The verdict was clear. “There’s no doubt that the Nicaraguan State committed the crime of torture. This occurred via sexual abuse and rape of men and women in the custody of the country’s police and paramilitary forces.” So reads the sentence of the Sexual Violence Court of Conscience: Crime against Humanity in Nicaragua. The verdict was issued on September 11, 2020 in San Jose, Costa Rica.
The sentence was based on testimonies from 18 victims of sexual violence. The sexual violence they suffered occurred between April and August, 2018 at the hands of police and paramilitary. Besides the victims, the tribunal heard expert witnesses and also received documentary evidence. The verdict argued: “State agents committed those tortures in a systematic way against the civil population of Nicaragua. As such, it constitutes a crime against humanity.”
The crimes against the eleven women and seven men who testified were committed within the context of the 2018 protests. These protests, which began in April, demanded that Daniel Ortega leave power. The 18 victims became involved in the dissent, and for that reason were arbitrarily and illegally detained. The police and paramilitary then took them to police stations, where they sexually abused them.
The sexual violence described by the eighteen witnesses was varied. It included sexual insults directed mainly at the women, along with threats of sexual violence. The officials groped and fondled the victims’ private parts, forced them to strip, pinched and bit their breasts. Twelve of them were raped, and two of the women suffered miscarriages. One miscarried due to the blows, and the other because of a fluid the officials administered.
International experts Almudena Bernabeu, Clemencia Correa, Dr. Alda Facio and Dr. Sonia Picado served as the court’s judges. All are human rights advocates with long years of experience within the UN and OAS systems for safeguarding human rights.
The judges were moved by the testimonies and satisfied by the information provided to them. They found the evidence sufficient to arrive at this verdict, stated Lina Barrantes. Barrantes is the executive director of the Arias Foundation, which sponsored the initiative. The Costa Rican foundation also collaborated with the Nicaraguan organizations that make up the Platform for Access to Justice.
The Court called for “preventing a repetition of these crimes against humanity.” They also advocated for “sanctioning those responsible for the acts proven to this Court.” Finally, they advocated for “compensating the crime victims in a holistic and transformative manner.”
The verdict was also based on the previous conclusions of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. They further considered the report issued by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI).
Both entities investigated the repression unleashed by the Ortega-Murillo regime against the citizenry from April 2018 onwards. That repression triggered a grave socio-political and economic crisis which still persists. It resulted in over 300 deaths, thousands of wounded, hundreds of political prisoners and tens of thousands of exiles.
In their report published in December 2018, the GIEI concluded that the Nicaraguan state committed acts that should be considered “crimes against humanity”. They reached this conclusion after a detailed study of the violent events that occurred in Nicaragua between April 18 and May 30, 2018.
Material and intellectual authors
The sentence indicated who was responsible for the sexual tortures: men and women National Police officers and paramilitaries. The latter were civilians recruited to help the police, although this was illegal. There were also Sandinista Youth involved, and civilians that supported the government or FSLN, who acted like soldiers.
Nonetheless, the court also stressed that Vice President Rosario Murillo’s hate speech incited and paved the way for the torture. “We affirm the role played by the hate discourse the regime’s political leaders disseminated against protestors. This hate speech was reproduced during the detentions and the torture. The polarization of society led people who are public servants or paramilitaries to commit these horrible acts,” the verdict reads.
The international community should refuse to recognize the regime
In their verdict, the judges called on the international community to withdraw recognition for the Ortega-Murillo regime. They urged them “to intensify pressure for democratic change and to protect civil organizations under attack in Nicaragua.” They also called for protection of “those who are openly denouncing the commission of these crimes.”
In addition, the judges urged the Nicaraguan people “to demand the realization of free and transparent elections.” Such elections, “with international presence and observation, would allow the country to return to a true democracy.”
Reparation measures for the victims
The judges also included reparation measures for the victims but clarified that these can’t be carried out at present. Currently, the continuing impunity and the Ortega-Murillo regime’s domination of all state institutions won’t allow it. The reparations “are proposed in the framework of a transition process to democracy in which the victims’ dignity is recognized.”
In that process, they added, the victims’ voices should be heard. In addition, the rule of law should be strengthened to guarantee these events will never be repeated.
The verdict also calls for the creation of a program for holistic reparations. There should be special emphasis on attending to the children. It should focus on “transforming the unequal gender relations generated by violence and discrimination against women and the LGBTIQ+ population.” They also suggested support for the safe return in conditions of dignity for those who left the country. Victims should be assisted with employment opportunities and recovering their life aims.
This symbolic alternative exercise of justice culminated on Friday, September 11, after a month of preparation. The organizers hope that the resolution will serve as an input for demanding justice. It will be a tool for the national, regional and international organizations that defend human rights. It also represents a form of support for the victims.
“The testimonies we recorded were in total concordance. They coincided in what they said, the days imprisoned, the place. Some of them even had medical exams after the events, noted Barrantes, director of the Arias Foundation. At the same time, she commented, they are analyzing taking the case before international courts of justice.
“The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights asks that all internal possibilities for remedies be exhausted. We know that the Nicaraguan government isn’t going to pay heed to any denunciation.” Nonetheless, Barrantes said they would examine the jurisprudence to explore the possibility of going directly to the Commission.
For now, Barrantes believes the Court has fulfilled its objective. “The victims we interviewed, and hundreds of other victims of the Ortega-Murillo repression see the world hasn’t forgotten them. The international press and the international organizations aren’t losing sight of Nicaragua. The whole world is focused on COVID-19, (but) there are countries where atrocities are being committed. Nicaragua is one of them.”
The Ortega-Murillo regime continues their abuses against those that oppose them. This same Friday, Articulo 66 posted the story of a woman detained by the police in Ocotal. She is accused of posting flyers with the face of Daniel Ortega and the words “Se va!” [“He’s leaving”].
After detaining her, “They stripped her naked and forced her to do sit-ups against the wall. While she was doing this, the policewoman in an arrogant tone told her: ‘so, you don’t want to collaborate? You just screwed yourself. We’re going to send you to El Chipote. It’s up to you. It will go badly for you there. You have no idea what they’ll do to you in El Chipote. We haven’t done anything to you, but there – you’ll see. So you’re better off talking now.’”