(Brussels) – The European Union (EU) and its member states should act promptly under its newly adopted sanctions framework to impose targeted sanctions against President Daniel Ortega and other top Nicaraguan officials responsible for serious human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said today.
On October 14, 2019, EU foreign ministers adopted a legal framework for targeted restrictive measures against people and entities responsible for human rights abuses in Nicaragua, following violent repression of anti-government protests that broke out in April 2018.
“Now that the EU has the legal framework to sanction key Nicaraguan officials implicated in the brutal crackdown on opponents, it should swiftly impose travel bans and assets freezes against key officials responsible for serious abuses,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Pressure is pivotal to curb further violations and ensure accountability for acts that are serious crimes under international law.”
The crackdown on protests has resulted in at least 328 deaths, with thousands of people injured and hundreds arbitrarily arrested and detained. Many of those detained have suffered torture and other ill-treatment – including electric shocks, severe beatings, fingernail removal, asphyxiation, and rape – by the National Police, sometimes operating in coordination with armed pro-government gangs. The Ortega government has also targeted civic leaders and independent journalists.
In a letter sent to EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and foreign ministers in July, Human Rights Watch urged the EU to impose targeted sanctions against seven senior Nicaraguan officials:
- 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 Gen. Aminta Granera, former chief of the National Police, who was the head of the force until she was replaced by Gen. Francisco Díaz in September 2018;
- Gen. Francisco Díaz, chief of the National Police, who is believed to have exercised significant control over the force first as deputy director and then in his current position as chief, which began in September 2018;
- Gen. 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;
- Gen. 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;
- Gen. Luis Pérez Olivas, chief of the Direction of Judicial Assistance (DAJ, also known as El Chipote), which was the “main place” where authorities carried out egregious violations against anti-government demonstrators, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has reported; and
- Gen. Justo Pastor Urbina, chief of the Department of Special Operations (DOEP, its Spanish acronym), a police unit that played a “central role” in the repression throughout the country, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has reported.
International pressure has played a key role in securing the Ortega government’s release of hundreds of detainees between mid-March and mid-June of this year. Charges were dropped against some of them under an amnesty law adopted by the government in June.