Five years after crimes against humanity in Nicaragua, violence and impunity reign in the country


San José, April 18, 2023.- The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) held a conversation called “Nicaragua: 5 years of crimes against humanity” in San José, Costa Rica, in commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the socio-political and human rights crisis that the country has been experiencing since […]

San José, April 18, 2023.- The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) held a conversation called “Nicaragua: 5 years of crimes against humanity” in San José, Costa Rica, in commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the socio-political and human rights crisis that the country has been experiencing since April 2018.

It was attended by victims of crimes against humanity committed by the authoritarian regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, civil society organizations and experts from international human rights protection bodies, who gave their testimonies, reflected on the progress and prospects of the crisis, and demanded progress in the processes of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition. 

María Luisa Gómez, lawyer for Race and Equality gave the opening remarks and expressed that the socio-political and human rights crisis, far from being resolved, continues to deepen. 

“To date, not only has justice not been guaranteed for the victims of serious and widespread human rights violations, but the Ortega-Murillo authoritarian regime has established a continuum of violence and an oppressive climate that makes the exercise of human rights impossible and continues to claim victims in the country,” said Gómez.  

Justice without impunity

The event was divided into three panels. The first: “crimes against humanity in impunity: arbitrary deprivation of liberty for political reasons, extrajudicial executions, torture, forced population transfer, and arbitrary deprivation of nationality” was moderated by Braulio Abarca, Founder and Area Coordinator of Education and Historical Memory of the Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Never Again. It was attended by Azahálea Solís, feminist and member of the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM), Francisca Ramírez, from the Peasant Movement and Azucena López, member of the Mothers of April Association (AMA), mother of Erick Antonio Jímenez López, murdered in Masaya Monimbó in 2018,

Azahálea Solís, one of the 94 people who were arbitrarily stripped of their nationality and citizenship rights recently, explained that for the first time in the history of the country, children and senior citizens have been affected by repression and explained  that previously children and senior citizens had not suffered repression in the various dictatorships, but that the massiveness with which it has occurred is something unique to this regime. “They have been affected by extrajudicial executions, arbitrary deprivation of liberty, torture, cruel treatment, forced displacement, exile, violation of their identity”.

For her part Francisca Ramirez, exposed that the Peasant Movement has been a victim of the regime since 2013, when protests began over the concession granted to Wang Jing of the Interoceanic Canal, since then they have been arbitrarily arrested, persecuted, injured, and killed.

Ramirez asked for support from the international community for reparations for all the human rights violations that have been committed. 

Azucena López, of AMA recalled that July 17, when her son was murdered, was the darkest day of her life, having to watch over her son in the dark with one candle and four people. “Today we are still without justice, I continue to be mistreated, because my sister is in El Chipote with her husband, she was taken out as a criminal for asking for justice for my son,” said López.

Lopez added that in AMA what they are asking for is justice without impunity, since the regime denied them justice, so the current challenge is to complete the documentation on the victims.

Attacks on indigenous people have intensified.

The second panel, “Violence against indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples as a crime against humanity that must be investigated”, was moderated by María Luisa Gómez of Race and Equality. The panelists were Maria Luisa Acosta, Coordinator of the Center for Legal Assistance to Indigenous Peoples (Calpi), Amaru Ruiz of the River Foundation and Becky McCray, an indigenous leader from the Alliance of Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples of Nicaragua (APIAN).

Maria Luisa Acosta denounced that the Miskito and Mayagnas indigenous communities in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve and in the rest of the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region have been under attack since 2015 by paramilitary gangs made up of non-indigenous people, arrived from other parts of the country with equipment, clothing, military tactics, and also weapons of war.

“The State has implemented a policy of internal colonization over the autonomous regions of the Caribbean Coast through the impulse of immigration of non-indigenous people who bring with them the advancement of the agricultural frontier and more recently they have implemented an extractivist policy through forestry and mining companies,” Acosta said.

Acosta said that although the communities are asking the State for their protection, currently there is no knowledge that any gang is being investigated and on the contrary they are accusing the indigenous people of being perpetrators of the Kiwakumbaih massacre, which is why last April 13 the IACHR granted precautionary measures in favor of three Mayagnas indigenous people.

Amaru Ruiz explained that the situation of violence and invasion of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples’ land is the result of a neo-extractivist model imposed by the Ortega-Murillo regime. “A model of looting and dispossession of indigenous and Afro-descendant territory throughout the Caribbean Coast, this model has allowed the establishment of at least 141 mining concessions in indigenous and Afro-descendant territory, the advance of African palm  which is around more than 48 thousand hectares, the increase of invasion processes has increased the processes of deforestation and forest degradation that has impacted the main protected areas of the country (…) and has generated at least some 146 thousand hectares of annual deforestation.”

Ruíz denounced that one of the impacts in the area is the increase in cattle ranching and one of the caretakers of these cattle is the Nicaraguan Army “which looks after the cows more than the indigenous and afro-descendant communities, because even though they are militarized territories, they cannot find the gangs that attack the indigenous communities.”

For her part Becky McCray, said that “as a result of the political crisis of 2018 the situation has worsened at the level of violence and in violations of autonomous and self-determination rights.”

McCray explained that there is impunity for crimes against humanity against indigenous peoples, but they also face other threats such as food insecurity, because the lands are remaining in the hands of settlers and when the lands are used for livestock they are not useful for agriculture.  

Another problem that indigenous people are facing, according to McCray, is the forced displacement of entire communities that leaves indigenous people in precarious conditions in municipal capitals. 

One of the participants in the event asked how the people of the indigenous communities make known what is happening in their territory. Acosta explained that the people of the indigenous communities have had to be their own investigators, because civil society organizations and the media cannot enter the territory. “They do their census, take their photos, make videos, they have had to develop their capacity to make known the precarious situation in which they live”.

The third panel “Challenges and perspectives of the International System for the Protection of Human Rights in the face of the deepening crisis in Nicaragua” was moderated by María Luisa Gómez of Race and Equality and included Alberto Brunori, representative for Central America and the Dominican Republic of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); Jon Izaguirre, Human Rights Officer of the OHCHR, Virgina De Abajo, Head of Research at the Secretariat of the United Nations Group of Experts on Human Rights for Nicaragua and Alejandra Manavella, Advocacy Coordinator of the Mesoamerica Program of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL).

Alberto Brunori, said that despite the fact that they have tried to move all the mechanisms of the Universal and Regional Systems, the socio-political and human rights crisis continues to worsen. He sent a message of support, solidarity and commitment to Nicaraguans and human rights defenders and invited them not to lose hope.

“We must persevere, from the United Nations Office we are doing our best to accompany you, but we know that the conquest and reconquest of human rights requires not only tenacity, but also sacrifice, and we know that you have made a tremendous sacrifice.” 

Jon Izagirre explained that since 2019 the office has submitted 4 written reports and 10 oral updates to the Human Rights Council, which has allowed them to keep Nicaragua on the annual agenda. He added that they have also adopted five resolutions, the last one on April 3.

Izagirre added that another component of the Universal System is the Special Procedures. 

“In the last five years they have sent 26 communications to the government of Nicaragua on behalf of 35 thematic mandates and of these 26 they have only responded to three communications, the last one in November 2018.”

He added that another tool available to the Special Procedures are country visits, since 2018 five mandate holders have expressed interest in visiting Nicaragua and have requested an invitation to the government, however although Nicaragua has had an open invitation since 2006, it has not allowed any official visits by the special procedures since 2009.

“Regarding the prospects of our work in relation to the Universal System, in November Nicaragua’s withdrawal from the Inter-American Human Rights System will be effective, and in view of the vacuum that this could create, the office has been working on training human rights defenders in the complaint procedure before the Human Rights Committee, which has not been used by Nicaraguans for 30 years.”

Virgina De Abajo, in addition to presenting the findings of the GHREN report presented in March, said that the report would not have been able to move forward without the collaboration of organizations that contributed information since the beginning of the first mandate and asked the donor community to continue providing the necessary resources to these organizations so that they can continue to carry out the work of gathering evidence. She also hopes that the team will be expanded to cover more areas of research in the mandate that has been renewed for two years.

For her part, Alejandra Manavella insisted on the importance of continuing with the process of denouncing and documenting serious human rights violations before the international protection systems, in this case both the Inter-American System and the Universal System.

“In the case of the Inter-American System, not only to sustain the protection measures, but to advance as a priority in the system of cases and petitions of the Commission, because although the road is long, in the future it will allow us to have resolutions of the System that determine the responsibility of the State,” he advised.

The panelists agreed that the great challenge for the International System for the Protection of Human Rights in the face of the deepening crisis in Nicaragua is to have access to the country, for which they invited the various organizations to continue documenting. 

To close the event, Gómez said that “it has been this tireless work of coordinated accompaniment, documentation, advocacy, strategic litigation, which has allowed us to create rays of hope, which are opening the way against a regime that has completely closed itself to the international community.”

“From Race and Equality we reaffirm our commitment with the families, with civil society organizations and with the international community to continue with this coordinated work until we achieve justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition,” concluded Gómez.

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