Washington, DC—A new report released today by an independent panel of investigators provides one of the most detailed and damning accounts yet available of the Nicaraguan government’s role in committing human rights abuses against civilians in order to suppress massive protests. In light of the Nicaraguan government’s ongoing crackdown on civil society, as well as its expulsion of the investigative team behind the report a day before publication, this makes it all the more urgent that the Organization of American (OAS) and the United Nations (UN) take action to hold the Nicaraguan government accountable, and press for the implementation of the report’s recommendations, according to research and advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
“The Nicaraguan government’s unwillingness to accept the report’s findings means it’s critical that the international community push for accountability,” said WOLA Director for Citizen Security Adriana Beltrán.
The report represents six months of extensive work by a group of experts on criminal prosecutions and human rights, formed by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR). The Nicaraguan government had consented to the formation of the group, agreed to its mandate and make up, and committed to allowing it access to information. Investigators interviewed victims, their families, and witnesses, and reviewed over 10,000 audiovisual materials and thousands of other documents. The report’s conclusions that the majority of protests were peaceful and that the state’s response was marked by significant human rights violations echo the findings released earlier this year by the UN.
However, the IACHR-backed report is even more explicitly and sharply critical of the role of the Nicaraguan state in the abuses that took place. It finds that the Nicaraguan National Police were responsible for the majority of killings that took place over a 42-day period. Given the degree of coordination between various police bodies, it concludes that President Daniel Ortega should be investigated to determine any role in ordering the violence. Additionally, state institutions ranging from the justice system to the health ministry should be investigated and purged due to their role in denying victims due process, justice, and even basic medical care, the report stated.
“President Daniel Ortega’s government will only become more isolated, unless the government immediately starts implementing the report’s recommendations, including disarming paramilitary groups, investigating and removing authorities who’ve committed human rights crimes, and reforming the police and justice system,” said Beltrán.
Of the 109 deaths reported between April 18 to May 30, 100 remain unresolved, as “the investigations have neither been exhaustive nor impartial,” the report stated. Of the six cases that did result in a conviction, all involve victims who were linked to the state or to the ruling party. No investigations have been opened against state security forces or state-aligned paramilitary groups for their role in killing, beating, and in some cases torturing and sexually assaulting protestors and detainees. Instead, the justice system has demonstrated a consistent pattern of systematically violating citizens’ due process rights and arbitrarily detaining people with little evidence to support charges, the report found.
“The Group of Experts report makes it unequivocally clear that the Nicaraguan government and its president, Daniel Ortega, have the ultimate responsibility for many of the abuses that took place in April and May of this year in Nicaragua,” said Beltran. “The president and his inner circle need to accept that Nicaragua cannot move forward unless they begin a process that will lead to independent investigations, and recommendations for criminal prosecution,” said Beltrán.