On June 6, 2018, The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Amnesty International, and JASS Mesoamerica organized the event “Voices of Nicaragua: Human Rights and Democracy,” within the context of the 48th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS). The purpose of the event was to raise awareness and discuss the current human rights and democratic rule crisis that has engulfed Nicaragua for over fifty days; 129 people have lost their lives, with peaceful protest being met with violence. The expert panel was moderated by Race and Equality’s Executive Director, Carlos Quesada, and featured participation from the organizing institutions, the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Paulo Abrão, and social leaders from Nicaragua.
The panelists’ combined interventions allowed those present to understand the severity of the humanitarian crisis, which includes hundreds of extrajudicial executions committed by paramilitary groups in connection with the national police, aggressions against peacefully protesting citizens, poor treatment in prison cells, and major censorship of news outlets and social media. The Nicaraguan government has been negligent in its response to the situation and has clearly violated all human rights standards and responsibilities.
The crisis was made visible to the world after the increase in repression of the past month and is the result of a systematic repressive pattern several years in the making – “a death foretold,” according to Vilma Núñez, the President of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH). In her analysis, she attributes the increase in repression and human rights violations to the formation of young Sandinista riot squads and other pro-government paramilitary groups. The catalyst that unleashed the current wave of repression is attributed to the response to protests against a reform to the pension system – a reform which harms the general population and violates the rights of the system’s beneficiaries.
The violence committed by State and paramilitary forces is of serious magnitude. We are witnessing a “systematic policy of excessive use of force,” which has clearly approved the use of extrajudicial killings, according to Amnesty International Director for the Americas Erika Guevara, who also presented the report “Shoot to Kill,” which is composed of direct testimonies. “We can say, with great concern, that after the preparation of the report, we have obtained evidence to support the claim that in Nicaragua there exists a systematic policy of violent repression that silences the voices of those who peacefully protest, by using mobs, armed civilians and paramilitary groups.”
Paulo Abrão, IACHR Executive Secretary, and Edison Lanza, IACHR Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, also both confirmed the severity of the situation of violations to human rights, personal integrity and freedom of expression in Nicaragua. The IACHR responded immediately to the wave of violence and repression by condemning the acts, and urging the Nicaraguan government to cease all repression, to guarantee freedom of expression, to try and sanction those responsible for the violent acts, and to adopt measures to guarantee truth and justice.
Marcia Aguiluz, Director of the Mesoamerica and Mexico Program at CEJIL, concluded that Nicaragua suffers from a deterioration of institutions that guarantee independent and impartial powers, and from the lack of protection of human rights for citizens. “Nicaraguan citizens are currently in a dangerous state of defenselessness, having no institutions to depend on that are capable of protecting their well-being.”
The representatives of the IACHR, CEJIL, Amnesty International and CENIDH concurred on a recommendation to prioritize guaranteeing truth and justice. As the CENIDH president stated, “A solution must be implemented quickly – each month more and more deaths are recorded. We have 129 dead so far, and the number is sure to continue to rise. There cannot be impunity in Nicaragua, because the country has been denied justice. As human rights organizations, we believe that justice must come first and then the process of democratization can continue.” In this perspective, the recommendation by Amnesty International of setting up an internal body of independent experts which oversee impartial investigations to achieve truth and justice, is extremely relevant.
The commitment of civil society organizations to confront the adverse situation was evident through the voices of some of the Nicaraguan activists who participated in the event. Aníbal Toruño, Director of Radio Dario, vowed to continue working despite having the headquarters of his radio station burned several times. Center for Health Information and Advisory Services (CISAS) leader Ana Quirós denounced the criminalization of human rights defenders: “Human rights defenders are at permanent risk, with nine out of ten leaders being targeted for violence, threats, intimidation and shaming campaigns, and six out of ten aggressions being carried out by mobs or paramilitary forces, organized by the Sandinista party for the purpose of causing harm.” She also denounced the case of Felix Maradiaga, who has been unfairly accused by State police of being a member of a lawless cartel.
Race and Equality expresses its solidarity with the victims, and the organizations in Nicaragua. We join the #VocesConNicaragua (Voices in support of Nicaragua) which demands truth and justice for the 129 people killed and their families, and for the reestablishment of a democratic order which guarantees human rights. We are ready to support advocacy actions to promote and protect their human rights.