and no information has been provided as to the legal grounds for these releases. The detainees in question were released following a unilateral decision on the part of the state, which does not conform to the terms and agreements reached during the dialogue. Likewise, according to information the IACHR has received, those who have been released have been subjected to raids and surveillance, repeat arrests, and even new criminal charges, including for ordinary crimes such as drug trafficking and neighborhood misdemeanors such as assault and theft.

In this context, the IACHR urges that the state comply with the agreements, notably by guaranteeing the prompt release of all people who have been arrested during the current crisis, in accordance with clearly established protocols. Their rights must be respected, particularly the right not to be subjected to ill-treatment or degrading conditions, which means that the conditions in the prisons where they are being held must be improved immediately. In this regard, the IACHR notes that according to information in the public domain, since March 22, the people being held at La Modelo penitentiary have had no supply of electricity and are also having their access to water rationed.

“The IACHR is particularly concerned over the conditions in which people who are imprisoned in Nicaragua in response to the current crisis are being held,” said Joel Hernández, IACHR rapporteur on the rights of people deprived of their liberty. “The state must take the necessary measures to comply with its commitment to releasing these people,” he added.

The IACHR has also received information that will be of interest to Nicaraguans who have fled the country but wish to return. It calls on the state to establish a plan to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of all people within its borders and to ban torture and the arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Nicaraguans who have fled the country should only return once the state provides real guarantees that they will not be at risk of human rights violations and that they will be able to return safely, with dignity, and without being subject to persecution.

Based on its work monitoring and following up on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, the IACHR once again wishes to stress that it is ready and willing to work with the state and provide any technical assistance that may be needed to help restore the full enjoyment of human rights in the country, in line with the IACHR mandate, including for those returning to Nicaragua. The IACHR once again reminds the state of Nicaragua that is obliged to keep and publish reliable information regarding those who have fallen victim to the crisis, including data on the numbers of people who have been arrested or have died. The IACHR also wishes to repeat that it is at the state’s disposal to compare this information with the data gathered by MESENI.

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. 108/19