Nicaragua (report): As impunity for crimes against humanity reigns, repression strategies evolve

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© Fotografía de Jader Flores

Managua, Paris – In a report released today, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) analyse the repression and terror – including extrajudicial executions constituting crimes against humanity – carried out by the Nicaraguan state and paramilitary structures.

In the context of student and citizen protests initiated on 18 April 2018, 328 people were killed, marking a breaking point for Nicaraguan democracy and an unmistakable shift toward authoritarianism. Those responsible for these crimes are still in power today – enjoying utter impunity – while continuing to repress the population.

The 72-page report, “Accountability now! Extrajudicial executions and repression in Nicaragua, 2018-2020,” is the result of FIDH’s and CENIDH’s close monitoring and analysis from 2018 to 2020. The report has two axes; the first examines 113 extrajudicial executions committed between April and September 2018 and explains why they constitute crimes against humanity. The second axis of the report shows how, still today, these same state and paramilitary apparatuses double down on repression via different strategies.

Extrajudicial executions as crimes against humanity

The report highlights the systematic nature of the murders, with particular focus on the coordination between state and paramilitary entities, including militias loyal to President Daniel Ortega, who is also secretary general of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). It also outlines the genesis of these paramilitary groups and how they continue to play a role of control and social repression.

The report denounces high-ranking officials’ roles in the extrajudicial executions, including Ortega who, as president, heads the government and the country’s security forces; Vice President Rosario Murillo; National Police Commissioner Francisco Javier Díaz Madriz; and former Health Minister Sonia Castro – the latter for issuing orders to refuse medical assistance to those wounded during protests and barricades. Furthermore, the report details responsibilities of lead perpetrators carrying out orders.

Same repression, new tactics

In 2019 and 2020, “express kidnappings” emerged as a new means of repression. During the last quarter of 2019, an average of 10 kidnappings or illegal arrests were perpetrated every day by police and armed civilians.

Those who were arbitrarily detained during the 2018 protests have suffered from relentless persecution and threats long after their release. Many have been denied access to higher education, while paramilitary groups connected to the government besieged and stained the houses of the released prisoners and their families with paint.

Those still detained have not benefited from the release measures taken by the government to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission. While over 6,000 people convicted of ordinary offences were released from January to September 2020, more than 100 political prisoners remain behind bars and continue to be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Many of them have been issued arbitrary and disproportionate sentences of up to 90 years in prison.

Furthermore, the past two years have seen killings by non-state actors of indigenous people and peasants, with the state’s tacit consent.

Forms of repression continue to evolve: early in 2021 a set of freedom-curtailing laws has begun being implemented. Passed late last year, this new legislation further diminishes space for civil society – restricting the right to criticise the government and imposing obstacles to NGOs’ activities and the opposition’s participation in the November 2021 elections.

FIDH and CENIDH believe that Nicaragua will not be able to emerge from the current crisis if the crimes against humanity committed by the Ortega-Murillo regime remain unpunished. The repression must cease and political prisoners must be released immediately.

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