Nicaragua: two years of impunity

The civic and social demonstrations that began in April 2018 were intensely repressed, causing multiple human rights violations. Español

Amerigo Incalcaterra Sofía Macher Pablo Parent Claudia Paz y Paz
22 April 2020, 5.34pm
jorgemejia/CC BY 2.0

Nicaragua commemorates two years since the beginning of the most important human rights crisis in its recent history. Its beginning can be traced back to April 18, 2018, when it started a series of civic and social demonstrations in protest at different government decisions. The mobilizations were intensely repressed by the government, resulting in numerous human rights violations. The seriousness of the events led the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to recommend that the State of Nicaragua establish an Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) to investigate the acts of violence that occurred in the country between April 18 and May 30, 2018. This recommendation was accepted by the Nicaraguan government. The GIEI began its work on July 3, 2018 and, at the end of December of that same year, we published a final report with our main findings and recommendations.

In the GIEI report, we document that the protests that began on April 18 were not the result of an isolated event, but of years of institutional processes and state practices that restricted citizen expression, closed spaces, co-opted public institutions and concentrated a disproportionate amount of power in President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo. The report also describes how they submitted the other public powers, - legislative, judicial and electoral to the will of the government” and established “a model of absolute control.”

During the six months of our mandate, we documented patterns of violence, especially the use of firearms by police forces and parastatal groups with lethal capacity as a form of repression, and the endorsement of this repression by President Ortega, Vice President Murillo, as well as other high-ranking officials from Nicaragua. The GIEI verified at least 109 violent deaths, more than 1,400 wounded and 690 detainees in the 43 days investigated, as well as the complicit actions of the health system, the lack of investigation and the absence of guaranteed due process by the Prosecutor's Office and the Judiciary. Although the period investigated by the GIEI covered events that occurred until May 30, the repression extended much longer, as evidenced in numerous reports by the IACHR, the UN, and various human rights organizations. The severity of the repression led thousands of Nicaraguans to go into exile.

The GIEI verified at least 109 violent deaths, more than 1,400 wounded and 690 detainees in the 43 days investigated.

The GIEI report describes patterns of violence, coordinated repressive action by various governmental bodies, and political endorsement for the perpetration of crimes. These characteristics, coupled with the gravity and extent of the facts, both in time and in the territory of the country, determine that the facts must be considered crimes against humanity, with all the consequences that this entails.

Unfortunately, the prosecution and justice process for the serious human rights violations mentioned in the GIEI report has not progressed. On the contrary, guaranteed impunity for these crimes was reinforced in June 2019 by the enactment of an Amnesty Law that seeks to prevent prosecution, by the National Assembly, with a majority of pro-government representatives.

Furthermore, the Nicaraguan authorities have made no progress in complying with the GIEI recommendations. Compliance is crucial to reestablishing a rule of law and ensuring that these events do not happen again, as they are aimed at reforming institutions such as the National Police, the Attorney General's Office and the Justice Administration System. Steps have not been taken to guarantee the rights of assembly, association and freedom of expression. To date, the protests remain forbidden, and the harassment of human rights defenders, social leaders and journalists has continued.

It is up to the international community, human rights defenders and organizations to take the next step of international investigation.

The violence unleashed as a result of the social protest started on April 18, 2018 has caused profound damage to families, communities and Nicaraguan society. It has damaged coexistence, altered daily life and deepened social polarization. The wounds will remain unhealed if they are not treated with truth, justice and reparation for people who have lost loved ones.

While many crimes committed in the context of the repression of protests constitute crimes against humanity, there is the possibility that they will be investigated in the jurisdictions of other States under the principle of universal jurisdiction. In order to avoid impunity, we consider it important that the member states of the regional system, the OAS, and the international system, the UN, initiate investigations and, if applicable, prosecute those responsible for said crimes within the framework of universal jurisdiction, in accordance with current international law and the internal legislation of each country.

It is up to the international community, with the help of victims' groups, human rights defenders and organizations, to take the next step of international investigation.

Finally, we recall our last recommendation in the GIEI report: we consider it "essential that Nicaraguan society in general, and in particular the most favored and least vulnerable sectors, do not leave victims of serious acts of violence alone and support them in the reclamation of justice and reparation".

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