Press Release

IACHR Denounces Worsening, Deepening and Diversifying Repression in Nicaragua and Expresses Concern over the Situation of Children and Adolescents in the Country

July 11, 2018

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Managua, Nicaragua – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) denounced the worsening, deepening and diversifying repression in Nicaragua over the past week. On the second week of work by the technical staff of the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI, by its Spanish acronym) —who arrived in Managua on June 24, 2018—the IACHR observed on site new forms of repression against people who take part in protests and those who oppose the government, with a special impact on children and adolescents.

As documented by the IACHR in its report “Serious human rights violations in the context of social protests in Nicaragua,” at the start of the events that have occurred since April 18 the Commission reported a pattern involving the disproportionate use of force, extrajudicial executions and mass, arbitrary detentions—especially over the first few days of protests—targeting students, workers and young people who were in the affected areas, as well as attacks on university and media facilities and other specific sites. On July 2, 2018, the MESENI documented acts of selective repression, in the form of arbitrary detentions and illegal raids on private homes to search for opposition activists and people who had taken part in protests and tranques (road blocks). As a result of such actions, many people have been forced to flee their homes and hide or have been displaced to other areas within the country or abroad. The IACHR also described a new type of repression linked to land occupations by organized groups, who invade private property as a form of intimidation (press release 141).

Over this second week of work, the MESENI observed with concern the deepening and diversifying types of repression used against demonstrators and opposition activists, and also against those who hold tranques or barricades as a form of protest and against those who cooperate with protestors in any way, including family members and neighbors. The IACHR further condemned, along with the Regional Office for Central America of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, acts of violence and attacks against members of the Roman Catholic church. According to the information the Commission has had access to, 34 people were murdered this week alone in the current context of repression, while many were injured and most of the people interviewed said they feared for their lives.

Since its working visit to Nicaragua on May 17-21, the IACHR has adopted 12 resolutions requesting the adoption of precautionary measures to protect the lives and personal integrity of 69 people and their families in connection with several issues.

The MESENI received with particular concern information on people besieged on July 3 by National Police officers and members of parapolice groups in La Trinidad, Estelí. The IACHR urged the Nicaraguan State to respect and guarantee those people’s right to life. The MESENI was informed that young people holding the tranque in that town had been attacked, leaving one person dead and at least three injured. Further, the MESENI heard that paramilitary groups allegedly detained several priests who were headed to the city in order to mediate.

The IACHR expresses its concern about reports on law enforcement actions called “clean-up operations,” launched by the State on July 5 to dismantle tranques in several towns and cities around the country. According to publicly available information, the government—through the National Police, acting alongside parapolice groups—carried out raids in Suitaba, León, Wiwilí, Jinotega, Masatepe, Ometepe and Matagalpa. The aim of those actions was to repress the people who hold tranques and barricades and the communities who support them, either as a form of protest or in search of protection from the actions of pro-government groups. Several people were reportedly killed or injured in those raids. According to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH, by its Spanish acronym), more than 160 people have been detained or kidnapped and/or gone missing in July 2018 so far.

On July 6-7, young people were attacked in Matagalpa and Sutiaba, in incidents that left one person dead and several injured. The MESENI was also informed of the attack on July 8 against the towns of Jinotepe, Dolores and Diriamba, where the population had been holding major tranques since the start of the protests. In Diriamba, almost 200 trucks had been held up for over a month. According to media reports and to information received by the MESENI from other sources, there is evidence of the deployment of weapons that are used exclusively by the army—including rocket launchers and grenades—in operations to dismantle the tranques. Based on the available information, 20 people were murdered in those attacks. The National Police reported the deaths of two officers in those operations.

Also this week, parapolice groups physically attacked reporters who were covering acts of violence and stole and broke their equipment, which affected their exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

The IACHR has also been informed of illegal raids and arbitrary detentions in various towns and cities around the country, facilitated by Citizen Power Councils (CPCs, by their Spanish acronym). The information received by the MESENI indicates that detainees were allegedly subjected to violence, ill-treatment and even torture before being transferred to the National Police unit known as El Chipote. The MESENI received recurring reports that detentions are being carried out without court warrants, that detainees are not being told why they are being detained, they are not being taken before a judge and they are not being granted access to their families or lawyers. Once a person has been illegally detained, fake charges are allegedly being pressed against them and their families and/or legal counsel are not being adequately notified of the preliminary hearings. On July 4, the IACHR was informed that neither the CENIDH nor Nicaragua’s Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH, by its Spanish acronym) had been allowed to represent people subjected to preliminary hearings, although representatives of those institutions were in the building. A public defender was designated instead. The Nicaraguan State has the obligation to immediately inform detainees, their families and their legal counsel of the reasons why they are being detained. It must also notify the place of detention. Holding detainees incommunicado and out of the control of the courts is a violation of the right to personal integrity, as well as a violation on the part of the State of its duty to protect the rights of persons deprived of their liberty. Further, the lack of access to a defense and the absence of court supervision constitute a lack of compliance by Nicaragua with its obligation to adopt any measures necessary to guarantee detainees’ rights to due process and access to justice, in keeping with international standards on the issue. Failing to comply with such obligations also exposes the arbitrary nature of detentions carried out since April 18, in widespread efforts to criminalize social protest.

The IACHR is especially concerned about the situation of adolescents who have allegedly been detained. Adolescents must never be detained or incarcerated with adults, as the IACHR has repeatedly stressed. Socio-educational measures need to be considered in the context of a restorative justice model that does not require incarceration. When deprivation of liberty is necessary, it must be implemented in facilities adapted for adolescents, with specialist staff and socio-educational programs fit to satisfy the goal of rehabilitation.

The MESENI has received from national and international organizations worrying information about the vulnerability of children and adolescents in particular. Based on those reports, girls are particularly affected by situations involving sexual abuse and sexual violence, especially after being detained. In the context of insecurity and violence in the country, children and adolescents are allegedly being subjected to internal displacement, forced migration and family separation, and several children and adolescents have also allegedly been reported missing. According to information the IACHR has had access to, 25 children and adolescents had been murdered, 8 had been detained and 4 had been taken before the courts by July 6, while 44 children and adolescents had lost their parents. The IACHR has also been informed of the recruitment of adolescents who were taking part in a gang rehabilitation program run by the National Police, so they might intervene in this context.

Further, the Commission has been informed of the lack of responses and attention on this matter from national institutions responsible for the protection of children and adolescents in the country. The IACHR and specialized national and international civil society organizations are set to coordinate their efforts to keep monitoring the specific effect of the situation on the rights of Nicaraguan children and adolescents.

The Commission has also received 17 notes and press releases by the State of Nicaragua that highlight attacks against police forces and against individuals who support the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN, by its Spanish acronym). Among acts of violence reported June 30-July 8, there are seven murders (four of police officers and three of members or supporters of the FSLN). Further, the State reports five kidnappings, including the community kidnapping of eleven people who were all released the day they were held up. The IACHR has also been informed by the State about the involvement in tranques of armed groups who have attacked and injured individuals and public officials in the departments of Carazo, Matagalpa and Managua. The Commission was also told about instances of land grabbing and illegal occupations in May-June.

Additionally, in a press release issued on July 9, the Nicaraguan State reported that, since April 18, the country’s population has suffered “the violence of terrorists who have murdered, tortured and kidnapped hundreds of citizens and set ablaze and looted family homes, public buildings and small and medium shops.” The State said Police and all other institutions will act in accordance with the law to protect citizens’ right to live peacefully and safely and to enjoy full respect for their human rights. The State further stressed its “full disposition to listen to all proposals and initiatives,” within the country’s constitutional, institutional and legal framework, “so a consensus may be reached for their approval, including all issues linked to peace, security and serenity for all Nicaraguan families, the end of terrorism, and the free movement of people and of public and private means of transportation that are vital for the survival of all Nicaraguan families.” In this context, the MESENI noted that the State’s raids in the so-called “clean-up operation” are being carried out unilaterally, outside the framework of the National Dialogue and the Verification and Security Commission in particular.

The IACHR stresses that the use of force must respect the principles of exceptionality, legality, necessity and proportionality. The Commission further notes that public officials need to refrain from comments that stigmatize defenders or that suggest that certain organizations are acting in an inappropriate or illegal way just because they promote human rights and stand up for the defense of those rights. The IACHR has said that repeated comments to stigmatize defenders may contribute to exacerbating the atmosphere of hostility and intolerance they face among certain social groups, which could affect the lives and personal integrity of those defenders and increase their vulnerability. Public authorities and other social groups might interpret such stigmatizing comments as instructions, instigations, permission or support for attacks on those defenders’ lives, their personal safety and other rights.

The MESENI’s role includes supporting and assisting the Verification and Security Commission established in the National Dialogue. This week, the MESENI’s efforts were led by Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, the IACHR’s Rapporteur for Nicaragua, and by the Commission’s Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão. Over the course of the week, the MESENI accompanied four missions by the Verification and Security Commission to obtain the release of detainees, with the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference as a witness. A total of 52 people were released in Managua, Estelí and León. In its two missions in Managua, the IACHR interviewed—individually and confidentially—people released from the police unit El Chipote, regarding their conditions of detention and the treatment they received. On July 6, the MESENI took part in an observer mission in Masaya, alongside the Verification and Security Commission’s technical coordination staff and the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference, to bear witness on the situation in tranques and on constant threats against the people of Monimbo. Parapolice groups set a house on fire in Masaya on July 4. During this mission in Masaya, a meeting was also held in National Police premises with officials of the local technological college (Instituto Tecnológico Nacional de Masaya, INATEC), who requested support to be able to return to their own facilities—allegedly occupied by leaders of the tranques—and to relaunch lessons.

The MESENI also carried out an observer mission to the police unit known as El Chipote, where it toured facilities, interviewed detainees and met with officials. During the IACHR’s visit, the police unit’s authorities committed to allowing family visits.

Commissioner Urrejola warned that “repression and arbitrary detentions must cease immediately, along with all the human rights violations that are being reported.” The IACHR’s Rapporteur for Nicaragua added that “the State must respect legal guarantees for all detainees, in keeping with Inter-American standards.”

The IACHR reminded Nicaragua of its obligations to preserve the integrity of all people and to protect them from all forms of retaliation. The State must investigate all acts of violence with due diligence, in keeping with Inter-American standards. In any actions, the State must report in detail the number of people killed, injured and detained and grant human rights organizations access to the detention and/or healthcare centers where they are being kept, as well as ensure those people have access to justice. IACHR Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão stressed the Commission’s willingness, through the MESENI, to “keep supporting this process, especially to ensure protection for people’s lives and physical integrity and for the defense of the victims.”

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. 148/18