On July 7, 2021, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) published a report titled “Nicaragua, an unsolved human rights crisis: Analysis of arbitrary detentions, judicial processes without guarantees, and political persecution”. The report compiles the results of an exhaustive investigation into human rights violations committed against political prisoners who were arrested in connection to the protest movement of April 2018 and prosecuted in unfair trials.
In the context of the 2018 protests, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has registered 328 murders, thousands of people exiled, and hundreds of politically-motivated arrests. More than 124 political prisoners remain behind bars for their links to the protests.
Race and Equality found that between April 18, 2018 and February 13, 2020, a total of 657 people were detained arbitrarily. 565 of these detainees were formally prosecuted in 279 different criminal proceedings. Meanwhile, 92 of them were deprived of their liberty for periods ranging from six days to four months without ever being formally accused or brought before a judge.
Another key finding of the report is that 51% of the criminal proceedings carried out against the prisoners ended in convictions. 288 people were convicted in total, receiving sentences ranging from 6 months to 256 years. 192 people (76% of those convicted) received sentences of 5 or more years while 96 (24%) received penalties from 6 months to 4 years.
The report highlights the lack of judicial independence in Nicaragua, which has resulted in serious rights violations. The political prisoners whose cases are discussed in the report suffered violations of due process, judicial guarantees, and basic human rights throughout their trials. These violations included non-public trials, the harassment of their defense attorneys, the use of false witnesses and victims by prosecutors, and the excessive and widespread use of pre-trial detention.
Race and Equality’s Senior Legal Program Officer, Ana Bolaños, stated that “The State of Nicaragua is responsible for the actions of its police forces, along with the actions of para-police and civilian armed groups that coordinate their actions with official authorities and enjoy total impunity.”
Antonia Urrejola, the President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), remarked that the report will serve as an important tool for the international community by clarifying “the political and institutional antecedents that form the base of the current deterioration and crisis we find ourselves in today” and that the investigation “includes an exhaustive analysis of the human rights violations committed against political prisoners during their detentions and their trials, along with the challenges facing the rule of law and democratic governance in Nicaragua.”
Given the alarming situation facing both political prisoners and those released from detention, Race and Equality included a series of recommendations for the State of Nicaragua in the report, including:
- Immediately releasing all those still detained in connection to the April 2018 protests and those being charged with ‘common crimes’ in retaliation for their involvement with protests or the political opposition.
- Ending all police and para-police harassment against prisoners who have been released, their lawyers, the organizations that support and accompany them, and independent media outlets who report on their condition.
- Adopting all necessary measures to determine responsibility and ensure accountability for illegal detentions; abuses of authority; torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment; and other human rights violations committed by State agents.
- Allowing international human rights bodies, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), to return to Nicaragua.