There are innumerable human rights violations that the Daniel Ortega regime has committed against opposition figures in Nicaragua since the outbreak of the protests in April 2018, to which he responded with repression, violence, torture, arbitrary arrests, and spurious trials. The repression left 355 fatal victims, 1,614 arbitrary detentions whose cases are still in impunity, in addition to forcing more than 110,000 Nicaraguans into exile.
Four years have passed and although the situation is critical for the Nicaraguan opposition, civil society organizations continue to document cases, either in the country or from exile, in order to bring them before international justice and obtain reparation for the victims, among them more than 181 political prisoners.
The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), spoke with Alexandra Salazar, Coordinator of the “Legal Defense Unit (UDJ)”, who works in the judicial processes that are carried out on political prisoners in Nicaragua and Wendy Flores, coordinator of the |Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Nicaragua Nunca +|, on the work of accompanying the victims of repression in Nicaragua in their search for justice, the processes that have been carried out to bring the cases before international organizations and the steps that come next so that there is justice and reparation in the country.
Salazar believes that the renewal of the mandate of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the creation of the group of experts for Nicaragua will contribute to promoting investigations that guarantee justice for all the victims of Ortega’s repression since April 2018.
The documentation of all the facts is one of the most important steps to achieve justice. In this regard, Salazar considers that such documentation is a challenge for national and international organizations that no longer have direct access to the processes carried out within the National Police that lead to the prosecution of opponents in Nicaragua. Despite the lack of access, Salazar indicates that they will continue to carry out the documentation that is necessary to be able to assign responsibility or point out violations of due process.
“The repression is so intense and persistent that it has led to silence, a deep fear of reporting for fear of reprisals that can lead to arrests,” Salazar warns, despite this, family members and victims continue to report and contribute. evidence that is expected to be presented in impartial trials of domestic and international jurisdiction.
In 2019, the Daniel Ortega regime approved the disputed Amnesty Law (Law No. 996), with which they released political prisoners who were still in jail after the 2018 demonstrations and had not been previously released, an action that benefited all those people captured illegally.
However, Flores recalled that the main purpose of the amnesty was also to leave “crimes against humanity and serious human rights violations” committed by the regime against the civilian population in impunity. But if something has allowed these crimes not to disappear from people’s minds, it is that their relatives, supported by organizations that watch over human rights, continue to denounce and document the events.
“The international community has the opportunity, through its different mechanisms and procedures, to determine the responsibility of the State of Nicaragua for the serious human rights violations committed in 2018 to the present, but also to direct actions aimed at ensuring that the intellectual authors and materials of these crimes are duly judged, “explained Flores.
Political prisoners keep increasing
In the Ortega prisons there are 181 political prisoners. Some of them have been deprived of liberty since 2018, while others are about to complete their first year behind bars. Recently, several political prisoners were sentenced under processes questioned by the lack of impartiality of the Nicaraguan Judiciary and a Prosecutor’s Office in charge of falsifying evidence against the detainees, as documented by the independent media.
The number of political prisoners continues to rise and a week before the fourth anniversary of April 2018, the Police continue to besiege the homes of the families of victims of the lethal repression of 2018 and arrest citizens for the sole fact of being identified as opponents.
Flores recalls that since 2018 in Nicaragua there have been more than 800 criminal trials “against protesters, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents, businessmen and anyone who publicly dissents from the Government.”
Organizations have identified patterns within these processes that vary, depending on the stage of repression that the regime is developing. For example, the first trials had the characteristic that the defendants were accused of terrorism, obstruction of functions, damage to property, murder, among others; while in a second stage “they were accused of common crimes such as robbery, drug trafficking, and in this current repressive stage; we find crimes related to the Cybercrime Law and the Sovereignty Law,” says Flores.
Processes do not meet international standards
Salazar added that none of the processes carried out against members of the opposition, human rights defenders, activists, and journalists have complied with international standards and the detainees are not given information about the reasons for which they are taken, they are stripped of their right to have an effective technical defense, timely access to the files and much less the indispensable representation during the judicial process.
In addition to this, political prisoners are victims of psychological torture, Salazar pointed out, since the Police interrogate them daily and deprive them of adequate food and, according to the complaints of their relatives, even blankets to help them shelter from the cold of the night.
“We have filed appeals against the sentences, and all of them have been ineffective and there is full coordination and none in favor of guaranteeing access to effective and real justice for political prisoners,” says Salazar.
In favor of the release of political prisoners in Nicaragua
In March 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Nicaragua to establish a group of experts that must “carry out exhaustive and independent investigations into all alleged human rights violations” committed in the country since April 2018.
This, according to Flores, will allow the UN to know the facts and “hold the perpetrators or material authors accountable” for these violations, which is a positive step in bringing justice to the families of the victims.
“The results of this investigation could lead to potential openings of proceedings under universal jurisdiction or, in the future and with a change of government, the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court may be accepted, and these crimes committed be recognized so that they be duly sanctioned”, mentions Flores, while Salazar adds: “we have the voices of the victims themselves”, as witnesses of the crimes.
“This generation does not accept a clean slate”
Although four years have passed since the beginning of the repression and the lives of thousands of Nicaraguans have changed as a result of political persecution, human rights violations and widespread violence, organizations that work for human rights call for not to lose hope that justice will come to Nicaragua.
Salazar mentions that “we are fully certain that sooner or later justice for Nicaragua will come and it has to be real, true and under mechanisms that generate certainty and confidence that the processes are impartial.”
“Unlike the past or our history as Nicaraguans, this generation does not accept “forgiveness and forgetfulness” or the “clean slate” as a recipe, therefore, they must maintain the hope that their voices, their demands, and their constant struggles, will contribute to the different processes of searching for truth, justice, and reparation”, encouraged Flores.