REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights continued to monitor
the human rights situation in Nicaragua during the period covered in this annual
report. This section updates the
information it has in this regard and thereby supplements the special reports
prepared in connection with Nicaragua and the various sections on that country
included in earlier annual reports.
Since the new Government took over on April 25, 1990, the
Inter-American Commission has noted some positive developments in relation
to the observance of human rights. From
the standpoint of society in general, the release of political prisoners in
February and March 1990 obviated a problem that the IACHR had singled out
repeatedly. The Government has
undertaken a study to reform the Nicaraguan Prison System and has created the
National Prison Commission to prepare recommendations on what can be done to
remedy the situation of those who have been imprisoned for extended periods
while awaiting trial. The
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights appreciates the value of that
effort and joins with others who advocate the closing of the "El Chipote"
State Security prison as one of the reforms in the prison system.
The Nicaraguan Resistance and the outgoing government signed peace
agreements on April 23. In July
1990, the Resistance turned over its weapons and
demobilized. This served to
create conditions more conducive to the proper exercise of human rights, bearing
in mind the commitments that the Government undertook with respect to those who
were demobilized. The new
Government proceeded to abolish the military service under Decree-Law
2-90, dated April 25, 1990, the very day Mrs. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro
took office as President. Those
measures have been followed up by efforts to retrieve the many weapons that the
civilian population has in its possession.
However, according to reports that the Commission has received, the
results of that effort have been mixed and the police and military authorities
charged with carrying out that measure have allegedly been acting selectively.
The longstanding legal restrictions on freedom of expression were
eliminated when the law in question was amended in the period immediately prior
to that covered in this report, and the situation has remained unchanged.
In the area of multilateral organizations, on April 25, 1990, the
Government issued Decree No. 3-90, published in the Gazette on May 17,
wherein it accepts the mandatory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court
of Human Rights. On February 12,
1991, the Government of Nicaragua, through its Ambassador, Permanent
Representative to the Organization of American States, deposited with the
Secretary General of the Organization the statement recognizing the competence
of the Inter-American Court. The
Commission is pleased with this measure, which strengthens the
inter-American system for the protection of human rights and had long been
a goal of human rights groups in Nicaragua.
In September, the Government invited the Inter-American Commission
to visit Nicaragua and look at the human rights situation there.
Also during the period covered in this annual report, the new Government
took steps to make reparations for the effects of property confiscated from many
citizens during the previous regime. Thus,
on May 11, 1990, Decree Law No. 11-90, on a Review of Confiscations,
created the National Review Board chaired by the Attorney General and composed
of four persons appointed by the President of Nicaragua. The purpose of that measure was to restore the property and
rights of those who suffered unjust losses or to compensate them.
According to official reports, by January 1991, some 6,000 claims had
been filed; 300 had been favorably settled.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has received
information claiming that the
processing of the claims is slow, partly because of the obstacles raised by
those who benefited by the property that the previous government parceled out
among its officials and supporters. This
was one of the reasons the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) did
not sign the Economic and Social Agreement put forward by the Government and put
together by a number of social organizations.
But alongside the positive developments as described herein, various acts
of violence occurred in Nicaragua during the period covered by this report.
They left a number of people either dead or wounded as well as damage to
the country's infrastructure. The
National Labor Front-formed on the basis of the Sandinista Labor
Union--called three strikes and demonstrations by its members on May
2, July 2, and September 26, 1990. While those who called for the strikes contended that the
forceful measures employed were calculated to safeguard the benefits gained
under the previous government--job stability, to retain ownership of
transferred producer goods, wage and salary increases, etc.--, other
observers felt that those measures were intended to make good on a promise by
former President Ortega to "govern from the grassroots level," a
promise made in the concession speech he delivered in the elections held on
February 25, 1990.
The situations provoked at least four deaths, numerous wounded, and
serious material damage. Particular
mention should be made of the barricades erected by militant members of the
Sandinista National Liberation Front in the streets of Managua during the
disturbances that took place at the time of the strike called in early July.
During these events, a powerful explosive device was placed in the Radio
Corporación's broadcasting facility. That
station had been urging workers to go to their jobs and not to participate in
the strike. It should be noted here that Radio Corporación had been shut
down on several occasions by the previous government. A number of violent incidents took place in the vicinity of
that station. The incidents
involved armed groups that were attempting to get to the station and other armed
groups that were protecting it from any possible attacks.
In July 1990, the governments of the Central American countries issued a
statement expressing "their concern over the wave of violence in
Nicaragua" as it jeopardized democracy and national reconciliation. They urged "the various sectors of Nicaraguan society to
forsake attitudes of violence" and to give "firm and steadfast
support" to Nicaragua's constitutional Government.
In late September, the National Labor Front initiated another series of
strikes and demonstrations that culminated in violence near the Olof Palme
Convention Center. At the time,
there were meetings in progress to work out the Consultation Agreements.
The vehicles of several diplomats and that of Cardinal Obando Bravo were
damaged in these incidents.
The Commission has received information to the effect that the National
Police--the former Sandinista Police--did not make the
necessary efforts to prevent the violence that occurred in the first half of
July and in late September. The
report contends that its behavior is in sharp contrast to the violence used by
the Police and Army alike when repressing the demonstrations of discontent
staged by supporters of the UNO coalition in the Government.
Thus, the Police crack down in the incidents that occurred in Las Sabanas
in the Department of Madriz, left six peasants dead and 20 wounded, when the
town hall was taken over to protest the mayor's performance. The peasants were members of the Constitutionalist Liberal
Party, which is part of the National Opposition Union (UNO). The Commission has not yet been informed of the findings of
the investigation conducted by a committee appointed for that purpose.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also received
numerous complaints alleging that police officers have been charging UNO
supporters with various common crimes. Those
charges are interpreted as a form of harassment.
In many cases, individuals' lives have been threatened.
The Commission has started to process these complaints.
During the period covered by this annual report, the home of Carlos
Huembes Trejos, General Secretary of the Nicaraguan Labor Union, was machined
gunned. This took place on July 21,
1990, and thus far the authors of this heinous assault have not been identified.
Carlos Huembes Trejos was known for his opposition to the previous
government and is an activist union leader.
The most serious events--which had grave consequences for the
right to life--occurred as a result of the discontent of the
demobilized members of the Nicaraguan Resistance.
It erupted in violence that left a number of people dead and wounded.
According to information supplied to the Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights, the incidents began in the town of Yolaina, some ten kilometers
from Nueva Guinea, when the Minister of Government ordered that the town's Rural
Police Force be disarmed. That
Police Force was composed of former members of the Nicaraguan Resistance.
According to the information provided to the Commission, the disarming of
the Rural Police Force was in the hands of combined troops from the Sandinista
People's Army and the National Police. It
took place on October 24, 1990. According
to the Ministry of Government, the measure was warranted by the irregularities
being committed by members of the Rural Police.
On October 29, around 300 peasants decided to march to Nueva Guinea to
ask that the disarming order be rescinded and that Commander Oscar be reinstated
as chief of the Rural Police. The
group was intercepted by combined forces of the "Pedro Altamirano"
Battalion of the Sandinista People's Army, the National Police and the El
Almendro Rural Police. According to
information supplied to the Commission, to disperse the demonstration, the
troops "fired toward the ground," leaving one peasant dead and 20
The discontent continued to mount among the people of the area, who asked
that Commander Oscar be reinstated and that the Government comply with the
commitments made at the time the demobilization of the Resistance was agreed.
The peasants began to go to the town of Nueva Guinea, and a considerable
number of them assembled in the town's main square on the night of November 8.
Clashes with sympathizers of the Sandinista Front ensued.
In response, the park was surrounded by troops from the "Pedro
Altamirano" Army Battalion and members of the National Police, who
proceeded to repress the demonstrators. The
Commission's source indicates that at least six persons died and an undetermined
number disappeared. Again,
according to that information, no weapons were found either on the demonstrators
or on those who occupied the town church as part of the protest.
It was also reported that a woman had been raped and brutally beaten by
As these events were happening, protests by demobilized members of the
Nicaraguan resistance began to spread. They
began by occupying stretches of the road to Rama, especially between November 6
and 10. There were also protests in
the town of La Concepción in Masaya, and in the city of Bluefields on the
Atlantic. Some Catholic churches in
Masaya and Managua were taken over and those inside declared themselves on a
One particularly serious incident occurred on November 14, 1990, on the
bridge leading into the city of Sébaco. The
bridge had been taken by demobilized members of the Nicaraguan Resistance.
Just as the Anti-riot Police launched tear gas against those
occupying the bridge, two grenades exploded among the ranks of the police,
killing four and wounding 16. As of
the date this report was prepared, the circumstances surrounding the incident
had not been sufficiently clarified. Some say it was an accident, while others say it was an
attack on the Police.
On November 15, 1990, Dr. Arístides Sánchez Herdocia was arrested in
Managua. He was a former member of
the leadership of the Nicaraguan Resistance.
He was imprisoned in El Chipote, the State Security prison. Mr. Arístides Sánchez, according to the information the
Commission received, has a heart condition and requires daily medication.
On Saturday, November 17, Mr. Sánchez was sent to the Military Hospital
for some hours and then returned to El Chipote.
On November 19, Mr. Arístides Sánchez travelled to Miami to receive
On November 18, the Government of Nicaragua issued a communique reporting
that it had uncovered a vast plan, involving high-ranking government
officials and Mr. Arístides Sánchez. The
purpose of the plan, according to the communique, was to subvert the country's
political system. Without providing
any details of the plan, the communique announced that those implicated would be
brought to trial. It was later
announced that Mr. Arístides Sánchez's absence from the country was for purely
medical reasons and that he could return to Nicaragua whenever he decided.
Mr. Arístides Sánchez--who has filed a complaint with this
Commission that is now being processed--has said that he was
tortured while in El Chipote and that he was forced to sign false statements; he
signed in order to get back the medications that had been taken away from him. On one of the three occasions Mr. Sánchez's wife visited him,
she said that he seemed to have been "drugged." Mr. Sánchez says his human rights were violated by
authorities of the State Security and the Sandinista People's Army. These continue to be controlled by known members of the
Sandinista Front, in order to eliminate persons who continue to oppose them and
to create problems for Mrs. Chamorro's Government.
Mr. Arístides Sánchez's position is shared by many people, who believe
that many of the violations of the rights of activists in the political parties
that make up the coalition in the Government, the excessive violence used
against them when they demonstrate their discontent and, conversely, the lack of
any control over the acts of violence committed by members of the party of the
previous government can largely be attributed to the fact that members of the
Sandinista Front control the security agencies.
One especially grave matter was the assassination of Colonel Enrique Bermúdez,
former military head of the Nicaraguan Resistance. This happened in Managua on February 16, 1991 and has caused
considerable commotion within the Nicaraguan public. The Inter-American Commission has opened a case in this
connection. It is deeply disturbed
by this development, which it hopes will be investigated quickly so that those
responsible can be brought to trial swiftly.
The Commission must also point out that during the period covered by this
annual report, it has received information to the effect that the power of the
security forces is due to the authority granted to members of the Sandinista
Front under the Law on the Military Structure of the Sandinista People's Army.
The genesis of this law is itself somewhat unique, since it was approved
by President Ortega on December 20, 1989, during the Legislative Assembly's
recess, and published in the official Gazette on February 23, 1990, which came
out in March of that year.
The provisions of that law invest the Army with certain authorities that
undermine functions that, under the Constitution, belong to the President of the
Republic. Thus, the Commander in
Chief of the Sandinista People's Army--who is appointed by the
Military Council and is to be the highest ranking officer with greatest
seniority- directs all matters of any consequence, including appointing
officers and deciding what posts they will hold, setting up production, supply
and service activities associated with Army business, deciding whether foreign
troops will be allowed to move through Nicaraguan territory, etc.
It is also up to the Commander in Chief to decide on the structure and
membership of the military unit charged with guaranteeing the safety of the
President. Military jurisdiction,
on the other hand, is the exclusive purview of the Armed Forces' Judge Advocate
General who, under Article 27 of the Law, "shall be competent to hear
crimes and misdemeanors committed by members of the Armed Forces." The Judge Advocate General is subordinate to the Office of
the Commander in Chief (Article 15).
As noted earlier, the new Government issued Decree Law No. 1-90
creating the ministries of State. That
ordinance gave the Ministry of Defense and its minister authorities that, under
the previous law, had been the province of the Commander in Chief of the
Sandinista People's Army. As
everyone knows, Mrs. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro took over the Ministry of
Defense. In practice, however,
according to information the Commission has received, the previous law continues
to prevail, as demonstrated by the removal and replacement of the Chief of the
Air Defense Force.
Somehow linked to the issue of the authorities and functions of the
Nicaraguan Armed Forces is the problem presented to the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights in connection with the discovery of five hidden
graves in Jinotega, Estelí and Nueva Segovia.
According to the information supplied to the Commission, those graves
were alleged to have contained the remains of around 30 peasants who had
allegedly been summarily executed by members of the Sandinista People's Army. In a meeting between the Commission and the Ambassador of
Nicaragua to the Organization of American States, he asked that it investigate
"all those matters related to the existence of secret burial grounds
and cases of disappearances... and that the identity of victims, causes of
death, approximate dates of the events being investigated and the events being
denounced." The Judge Advocate
General of the Sandinista People's Army and the representative of the Commander
in Chief have stated that if Army troops had any hand in the events, they would
be covered by the amnesty granted in March of last year.
One particularly serious event that occurred during the period covered by
this report was the death of Jean Paul Genie Lacayo, age 16.
According to the information supplied to this Commission, on October 28,
1990, the young man was driving his car when he tried to pass a caravan of four
Jeep "Renegades": two had their tops up, and two had their tops down.
According to the report, Genie was shot at from the two jeeps that had
their tops down. Some 52
AK-47 shells were found on the scene.
Jean Paul Genie had been hit three times and his car 19.
Apparently he was still alive just after the shooting.
The information supplied to the Commission contends that it is a
relatively simple matter to identify the authors of the crime, since few people
drive about in caravans of that kind. It
has also been pointed out that there were a number of irregularities in the
police investigation, including the death of Deputy Commander Mauricio Aguilar
Somarriba. According to Genie's
relatives, the Deputy Commander was investigating the circumstances of Genie's
death. The National Police have
said that Aguilar's death was an accident and that the individual who caused his
death, Officer Harold Meza, is undergoing psychiatric treatment.
The President, Mrs. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, described Genie's death
as "incomprehensible." In
reference to his death and to the deaths of some young people killed when a
grenade was thrown into a public dance, she said that:
...it is our obligation to see that justice is done and to apply the full
force of the law... Therefore, I am
giving the National Police specific instructions to investigate these crimes,
which have struck at the very heart of the Nicaraguan family, to find those
responsible and to turn them over to the competent authorities so that justice
may be done. These crimes cannot go
Summarizing, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights finds
that during the period covered in the present annual report, there have been
significant developments, instigated by the Government of Nicaragua, that serve
to strengthen the instruments and institutions defending human rights, on the
domestic front and on the international front.
Measures have also been adopted whose implementation will bring about
improvements in the human rights situation.
However, there are still outbreaks of violence and a lack of respect for
the normal functioning of democratic institutions.
This adversely affects the human rights of numerous Nicaraguans.
Particular mention should be made of the biased behavior of the security
forces, which have become a state within a State, acting in concert with one
particular political party and to the detriment of the civilian authority of the
democratically elected, constitutional Government.
In this connection, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
considers it appropriate to cite from the preamble of resolution AG/RES. 1044 (XX-0/90)
of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States:
That the system of representative democracy is fundamental for the
establishment of a political society wherein human rights can be fully realized
and that one of the fundamental components of that system is the effective
subordination of the military apparatus to civilian power.