Nicaragua: Crimes against humanity being committed against civilians for political reasons, investigation says

GENEVA (2 March 2023) – Widespread human rights violations that amount to crimes against humanity are being committed against civilians by Nicaragua’s Government for political reasons, the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua said in a new report that calls for the international community to impose sanctions on institutions or individuals involved.

The alleged abuses – which include extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, torture, arbitrary deprivation of nationality and of the right to remain in one’s own country – are not an isolated phenomenon but the product of the deliberate dismantling of democratic institutions and destruction of civic and democratic space, the report said.

«These violations and abuses are being perpetrated in a widespread and systematic manner for political reasons, constituting the crimes against humanity of murder, imprisonment, torture, including sexual violence, deportation, and politically motivated persecution,” independent expert Jan Simon said. “The Nicaraguan population lives in fear of the actions that the Government itself may take against them.”

«These violations and abuses are perpetrated in a widespread and systematic manner for political reasons, constituiting crimes against humanity.»

«The high authorities of the Government have managed to instrumentalize the Executive, Legislative, Judicial, and Electoral Branches to develop and implement a legal framework aimed at repressing the exercise of fundamental freedoms and persecuting opposing persons,” Simon added. “The objective is to eliminate, by different means, any opposition in the country.”

The report identified a pattern of extrajudicial executions carried out by agents of the National Police and members of pro-government armed groups who acted in a joint and coordinated manner during protests that took place between April 18 and September 23, 2018. The Government obstructed any investigation regarding these and other deaths.

The report also said agents of the police and the National Penitentiary System and members of pro-government armed groups committed acts of physical and psychological torture, including sexual and gender-based violence in the context of the apprehension, interrogation, and detention of opponents.

In addition, the report found that the Government has used arbitrary detention as a tool to silence critics. Many arrests were characterized by excessive use of force by the police and violence at the hands of pro-government armed groups; many people were detained without warrants and held incommunicado.

«All these actions are possible because the State has been used as a weapon of persecution against the population,” said expert Angela Maria Buitrago.

“To accelerate this process, the authorities have sought the persecution, criminalization, and elimination of any opposing voice,” Buitrago said. “Thousands of human rights defenders, NGO workers, activists, journalists, student leaders, religious figures, and artists, as well as the main national and territorial leaders of the political opposition, were forced to leave the country.”

Since December 2018, at least 3,144 civil society organizations have been shut down, and virtually all independent media and human rights organizations operate from abroad.

The situation continues to worsen. In February 2023, Nicaraguan authorities deprived 222 individuals of various profiles of their nationality and expelled them from the country, accusing them of being «traitors to the homeland.» The same month, the Court of Appeals of Managua declared another 94 persons residing in Nicaragua and abroad traitors to the homeland and resolved to impose the loss of nationality and order the confiscation of their assets in favor of the State.

“The Group concluded that President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo have put into practice patterns of these crimes, and continue to do so as of the date of this report”, the report said.

«The violations, abuses, and crimes investigated by the GHREN and described in the report give rise to the responsibility of the State of Nicaragua, as well as individual criminal responsibility of those found guilty, either under international criminal law or in accordance with the criminal definitions in Nicaraguan or third country legislation,” said Simon. “Today, the State and the international community have this information to take action.”

The report called on the Government to immediately release all persons arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, cease violations, abuses, and crimes, particularly persecution on politically motivated grounds, and undertake exhaustive, independent, and transparent investigations of documented violations, abuses, and crimes to hold perpetrators accountable.

The report also called on the international community to initiate legal action against the individuals responsible for the documented violations and extend sanctions to institutions and individuals involved in the commission of violations and crimes under international law.