Press Release

IACHR Condemns Acts of Violence and the Death of One Person at a Nicaraguan Prison

May 21, 2019

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Washington, DC—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the acts of violence that took place at the Jorge Navarro National Penitentiary (known as “La Modelo”) in Nicaragua. As a result, one person was killed, and according to the information the IACHR has received, at least 26 people were injured, including six prison employees. The IACHR urges the state of Nicaragua to investigate and clarify the circumstances in which these events took place, and to identify and punish those responsible for them. The state must also take the necessary measures to ensure that such events do not happen again.

According to publicly available information, on May 16, 2019, a group of inmates were protesting on the roof of their cell blocks when riot police who were based in the vicinity were given the order to enter the site using teargas canisters and firearms. During this operation, one of the police officers allegedly shot Eddy Antonio Montes Praslín, a 57-year-old US citizen, from a distance of 4 meters.

In an official statement, the government said that a group of inmates attacked officers manning the prison security perimeter at approximately 2:30 PM. They wrestled with one of the guards “with the clear intention of getting hold of his regulation firearm,” which was when the shot that killed Mr. Montes Praslín was allegedly fired. After the events, prisoners’ relatives and legal representatives came to the immediate vicinity of the prison in their dozens to request information on the status of the other people who were allegedly injured during the operation.

The IACHR notes that these events occurred against a backdrop of repeated operations and aggressions by state agents against inmates of La Modelo prison who have been identified as dissidents or who took part in the social process that began on April 18, 2018. Specifically, the IACHR has reported that these operations are carried out as a form of punishment or retaliation when prisoners protest to demand their immediate release and improvements to their conditions of detention.

Given the seriousness of these events, the IACHR wishes to stress that states are obliged to initiate ex officio investigations into all deaths of people in their custody and conduct these investigations with due diligence. These investigations should not only seek to establish who was responsible for carrying out the crimes in question but should also identify those who may have masterminded them and any authorities who by their actions or omissions may also be responsible.

“In accordance with international standards, prison guards can only make use of lethal weapons when doing so is the only possible course of action for protecting a life and less extreme measures would have proven ineffective,” said Commissioner Joel Hernández, the IACHR’s rapporteur on the rights of persons deprived of liberty and preventing and combating torture. “In connection with the death of Eddy Antonio Montes, the state of Nicaragua needs to demonstrate that the security forces involved in the events made a sustained effort to use other, less violent means to deal with the situation. The state also needs to report on any progress made during the investigation and report on the outcomes,” he added.

“The ongoing state repression and increasing numbers of fatalities are not helping to generate a legitimate, credible dialogue that will us find our way out of this crisis,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, the rapporteur for Nicaragua. “We call on the state to provide information on how many people were injured, how serious their injuries were, and what the state is going to do to provide them with appropriate medical care, and to provide this information as soon as possible. The state must also guarantee the immediate release of all people who had been arrested in and arbitrarily prosecuted in the course of the crisis,” 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. 122/19