Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern Over the Passing of the Amnesty Law in Nicaragua

June 12, 2019

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Washington, DC—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the Amnesty Law that was recently passed by the National Assembly of Nicaragua. The broad-reaching, ambiguous contents of the law may result in grave, widely documented human rights violations going unpunished. It may also prevent truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition from being established and restrict the rights and guarantees of Nicaraguan society that are set out in the American Convention.

According to publicly available information, on June 8, 2019, the National Assembly of Nicaragua passed the Amnesty Law through a fast-track procedure at the National Congress that took just 24 hours. There were no consultations around the law with civil society or the victims of the grave human rights violations mentioned above. The law grants “broad amnesty to all people who took part in the events that have taken place throughout Nicaragua from April 18, 2018, until this law enters into force.” This amnesty will apply to “all political crimes and ordinary crimes associated with these events as defined in the criminal code currently in force in Nicaragua,” with the exception of those that are regulated by international treaties or agreements that Nicaragua is a party to. According to the first “whereas” clause, “in response to the violent, destructive acts that began on April 18, 2018, the state wishes to seek stability, secure peace, and improve economic conditions in the country to help Nicaraguans families develop to their full potential.”

In this regard, the IACHR is concerned over the ambiguity of the contents and scope of application of the law, which could lead to impunity over the serious human rights violations that have been committed in the country and have been widely documented by the IACHR and other local and international human rights organizations. According to the established case law of the IA Court and the IACHR, the obligations to investigate, identify, and sanction those responsible for grave human rights violations may not be waived. Similarly, the IA Court ruled that amnesty provisions, statutes of limitation, and exclusion of liability clauses that seek to impede criminal prosecution are inadmissible, as are any obstacles within domestic law that seek to impede the investigation and punishment of those responsible for serious human rights violations, as it contravenes the nonderogable rights recognized by international human rights law. Amnesty laws that are incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights are not legally binding.

With regard to the crimes in question, the IACHR is concerned by the imprecise, ambiguous definitions of the “political crimes and [...]ordinary crimes associated with them” that are the focus of the law, as it leaves the interpretation of these at the discretion of the authorities, which contravenes the principle of legality established in article 9 of the American Convention. The IACHR has argued that the principle of legality has been infringed on previous occasions when countries’ national legislation used criminal definitions set out in vague, abstract, or imprecise terms that hindered the legal certainty that the state must necessarily guarantee in such legislation.

With regard to the clause stating that “beneficiaries [...] must refrain from perpetrating further acts that lead to repeated behavior prompting the crimes contemplated herein,” and that the benefits in question may be revoked if they do not comply with these conditions, the IACHR deems the ambiguity of this clause could allow beneficiaries to be re-arrested for exercising their political rights and the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of expression. This would restrict the guarantees for Nicaraguan society that are enshrined in the American Convention, at a time when the country is experiencing an ongoing suspension of freedoms.

Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, the rapporteur for Nicaragua and memory, truth, and justice, said, “we wish to repeat how important it is for the state of Nicaragua to instigate prompt, impartial, exhaustive investigations to achieve justice, reparation, and memory around the serious human rights violations that have been committed since the crisis began so as to guarantee that they will not be repeated. States must guarantee the rights and freedoms of all people under their jurisdiction,” she added.

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. 145/19