Press Release

IACHR Calls for Conditions that Enable the Enjoyment of Human Rights during Nicaraguan Dialogue

February 28, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on the State of Nicaragua to ensure conditions that enable the enjoyment of human rights as dialogue begins, and stresses its call for an end to repression against the Nicaraguan people. The IACHR further requests guarantees that the process will comply with the principles of representativeness, parity, freedom and credibility, as well as with the State’s duty to allow public demonstrations. In this context, repression and disproportionate police occupation of public spaces must end, in order to defuse the current atmosphere of intimidation, restore the legal capacity of civil society organizations as well as individual rights and liberties, and ensure progress in the construction of a peaceful, democratic and constitutional solution to the serious human rights crisis in the country.

According to publicly available reports, on February 21, 2019, the Nicaraguan President announced a call to negotiations and dialogue, to “consolidate peace” in the country. The IACHR notes that this process would take place in a context of persisting, serious patterns of repression and human rights violations against human rights defenders, civil society organizations and persons deprived of their liberty in retaliation for having taken part in social protests.

By February 15, civil society organizations reported that 777 people remained incarcerated. Of those, 407 were being prosecuted and 138 had allegedly already been convicted. On February 22, the State informed the IACHR that a total of 372 people (345 men and 27 women) remained incarcerated and were being prosecuted. Concerning the 325 people that the IACHR had recorded as having been murdered during protests, the State said that the National Police had solved 32 cases and that another 21 were being handled by the courts. However, Nicaraguan authorities only acknowledge 198 deaths in the context of this crisis.

The IACHR has been observing—through its Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI, by its Spanish acronym)—the situation regarding the rights of persons deprived of their liberty in the context of the protests that started on April 18, 2018. The IACHR is particularly struck by the increasing ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty, at the hands of officers of Nicaragua’s prison system. On February 7, the IACHR was informed of assaults and other forms of ill-treatment against eight incarcerated women in La Esperanza prison. As a consequence of that ill-treatment, Irlanda Jerez—who was arrested in July and is a beneficiary of precautionary measures granted through Resolution 84/18 —is allegedly unable to leave her bed. Ms. Jerez has undergone a cardiac valvuloplasty that makes her chronically convalescent, so she needs permanent care, treatment and monitoring. Jeisy Lagos and Brenda Muñoz have allegedly been removed from their cells, and their whereabouts within the prison remain unknown.

The IACHR has also received information about persistent acts of retaliation against people held in La Modelo prison for taking part in protests, and, in particular, of repeated attacks against them by anti-riot police officers. According to the complaints that have been filed, officers storm cells unexpectedly to beat up and kick inmates, sometimes using their batons or in the presence of trained police dogs. Those raids also allegedly lead to arbitrary inmate transfers to unknown destinations, presumably punishment or isolation cells. In this context, in the early hours of February 19, anti-riot police officers allegedly attacked by surprise several of the inmates held in modules 16-1 and 16-2 in La Modelo, causing them serious injuries. A second such raid was allegedly conducted the next day, around midday. In that raid, student Levis Artola Rugama—a beneficiary of precautionary measures granted by Resolution 56/18—was taken to the maximum security cell area in retaliation for refusing to sign a document listing the charges against him.

The Commission also expresses its concern about the situation of persons deprived of their liberty who require medical care or treatment, like Max Francisco Cruz Gutiérrez, a prisoner in La Modelo who has a serious infection in his right leg following a gunshot wound he suffered when he was arrested in October 2018. According to the information received by the Commission, Max Cruz Gutiérrez has received no medical care and the authorities have refused to transfer him to a hospital or to let his family provide him with medication to treat that infection.

Similarly, based on information and eyewitness reports obtained through MESENI, the IACHR observes that illegal and arbitrary arrests persist throughout the country. The Commission was notified on February 12 of the arrests of 16 young people in police raids conducted in Estelí. Those young people had allegedly taken part in the protests that started on April 18 all around the country. Further, the IACHR has been informed of new arrests that have allegedly taken place more recently.

“The context of deprivation of liberty in Nicaragua is one of the Commission’s main causes for concern,” said Commissioner Joel Hernández, IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty. “Despite the State’s obligations derived from its duty to protect people in its custody, those people continue to face a very serious situation that puts their lives and personal integrity at risk,” he added.

The IACHR has closely followed recent developments in the country. On February 27, it was informed that 100 persons deprived of their liberty had been granted “the benefit of family cohabitation and other precautionary measures,” according to a press release issued by the State. The IACHR calls on the Nicaraguan State to explain the legal conditions of those releases, and to disclose the number of people who have been released in that context.

The IACHR warns that defenders and civil society organizations continue to be subjected to intimidation and harassment. On February 7, the Managua office of the Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development (known as Red Local) was searched without a court warrant. During that raid, officers of the State seized documents, a safe and a vehicle. Further, the organization’s manager and accountant were arrested and taken to Interior Ministry facilities, where they were interrogated and threatened. Other people who work for Red Local were also harassed in their own homes by National Police officers. These operations led to a suspension of the activities of Red Local, an umbrella group that promotes democratization and local development projects and brings together about 20 grassroots organizations active in 111 municipalities around the country.

The Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH, by its Spanish acronym) has reported constant police surveillance through officers deployed near its offices, which allegedly seeks to intimidate people who regularly go there to report human rights violations. Further—as reported during the public hearing on “The general situation regarding human rights in Nicaragua[vs5] ” that was held during the IACHR’s 171th Period of Sessions—police harassment against this organization and others severely restricts the work of defenders, particularly those who provide legal counsel to people who are being prosecuted for taking part in protests.

The IACHR has also received reports linked to the involvement of local and community party structures (for example, through the so-called Citizen Power Councils) to politically define all organizations active in the country. The Commission has also been informed of the submission of a tax reform bill that would allow the authorities to grant exemptions from income tax or to impose such a tax on civil society organizations based on a discretional assessment of their activities. Such measures, if passed, could facilitate political oversight of civil society organizations and contribute to perpetuating the current hostile environment for the defense of human rights in the country. That hostile environment is currently marked by revocations of the legal status of various organizations, arbitrary searches of their property and documents, criminalization of their defense and reporting activities, and defender expulsions.

The IACHR stresses that human rights defenders—from various sectors in society and sometimes also from State institutions—make contributions that are essential to enforce and strengthen democratic societies. Respect for human rights in a democratic State, therefore, largely relies on the effective and adequate guarantees it grants human rights defenders, so they may freely carry out their activities.

“The State of Nicaragua must end repression and criminalization against people who have taken part in social protests, release all the people arrested in that context, restore the legal status of all organizations that have had it revoked, provide guarantees of impartial trials concerning events that have taken place since April 2018, and restore the rights to information and to freedom of expression,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, IACHR Rapporteur for Nicaragua.

The Inter-American Commission calls on the State of Nicaragua to launch effective, legitimate dialogue. For that to happen, talks need to be based on the principles of representativeness (including victims’ families and various social groups), parity among different social groups and genders, freedom for political prisoners and credibility concerning the implementation of any agreements. Further, public demonstrations must be allowed in practice, and disproportionate police occupation of public spaces must end, in order to defuse the current atmosphere of intimidation and repression around the country. The IACHR also stresses that the State must comply with its international obligations concerning truth, justice and reparation.

The IACHR offers its assistance to the State of Nicaragua, to support dialogue and the implementation of any agreements that are reached concerning human rights.

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. 051/19