The first oral report on Nicaragua by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva today brings important attention to the need for accountability for the victims of the government’s brutal crackdown.
It should spur UN member states to act on the egregious abuses committed with impunity by Nicaraguan security forces.
In April 2018, Nicaraguans who took to the streets to protest the government of President Daniel Ortega 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 following months, hundreds were detained.
Our report, “Crackdown in Nicaragua,” documented that many detainees had been subject to serious abuses, in some cases amounting to torture – including electric shocks, severe beatings, asphyxiation, rape, and fingernail removal. Some were reportedly denied medical care in public health centers. Detainees were also subject to deeply flawed prosecutions.
Since the March 2019 resolution by the UN Human Rights Council, the Ortega government has made no progress toward ensuring victims’ access to justice. Not a single police officer is known to be under investigation. The president, the police’s “supreme chief” under Nicaraguan law, promoted top officials who bear responsibility for the abuses, rather than holding them to account. A broad amnesty law for crimes committed in the context of anti-government protests came into force in June; the law could be used to allow those responsible to evade justice.
As of June 10, 392 people jailed in the connection with anti-government protests had been released. But two-thirds of these individuals were conditionally released with charges still pending.
UN member states should redouble pressure on the Ortega government, including through heightened scrutiny. States should suspend all support for Nicaragua’s National Police and condition the reinstatement of police funding on, among other steps, concrete actions to hold perpetrators accountable. Parties to the UN Convention against Torture should exercise criminal jurisdiction, to the extent permitted under domestic law, over any Nicaraguan officials responsible for torture. In its upcoming written report on Nicaragua, scheduled for September, the high commissioner for human rights should recommend that the council create a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights abuses in Nicaragua since April 2018.