Ms Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the Commission

Foreign Ministers of the EU member states

                                                                                      Brussels, July 2nd, 2019

Re: Human Rights Violations in Nicaragua

 

Dear High Representative Mogherini,

Dear Foreign Ministers,

We are writing to share with you the findings of Human Rights Watch’s recent report on the crackdown by National Police and heavily armed pro-government groups in Nicaragua, and to urge you to take concrete steps to increase pressure on the Nicaraguan government to curb human rights violations.[1]

The Nicaraguan government’s crackdown has resulted in more than 300 deaths and 2,000 people injured, the torture of detainees, and abuse-ridden prosecutions. Human Rights Watch’s report examines what happened to many of the hundreds of people arrested by police or abducted by armed pro-government groups. Many detainees were subject to serious abuses that in some cases amounted to torture—including electric shocks, severe beatings, fingernail removal, asphyxiation, and rape. Many injured detainees were reportedly denied medical care in public health institutions and doctors who provided care said they suffered retaliation. Detainees have also been subject to prosecutions for alleged crimes in connection with their participation in anti-government protests or their role in social movements that challenged the government. These prosecutions were marred by serious violations of due process and other fundamental rights.

The government has also targeted those who have reported on the crackdown and subsequent abuses. It has raided the offices of independent media outlets, filed criminal charges against two journalists, revoked the legal registration of nine civil society organizations, and expelled foreign journalists and international human rights monitors from the country.

Authorities’ human rights violations remain unpunished. Moreover, President Daniel Ortega has promoted top officials responsible for the abuses.

Sustained international pressure is needed to curb the widespread violations, allow Nicaraguans to return from exile, end censorship, and restore judicial independence in Nicaragua.

We welcome the statements of concern[2] about human rights violations in Nicaragua issued by the European External Action Service, the Foreign Affairs Council[3], the European Parliament[4], and several EU member states. To redouble pressure on the Nicaraguan government, we urge the EU and its member states to impose targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, against senior government officials who bear responsibility for gross human rights violations, including but not limited to:

  • President Daniel Ortega, supreme chief of the National Police who holds sweeping powers, including to “command” the police at his will and dismiss police chiefs who disobey his orders;
  • Retired General Aminta Granera, former chief of the National Police, who was the head of the force until she was replaced by General Francisco Díaz;
  • General Francisco Díaz, chief of the National Police, who is believed to have exercised significant control over the force first as deputy director and in his current position;
  • General Ramon Avellán, deputy chief of the National Police, who acted as the highest-ranking member of the National Police in Masaya, where police and armed pro-government gangs brutally repressed protesters;
  • General Jaime Vanegas, inspector general of the National Police, who is required under Nicaraguan law to investigate alleged rights violations by police officers and sanction those responsible;
  • General Luis Pérez Olivas, chief of the Direction of Judicial Assistance (DAJ, also known as El Chipote), which is the “main place” where authorities perpetrated egregious abuses against anti-government demonstrators, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and
  • General Justo Pastor Urbina, chief of the Department of Special Operations (DOEP, by its Spanish acronym), which played a “central role” in the repression throughout the country, according to the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In addition, we urge the EU and its member states to:

  • Condition any budgetary support, particularly the reinstatement of police funding, to:
    • the opening of credible, impartial, and exhaustive investigations by the Attorney General’s Office into the alleged responsibility of top police officials in grave human rights violations committed in the context of the 2018 crackdown; and
    • verifiable efforts by authorities to dismantle and prosecute armed pro-government groups.
  • 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.

Finally, we wish to draw your attention to the fact that the principle of universal jurisdiction may be applied to certain grave international crimes, such as torture, and we urge you to send a clear message to Nicaraguan authorities that such crimes may be subject to investigations by judicial authorities.

Sustained international pressure has played a key role in the Ortega administration’s recent release of 392 people accused of committing crimes in the context of anti-government protests, but this pressure must continue. As of June 19, many of these individuals remained under house arrest and subject to criminal prosecution, and 100 additional individuals were arrested and released in March in the context of new demonstrations.[5] Moreover, these releases should not overshadow the fact that, according to OHCHR reporting and our review of publicly available information, there have not been prosecutions of security forces for abuses committed during the protests.[6]

We thank you for your attention to this important and urgent matter. Please do not hesitate to contact us for any additional information.

Sincerely yours,                  

Lotte Leicht                                                                                      
EU Director                                                                                        
Human Rights Watch                                                                 

José Miguel Vivanco
Americas Director
Human Rights Watch

CC:

Head of Cabinet of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mr Stefano Grassi

Deputy Head of Cabinet of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mr Oliver Rentschler

Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Ms Helga Schmid

Deputy Secretary General for political affairs, Political Director, EEAS, Mr Jean-Christophe Belliard

Deputy Secretary General for economic and global issues, EEAS, Mr Christian Leffler

Chair of the EU’s Political and Security Committee, Amb. Sofie From-Emmesberger

Ambassadors to the EU Political and Security Committee

EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Mr Eamon Gilmore

Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Nicaragua and to the Central American Integration System (SICA), Amb. Kenneth Bell

Managing Director for the Americas, EEAS, Ms Edita Hrda

Director, Deputy Managing Director for the Americas, EEAS, Mr Hugo Sobral

Head of Division for Mexico, Central America and Caribbean, EEAS, Ms Katja Afheldt

Managing Director for Human Rights, Global and Multilateral Issues, EEAS, Ms Lotte Knudsen

Director, Deputy Managing Director for Human Rights, Global and Multilateral Issues, EEAS, Mr Marc Giacomini

Head of Division for Human rights, EEAS, Ms Luisa Ragher

Chair of the EU’s Working Party on Latin America and the Caribbean (COLAC), Mr Peter Van de Velde

Members of the EU’s Working Party on Latin America and the Caribbean (COLAC)

 

Annex:  Additional Background

Overview

In April 2018, Nicaraguans took to the streets to protest the government of President Daniel Ortega. They were met with violence. A brutal crackdown by the National Police and heavily armed pro-government groups against protesters left more than 300 people dead and more than 2,000 injured. In the ensuing weeks and months, hundreds were arrested as authorities increased their repression of dissent.

In our report released on June 19, 2019, titled “Crackdown on Nicaragua: Torture, Ill-Treatment, and Prosecutions of Protesters and Opponents,” Human Rights Watch examined what happened to many of the hundreds of people arrested by police or abducted by armed pro-government groups. Many detainees were subject to serious abuses that in some cases amounted to torture—including electric shocks, severe beatings, nail removal, asphyxiation, and rape. Some who were injured were reportedly denied medical care in public health centers and doctors who did provide care said they suffered retaliation. Detainees have also been subject to prosecutions for alleged crimes in connection with their participation in anti-government protests or their role in social movements challenging the government that were marred by serious due process violations.

The Nicaraguan government has also targeted those who have reported on the crackdown in the streets and subsequent abuses. It has raided the offices of independent media outlets, filed criminal charges against two journalists, cancelled the legal registration of nine civil society organizations, and expelled foreign journalists and international human rights monitors from the country.

The cases documented by Human Rights Watch are consistent with a pattern of systematic abuse against anti-government protesters and opponents that has been reported by the IACHR and the OHCHR. Around 62,000 Nicaraguans have fled their country since the crackdown began in April 2018, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The OHCHR 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. Human Rights Watch has been unable to confirm if the killing that led to the sentence occurred in the context of the anti-government protests. President Ortega, who under Nicaraguan law is the police’s “supreme chief,” has promoted top officials who bear responsibility for the abuses, instead of ensuring that they are brought to justice.

Excerpts from Human Rights Watch’s report Crackdown in Nicaragua

Pathways to legal accountability in the European Union (page 93)

The 2012 European Union Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy, and its implementing action plan, guide EU foreign policy. The framework recognizes the European Union’s aspiration “to build a world founded on respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.” It affirms that such principles “underpin all aspects of the internal and external policies of the European Union.” It also explicitly recognizes that when “faced with violations of human rights, the EU will make use of the full range of instruments at its disposal, including sanctions.”[7]

In accordance with this framework, all agreements on trade or cooperation with non-EU countries stipulate that human rights are central to relations with the EU. The EU has imposed sanctions for human rights breaches in several instances.[8]

Restrictive measures should be proposed by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security policy to be then adopted unanimously through a Common Foreign and Security Policy Council decision. If the decision includes an asset freeze or other types of economic or financial sanctions, it should be implemented through a council regulation that describes the scope and details for their implementation. These regulations are binding on any person or entity within the EU.[9]

One of the strategic objectives of the European Union’s cooperation plan with Nicaragua for 2014-2020 is “the promotion of democracy, good governance, and respect for human rights and the rule of law.”[10] Similarly, the EU-Central American Free Trade Agreement emphasizes that respect for democratic principles and fundamental rights is “an essential element” of the agreement. A key objective of the agreement is cooperation between parties to “strengthen democratic institutions, full respect for the rule of law (…) and human rights.”[11]

Universal Jurisdiction (page 90)

The principle of “universal jurisdiction” allows national prosecutors to pursue individuals believed to be responsible for certain grave international crimes such as torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, even though they were committed elsewhere and neither the accused nor the victims are nationals of the country.

Such prosecutions are an important part of international efforts to hold perpetrators of atrocities accountable, provide justice to victims who have nowhere else to turn, deter future crimes, and help ensure that countries do not become safe havens for abusers. Universal jurisdiction can act as a crucial safeguard against impunity when states are unwilling or unable to properly investigate and try alleged crimes that occur on their territory.[12]

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment requires states parties to either extradite or prosecute officials of foreign governments present on their soil, who have committed acts of torture.[13] A similar provision is included in the Inter American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture.[14]

 

[1] Human Rights Watch, Crackdown in Nicaragua: Torture, Ill-Treatment, and Prosecutions of Protesters and Opponents, June 19, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/06/19/crackdown-nicaragua/torture-ill-treatment-and-prosecutions-protesters-and.

[2] Statement by the Spokesperson on the latest events in Nicaragua, June 13, 2019, https://eeas.europa.eu/topics/external-investment-plan/64072/statement-spokesperson-latest-events-nicaragua_en (accessed July 1, 2019). Statement by the Spokesperson of the HRVP on the repression of demonstrations in Nicaragua, March 18, 2019, https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/59808/statement-spokesperson-hrvp-repression-demonstrations-nicaragua_en (accessed July 1, 2019).

[3] Council Conclusions on Nicaragua, January 21, 2019, https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-5110-2019-INIT/en/pdf (accessed July 1, 2019).

[4] European Parliament resolution on the situation in Nicaragua, March 14, 2019, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-8-2019-0219_EN.html (accessed July 1, 2019).

[5] Of these, 286 were released to house arrest or under another restrictive regime; charges remained levied against them. The remaining 106 were released pursuant to an Amnesty Law (Law No. 996) that came into force on June 10. Human Rights Watch, Crackdown in Nicaragua: Torture, Ill-Treatment, and Prosecutions of Protesters and Opponents, p. 44.

[6] Ibid, pp. 2 and 44.

[7] Council of the European Union, “Human Rights and Democracy: EU Strategic Framework and EU Action Plan,” June 25, 2012, http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-11855-2012-INIT/en/pdf (accessed June 8, 2019).

[8] European Union, “Human Rights,” n.d., https://europa.eu/european-union/topics/human-rights_en (accessed June 8, 2019); European parliament “European Parliament resolution of 14 March 2019 on a European human rights violations sanctions regime,” March 14, 2019, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-8-2019-0215_EN.html?redi... (accessed June 27, 2019)

[9] Council of the European Union, “Adoption and review procedure for EU sanctions,” n.d., https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/sanctions/adoption-review-pr... (accessed June 8, 2019).

[10] European External Action Service and European Commission – Directorate General for Development and Cooperation – Europaid, “Country Strategy Paper and Multiannual Indicative Programme 2014-2020. Nicaragua,” n.d., https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/nicaragua/13609/country-strategy-pape... (accessed June 12, 2019).

[11] European Union Official Gazette, “Agreement that establishes an association between the European Union and its member states, on one side, and Central America, on the other” (“Acuerdo por el que se establece na asociación entre la Unión Europea y sus Estados miembros, por un lado, y Centroamérica, por otro”), December 15, 2012, (copy on file at Human Rights Watch).

[12] “Q&A: First Cracks to Impunity in Syria, Iraq,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 20, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/20/qa-first-cracks-impunity-syria-iraq (accessed June 8, 2019).

[13] United Nations Committee against Torture, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, June 26, 1987, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CAT.aspx, Art. 5(2).

[14] OAS, Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, December 9, 1985, http://oas.org/juridico/english/treaties/a-51.html (accessed June 8, 2019), art. 12.