Press Release

IACHR Condemns Persecution of Victims of Repression in Nicaragua and Calls on State to Prevent Revictimization and Promote Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Measures of Nonrepetition

November 19, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) drew attention to and spoke out against the persecution to which the state of Nicaragua is increasingly subjecting victims of human rights violations and their families, as part of the crisis that the country has been enduring since April 2018. The IACHR urged the state of Nicaragua to cease this repression and its closure of democratic spaces and to take appropriate measures to obtain truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of nonrepetition.

The IACHR noted that in addition to the closure of democratic spaces that currently characterizes the human rights crisis in Nicaragua, the families of people who have been deprived of their freedom during this crisis are increasingly becoming the targets of state persecution in the form of surveillance and the obstruction of peaceful actions. Specifically, the IACHR received information regarding a hunger strike which victims’ relatives and activists were participating in to bring about the release of political prisoners. The strike has been taking place since November 14 at San Miguel Church in Masaya, which has been surrounded by police officers seeking to prevent people from entering and leaving. Drinking water and electricity supplies have been cut off, and access to medicines and supplies is also being interrupted, which is jeopardizing the integrity and lives of the hunger strikers and those who are providing support for them. Among these people are the parish priest, Edwin Román Calderón, who suffers from diabetes and has been granted precautionary measures by the IACHR. The IACHR also learned of police blockades at the entrances to other places of worship and attacks on parishioners, monks, and nuns at several other churches in the country that have joined the protest.

On the night of November 15 and during the early morning of the following day, at least 16 people who were on their way to provide support for the hunger strikers were arbitrarily detained. On Monday, November 18, they were publicly criminalized on unfounded charges associated with using and carrying weapons and explosives. On November 11, the relatives of people who are under arrest held a press conference at which they announced the start of the Christmas without Political Prisoners campaign and reported on the instances of harassment, surveillance, theft, and aggression they have suffered at the hands of police and parapolice forces seeking to intimidate them and prevent them from engaging in actions to defend their families’ rights.

The IACHR has also been informed that the relatives of fatal victims of the crisis are increasingly becoming targets of persecution. This has taken the form of intimidatory surveillance seeking to prevent them from engaging in public and private actions to commemorate their loved ones and demand justice. The IACHR has taken particular note of the current surveillance of Matt Romero’s family, which has involved patrol cars and troops being stationed outside his home around the time of the first anniversary of his death, which took place on September 23, 2018, when he was shot during a public protest march in Managua. MESENI has also reported on police surveillance and ongoing visits from security agents to the home of Richard Pavón’s family in Tipitapa. There is video evidence of the most recent such surveillance on October 26, when his relatives were about to visit his grave to mark his birthday. His family has reported that Richard was murdered by municipal government officials on April 19, 2018, during the protests. The IACHR also received information suggesting that during the Day of the Dead celebrations, the memorial plaques on the graves of José Manuel Narváez and Josué Mojica were scratched, defaced, and desecrated. The two were fatal victims of the human rights crisis, allegedly at the hands of the state. At least a year after the death of these two young people, there is still no record of any legal proceedings or investigation seeking to shed light on these facts or provide reparation for their families.

The IACHR has also received reports regarding the ongoing arrest and criminalization of people who identified as government dissidents: as of November 15, there are 150 such people, of whom at least 13 had been deprived of their freedom and criminalized on earlier occasions. Families and civil society organizations have reported that the pattern of legal persecution of dissidents currently entails charging them with common crimes against property and other crimes such as drug trafficking or possession of drugs and weapons. Although these arrests have been concentrated in Managua, a significant number of people were also arrested in other departments, such as Jinotega, Matagalpa, Nueva Segovia, Estelí, Chinandega, León, Masaya, Granada, and Chontales. Through its Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), the IACHR has received evidence of violations of due process in these cases and of irregularities such as the issuing of release orders that have not been complied with by the prison authority several months after being issued, without any justification for this.

In the same area, the IACHR has continued to receive information on the ill-treatment and lack of timely, appropriate medical care for people suffering from health conditions who are under arrest. These cases include that of Brayan Alemán, who was reportedly beaten during the week beginning November 4, and those of Erickson David Pinell and Marco Antonio Campos, who require urgent medical attention but have not received this.

The ongoing human rights crisis in Nicaragua has led to increasing persecution of people whose rights have been seriously violated and their relatives. This persecution is unfolding at a time in which the state is moving ahead with implementing what are supposedly reconciliation policies, including establishing at least 7000 local reconciliation committees and regularly reporting on progress on the so-called comprehensive care plan for victims. Through MESENI, the IACHR has been maintaining permanent contact with organizations of victims of state repression and has noted how they are systematically excluded from the implementation of these policies, while also observing the lack of processes to promote truth, justice, and reparation for them.

Since publishing the “Gross Human Rights Violations in the Context of Social Protests in Nicaragua” report in June 2018, the IACHR has been expressing concern over the lack of access to truth and justice in the context of the crisis that began in April 2018. The IACHR also expressed its concern over the passing of laws that supposedly sought to further reconciliation but did not meet the relevant international standards on truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of nonrepetition (Press Release No. 021/19, Press Release No. 137/19, and Press Release No. 145/19). The IACHR was also extremely concerned that the policies based on these laws are a strategy to perpetuate impunity around the grave human rights violations taking place in the country.

The Executive Secretary of the IACHR, Paulo Abrão, said that “access to the individual and collective aspects of truth and memory is being blocked by the state of Nicaragua, not just because there is no process to clarify the facts, but also because of the official discourse that continues to accuse and persecute people who have suffered repression.”

The IACHR recalled that victims and their relatives are revictimized when they are not given access to information that allows them to ascertain the truth of events that entailed serious violations of their rights or those of their families, when their demands for justice are denied, and when respect is not shown for the memory of their murdered loved ones. This revictimization is intensified when, as is the case in Nicaragua, they also attacked, persecuted, stigmatized, and harassed.

The IACHR called once more on the state of Nicaragua to immediately cease its closure of democratic spaces, to refrain from persecuting and revictimizing victims of human rights violations and their families, and to release those who are still being deprived of their freedom in the context of the current crisis. For any reconciliation policy to be considered legitimate, it is essential for the persecution of victims and their families to cease and for spaces in which truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of nonrepetition are possible to be promoted.

“Without justice and without truth and, above all, if major sectors of society are excluded from the process, any attempt at reconciliation will be no more than a façade. The state of Nicaragua urgently needs to take steps to end the persecution of victims and guarantee them access to justice, in accordance with its international obligations,” said the President of the IACHR, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño.

Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, Rapporteur for Nicaragua and Second Vice President of the IACHR, argued that “respect for victims’ accounts and for the way they promote memory and demand truth is also a form of reparation. No process to end this crisis will be complete without giving victims and their families back their dignity.”

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. 297/19