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Credit: Rash Brax

Call for an International


Mechanism against Impunity
in Nicaragua

February 2022
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FIDH/CENIDH - Call for an International Mechanism against Impunity in Nicaragua
Call for an International Mechanism against
Impunity in Nicaragua

In November 2021, Nicaragua’s dictatorial regime was consolidated. This process, which began in 2007, has
enabled Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo to cling to power, co-opting all Nicaraguan institutions
through repression and the violation of the human rights of hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans. As of
31 December 2021, 355 people had been killed in the repression, more than 160 people had been deprived
of their liberty and more than 110,000 people had been exiled. All these crimes remain unpunished.

FIDH and its member organisation in Nicaragua, CENIDH, which works from inside the country, have
been monitoring, documenting, and accompanying victims of repression since 2018. Our organisations
call on the international community, represented in the United Nations, to issue a robust response and
strengthen measures aimed at putting pressure on the Ortega regime to cease repression against civil
society and to provide alternative forms of justice for the thousands of victims of the regime.

Outbreak of the crisis:

On 18 April 2018, a group of students took to the streets to protest against unilateral reform of the social
security system. Police forces and paramilitary elements linked to the ruling party, the Sandinista National
Liberation Front (FSLN), quashed the spontaneous youth action with unbridled repression, which included
the first killings, triggering widespread protests that escalated over the ensuing days and weeks.

However, the April demonstrations did not happen by chance. Since Ortega’s return to power in 2007,
social discontent had been mounting and it escalated in the years leading up to 2018, amid an increase
in state repression of critical individuals and organisations, restrictions on freedom of expression and
mobilisation, allegations of electoral fraud, and the increasingly evident loss of independence of the
branches of government, together with the authoritarian concentration of power in the executive. The
electoral farce of 7 November 2021, in which Daniel Ortega was re-elected, with his main challengers in
prison, confirmed the fears of the international community and led to a refusal by a considerable number
of states to recognise Ortega’s mandate.

Serious violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

Several reports published by CENIDH demonstrate that a sustained policy of multiple human rights
violations has developed in Nicaragua, including extrajudicial executions; various attacks on journalists
and the media; harassment and persecution of victims and persons considered to be opponents of the
regime; attacks on human rights defenders and organisations; restriction on the right to make demands,
demonstrate and protest for social change; dismissals of health and education professionals; expulsion
of students from educational establishments; detentions, prosecutions, trials and criminal sanctions
imposed in arbitrary proceedings and in violation of due process guarantees.

The list of human rights violations is long, so we present below a summary of the main violations of the
ICCPR. Impunity has meant that these violations have not ceased, but on the contrary, have worsened
and increased, to the detriment of Nicaraguan civil society, which cannot be abandoned.

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FIDH/CENIDH - Call for an International Mechanism against Impunity in Nicaragua
1. Violations of the right to life (Article 6): 355 killings
The killings took place between April and September 2018. In the period from April to May 2018 alone,
more than 70 people were killed by the police and pro-Ortega parastatal groups. These events led to
social outcry and the organisation of further marches in solidarity with the mothers of those killed. At one
of these marches, pro-Ortega forces fired into the crowd, killing 19 people and injuring dozens of others.

In June 2018, protesters set up roadblocks (called “tranques”) in towns and on roads inside the country.
The state reacted with “operación limpieza” (operation clean-up) in which coordination between pro-Ortega
parastatal groups and the security forces led to more killings in efforts to dismantle the roadblocks. By
23 September 2018, when the march “Somos la voz de nuestros presos políticos” (We are the voice of our
political prisoners) took place, the death toll from this wave of repression had reached 325 people.

FIDH and CENIDH documented and analysed 113 of these killings and concluded that they constitute
extrajudicial executions that amount to crimes against humanity. The report Basta ya de Impunidad!
Ejecuciones extrajudiciales y represión en Nicaragua, hasta cuando? (End impunity! How long will extrajudicial
executions and repression continue in Nicaragua?) demonstrates that attacks on demonstrations and
roadblocks reveal recurrent patterns, with state and parastatal actors carrying out organised attacks of
various kinds (assassinations, arbitrary detentions, disappearances, persecution) in a systematic and
widespread manner in numerous localities and regions of the country, intentionally and with knowledge,
and sometimes with the express purpose of committing such an attack.

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FIDH/CENIDH - Call for an International Mechanism against Impunity in Nicaragua
Attacks on life committed during the protests, demonstrations and roadblocks constitute crimes of
extrajudicial execution, since they fall into the category, as defined by the Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights (IACHR), of deaths attributable to state agents, or private individuals acting with their
consent, permission or approval, constituting an attack on persons considered to be enemies of the
regime. Furthermore, according to the analysis in this report, such attacks on life could constitute the
crime against humanity of murder pursuant to Article 7(1)(a) of the Rome Statute of the International
Criminal Court (ICC).

The report also describes in detail how these armed paramilitary groups, which today continue to play
a role of social control and repression, were created and organised. It also denounces the role of high-
ranking officials in extrajudicial executions, including that of Daniel Ortega, President of the Republic, the
highest authority of the government, of the country’s security forces and Secretary General of the ruling
party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), and of Vice President Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s wife.

From January to August 2019, CENIDH recorded the murder of 17 peasants, many of them considered
opponents of the regime, in acts that could constitute extrajudicial executions and which remain
uninvestigated.

On 12 February 2022, the death of political prisoner Jorge Hugo Torres Jimenez, detained in El Chipote


since 13 June 2021, was announced. He had been a leader in the Sandinista revolution and was a retired
Brigadier General. His family had spoken out about his serious health condition while in detention and
pleaded for his release on humanitarian grounds. However, he died in state custody and the circumstances
surrounding his death are unknown.

Impunity reigns in relation to all these killings and their families are deprived of truth,
justice and reparation.

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FIDH/CENIDH - Call for an International Mechanism against Impunity in Nicaragua
2. Violations of the right to liberty and physical integrity
(Articles 7, 9): 167 political prisoners
During the repression of the demonstrations, between April and May hundreds of people were arbitrarily
detained, and by the end of July 2018 more than 700 people had been arbitrarily detained with disproportionate
use of force. In total 1,614 people were detained in the context of the systematic repression carried out
from April 2018 onwards. Following the adoption of the Amnesty Law of June 2019, which sought to
grant impunity for crimes committed by state agents in the context of the 2018 repression and by private
individuals who acted with their approval, the majority of political prisoners were released from prison,
although several were subsequently rearrested. There are currently 167 political prisoners in Nicaragua.

Political prisoners have been treated in a discriminatory manner and from the moment of their arrest and
during their detention they have been subjected to beatings, threats, deprivation of food, deprivation of
visits and isolation, with a clear objective of reprisal against them.

From May 2021, in anticipation of the general elections in November 2021, the authorities began arresting
well-known members of Nicaraguan civil society, from the political opposition or identified as opponents
to the current government. Forty-three human rights defenders and political opponents were arrested,
including seven potential presidential candidates. These persons are detained in conditions that amount
to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of international human rights law.
Family members have publicly denounced cases of physical deterioration and lack of adequate medical
attention, in particular with regard to José Pallais, Mauricio Díaz, Violeta Granera, Edgar Parrales, Juan
Lorenzo Hollman, Roger Reyes and Lesther Alemán. Irving Larios, Miguel Mendoza, Roger Reyes,
Yader Parajón, Alvaro Vargas and Michael Healy are detained in punishment cells. Women human rights
defenders Tamara Dávila, Ana Margarita Vijil, Suyen Barahona and Dora María Téllez, who are held in
solitary confinement, suffer particular discrimination.

12 political prisoners are elderly and there are fears about the specific impact of detention conditions on
their physical and psychological integrity and their lives. Arturo Cruz has evident symptoms of Parkinson’s
disease and José Pallais reportedly fainted in the middle of the trial held on 16 February 2022.

3. Violations of due process (Articles 10, 14): 167 unlawful and


arbitrary prosecutions and detentions
As part of its repressive arsenal, the regime has introduced norms that are contrary to the Nicaraguan
Constitution and international human rights law. In February 2021, Law 1060 was enacted, which extended
the maximum term of detention without charge or formal judicial process from 48 hours to 90 days,
depriving people of due process by implementing a form of extra-procedural “judicial detention”, in secret,
without the presence of defence lawyers.

Thus, for 90 days from the moment of their arrest, no information was provided on the 43 people detained
in May 2021. The vast majority were held under Law 1055 of 2020 on Defending the People’s Rights to
Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace, a law that contravenes the principle of
legality with its use of broad and vague formulations. Nonetheless, all of this was endorsed by Nicaraguan
judicial officers, who are subordinate to the Ortega regime.

Since 1 February 2022, 27 political prisoners have been prosecuted and convicted, 9 of them sentenced
to between 8 and 13 years in prison. All of them were convicted of the same offence of “conspiracy to
undermine national integrity to the detriment of the State of Nicaragua and Nicaraguan society.”

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FIDH/CENIDH - Call for an International Mechanism against Impunity in Nicaragua
These trial proceedings must be annulled, on the basis that they are unlawful and failed to respect the
minimum standards of due process: they take place in a police complex rather than a court as required
by law; the facilities are highly militarised; the right to defence is flagrantly violated, with lawyers not
given access to some or all of the case files and unable to talk freely with the accused; hearings are held
behind closed doors, with only one family member having been allowed to attend; charges are without
factual or legal basis; the state applies arbitrary rules; and high-ranking officials, including Daniel Ortega,
regularly violate the presumption of innocence of the prisoners in public statements.

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FIDH/CENIDH - Call for an International Mechanism against Impunity in Nicaragua
4. Violations of freedom of expression and association
(Articles 19, 21 and 22): 79 associations deprived of their
legal status, including six universities
It was alleged that the state’s repressive response, particularly since the April 2018 protests, was justified
by the fact that a coup d’état was being prepared and human rights defenders and organisations, who
actively denounced the escalating repression, were accused of financing it. The regime attempted to
cover up the arbitrary nature of these measures by arguing that they are authorised under the regulations
in force. In order to strengthen and protect themselves, the regime introduced further restrictive laws
targeting anyone considered to be an opponent, constructing an official discourse that portrays human
rights defenders, journalists, students and opponents as the internal enemy, which clearly constitutes
“a blatant attempt to discourage people from defending human rights, to frighten those who speak out
against the Government into silent submission”.

On 28 September 2018, the Daniel Ortega regime declared opposition marches “illegal” and imposed a de
facto state of emergency or state of siege, which was still in place at the time of writing. In December 2018,
the National Assembly withdrew the legal status of nine organisations, including CENIDH, confiscating
their assets.

Since 20 October 2020, a series of restrictive laws have been enacted, forming part of the regime’s
repressive regulatory framework aimed at stifling Nicaraguan civil society, as documented by FIDH
and CENIDH in the report “New laws of repression”. In addition to Law 977 of August 2019 “against
money laundering, the financing of terrorism and the financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction,” the regime adopted Law 1040 on Foreign Agents, Law 1055 on “Defending the People’s Right
to Independence” and Law 1042 on Cybercrimes. These restrictive laws unduly control the activities of civil
society organisations. In addition, they deem foreign funding received by such organisations suspicious,
construing it as an instrument of foreign interference or a mechanism of organised crime and terrorism,
effectively making the right to freedom of association to defend human rights, and the exercise of civil
and political rights, crimes or cybercrimes.

Following the entry into force of the Law on Foreign Agents in October 2020, several organisations
announced that they would cease their activities or leave the country. For example, Fundación Violeta Barrios
de Chamorro (FVBCh) decided to suspend its operations to avoid being subject to this unconstitutional law.
At the time of writing, four former FVBCh employees are deprived of their liberty, charged with laundering
money, goods and assets under Law 977: Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, potential presidential candidate
and former FVBCh President, has been under house arrest since 2 June 2021. Her driver Pedro Vásquez,
Walter Gomez, former FVBCh finance manager, and Marcos Fletes, former FVBCh accountant, are detained
in El Chipote. On 28 July 2021, 24 organisations, most of them medical associations, had their legal
status revoked on the basis of Law 977, for criticising government policy on handling the COVID crisis.

Since December 2021, in an attempt to suppress all forms of critical thinking in a manner worthy of a
totalitarian state, the regime has cancelled the operating licences of six universities in Nicaragua. The
Universidad Hispanoamericana (Uhispam) was the first to have its licence removed on 13 December 2021. On
2 February 2022, the legal status of the following universities was cancelled: the Universidad Politécnica de
Nicaragua (Upoli), where the 2018 student rebellion was initiated, the Universidad del Trópico Seco (Ucatse),
the Universidad Nicaragüense de Estudios Humanísticos (UNEH), the Universidad Popular de Nicaragua
(Uponic), and the Universidad Paulo Freire (UPF).

It was alleged that the closure of the universities was justified on the grounds that they had “failed to
submit financial reports to the Department of Registration and Control of Non-Profit Civil Associations”
at the Ministry of the Interior, or that “the Board of Directors was without a leader”, as per the explanatory
memorandum to the decree. The decree was approved via an emergency procedure, with no member of
parliament voting against it. Since December 2018, with the support of the Sandinista MPs and their allies,
who have an absolute majority in parliament, the Ortega government has declared at least 79 Nicaraguan
NGOs illegal. The Interior Ministry has also cancelled the registrations of three US and three European
NGOs.

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FIDH/CENIDH - Call for an International Mechanism against Impunity in Nicaragua
On 7 February 2022, parliament decided to nationalise the universities and transfer their assets, without
compensation, to three new public universities.

Appeal to the international community:

Despite UN and regional efforts to address the crisis over the last three years, the situation in Nicaragua
continues to deteriorate. The Nicaraguan state has failed to implement any of the recommendations issued
by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and has increased repression, particularly in
the context of last year’s elections.

Given the ongoing serious violations reported, the complete impunity of their perpetrators, the unwillingness
of the national authorities to remedy this situation and, on the contrary, clear signs that the regime is trying
to protect itself and to remove any possibility of challenge, FIDH and CENIDH join the appeal to member
states of the Human Rights Council to renew the resolution on Nicaragua and adopt a Mechanism to
investigate, preserve evidence and ensure accountability for the serious violations that have occurred
since 2018.

The international community must send a clear message that serious human rights violations and
international crimes will not go unpunished.

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FIDH/CENIDH - Call for an International Mechanism against Impunity in Nicaragua
Keep your eyes open

Establishing the facts - Investigative and trial observation missions


Supporting civil society - Training and exchange
Mobilizing the international community - Advocacy before intergovernmental bodies
Informing and reporting - Mobilizing public opinion

For FIDH, transforming societies relies on the work of local actors.


Director of The Worldwide Movement for Human Rights acts at national, regional and international levels
publication: in support of its member and partner organisations to address human rights abuses and
Alice Mogwe consolidate democratic processes. Its work is directed at States and those in power, such as
Editor in chief: armed opposition groups and multinational corporations.
Éléonore Morel Its primary beneficiaries are national human rights organisations who are members of the
Authors: Movement, and through them, the victims of human rights violations. FIDH also cooperates with
International
other local partner organisations and actors of change.
Federation for
Human Rights -
FIDH and Centro
Nicaragüense
de Derechos
Humanos
(CENIDH)
Design:
FIDH/CB/VG The Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights (Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos -
CENIDH) is a non-governmental organization of social, humanitarian and non-partisan character,
dedicated to the defense and promotion of human rights in a comprehensive manner with a
gender and generational approach, to achieve peace with social justice.

Managua-Nicaragua www.cenidh.orgTwitter: @cenidh


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Cenidh
E-mail: cenidhdenuncias@gmail.com

CONTACT
FIDH
17, passage de la Main d’Or
75011 Paris - France
Tel: (33-1) 43 55 25 18
www.fidh.org
Twitter: @fidh_en / fidh_fr / fidh_es
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https://www.facebook.com/FIDH.HumanRights/

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