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Nicaragua: US Should Impose Targeted Sanctions

Human Rights Watch Testifies before US Congress on Ortega’s Crackdown

An anti-government protester is dragged away and arrested by police as security forces disrupt an opposition march coined "United for Freedom" in Managua, Nicaragua, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. © 2018 AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga
(Washington, DC) – The United States Congress should press the executive branch to impose targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against senior Nicaraguan government officials responsible for abuses, Human Rights Watch said today in testimony before the US Congress.

José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, testified before the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade, on the crackdown in Nicaragua. In the context of protests against the administration of President Daniel Ortega, more than 300 people have been killed, 2,000 injured, and hundreds detained, with abuses against detainees that in some cases amount to torture. Nicaraguan authorities have harassed independent civil society groups and journalists.

“Human Rights Watch is extremely concerned about the lack of accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations in Nicaragua,” Vivanco said. “The US government should take a strong stance against atrocities in Nicaragua by imposing targeted sanctions on top officials who bear responsibility for egregious abuses.”

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that, according to available information, just one sentence has been handed down against a member of an armed pro-government group and not a single investigation has been opened into members of security forces implicated in abuses. On June 8, the Nicaraguan National Assembly passed an amnesty law for crimes committed in the context of anti-government protests. The law indicates that crimes “regulated in international treaties ratified by Nicaragua” will be excluded from amnesties. Yet, given lack of judicial independence in the country, there is a serious risk that the law will be used to consolidate the impunity for officers responsible for serious abuses in the country, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch also recommended that the US Congress:

  • Urge Nicaragua to create a special unit that – acting together with the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – will oversee investigating the most atrocious crimes that have occurred in the context of the protests; and
  • Meet regularly with human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and the opposition from Nicaragua who come to Washington to maintain balance in its understanding of the situation in Nicaragua.

Human Rights Watch supports the successful application of the Global Magnitsky Act in July and December 2018, when the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on five Nicaraguans implicated in human rights abuses and corruption.

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