Press Release

Three Years After the Start of the Human Rights Crisis in Nicaragua, IACHR Condemns Ongoing Impunity

April 19, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — Three years after the start of the political, social, and human rights crisis in Nicaragua, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has condemned the widespread impunity and prolonged breakdown of the rule of law that persist in the country. It also urged the state to take the measures needed to move beyond this crisis and re-establish democratic institutions, particularly through processes that guarantee victims and their families the right to truth, justice, and full reparation.

Large-scale, systematic human rights violations

Since it visited the country on May 17, 2018, the IACHR has documented gross human rights violations that have been perpetrated as part of the ongoing violent repression of social protests that began in April 2018. According to information recorded by the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), the human rights crisis in the country has resulted in at least 328 deaths and some 2,000 injuries as a result of the actions of state agents or civilians whose acts have been tolerated or condoned by the former. MESENI has also reported allegations of widespread, systematic ill-treatment, several instances of which could be categorized as torture. Likewise, the reports found that at least 1,614 people have been victims of arbitrary deprivation of liberty and reprisal for having participated in acts of protest or opposition to the government. Both the IACHR's monitoring and follow-up work and public information provided by UNHCR indicate that more than 100,000 people have migrated from Nicaragua in this period, presumably to safeguard their lives, integrity, and personal freedom.

Working in close collaboration with civil society, the IACHR has also published alarming information on situations of gender-based discrimination, including complaints relating to women and the LGBTI since the start of the crisis that indicate disrespect for gender identity and sexual violence, including allegations of sexual abuse and rape. It is also concerned by the mistreatment of children and adolescents during the crisis, including in contexts of deprivation of freedom. This mistreatment has included attacks on their personal integrity and lives and has so far gone unpunished.

The IACHR noted that according to the information provided by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (Nicaragua GIEI), in a context in which the civilian population has been systematically targeted in retaliation for social protests, events have taken place that should be classified as crimes against humanity, according to international law.

The IACHR also spoke out against the murders in rural areas of the country of campesino men and women who are social leaders, activists, or have been identified as dissidents. Impunity also continues to surround these murders. Likewise, it drew attention to the invasion of indigenous territories and the pattern of attacks that have taken place as part of this process, which continue to lead to fatalities, injuries, and the displacement of families and communities of indigenous people and people of African descent in the autonomous Caribbean regions of the country. To date, the IACHR has not received information indicating that processes for truth and justice have been set in motion in these cases, and neither have measures to prevent them from occurring.

The IACHR has reported that Nicaraguan authorities have deployed various strategies entailing the use of force during the most extreme stages of state violence to silence dissident voices demanding an end to impunity and the return to democracy in the country.

These include the expulsion of at least 150 students from public universities and the dismissal of more than 400 public health workers. As part of this process, the IACHR has also recorded attacks on freedom of the press through police raids on media outlets and the persecution of independent media workers, which has led to the closure of several such outlets, the threat of closure of others, and forced more than 90 journalists into exile.

The IACHR has also observed the ongoing use of deprivation of freedom as a strategy to limit public freedom and silence dissidents' voices. As of April 2021, at least 115 people are reported as being deprived of their freedom. The use of raids, monitoring, and threats; impediments to the right to freedom of association and assembly; and police or parapolice operations to forcibly displace social leaders who have been released from prison are among the measures recorded as part of the IACHR's monitoring work that indicate a clear intention on the part of State authorities to prevent any social or political organization process that challenges the impunity the State seeks to impose on society.

Furthermore, the IACHR noted with concern that the risk faced by human rights defenders in Nicaragua remains on the rise as a result of the escalation of attacks, threats, harassment, intimidation, and other acts of violence committed against them by government sympathizers or national police force agents. Another point of concern is the persistence of actions seeking to restrict the ability of human rights organizations to go about their legitimate work defending human rights. These have included the destruction of the headquarters of organizations that had been arbitrarily occupied by government forces since 2018.

Impunity

The IACHR expressed its regret over the Nicaraguan State's manifest unwillingness to address impunity and over the serious crisis affecting the country as a whole. To date, the highest State authorities continue to adhere to a narrative that denies human rights violations and stigmatizes victims. Furthermore, the set of laws passed in 2019 remain in force, despite being incompatible with the right to truth, access to justice, and comprehensive reparation for victims of repression. These include the Amnesty Act. This situation is compounded by the lack of independence in the administration of justice, thus strengthening the impunity surrounding the human rights violations that have taken place.

In this context, the IACHR reminded the State of Nicaragua of its nondelegable duty to maintain and publish reliable information regarding the victims of human rights violations. Guaranteeing the right to truth, access to information, and freedom of expression is essential to promoting the clarification of past violations.

Despite the failure of the Nicaraguan State to comply with this obligation, the IACHR has continued to update its records of fatalities since the start of the crisis, based on input from civil society organizations and the figures gathered by the Nicaragua GIEI. These records will be published in due course.

Three years after the crisis began, the IACHR calls on the State to end the impunity that prevails in the country and take the measures needed to move beyond this crisis and re-establish democratic institutions through processes that promote truth, justice, and full reparation for the victims of this grave crisis. It also reminded the State that in addition to being an international obligation, this is the only set of mechanisms that will bring about a truly stable national reconciliation process.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 093/21