Although the “circulation” of vehicles and people has increased little by little, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) of the OAS maintains that in Nicaragua there is no “normality,” as the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo proclaims.
“Circulation in the country has resumed, but it cannot be said that repression against people demonstrating or expressing their opinions has ceased,” explained Maria Claudia Pulido, Deputy Secretary of the IACHR in an interview from Washington to Confidencial.
Pulido analyzed the “new phase of repression” through judicial persecution, and demanded Ortega’s government to provide access to information and judicial records on the repression. Until now, the regime has blocked the work of the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI, by its Spanish acronym) and the Interdisciplinary Group of International Experts (GIEI, in Spanish).
The GIEI denounced that the government is not providing information on the judicial processes. What are the implications of this refusal?
Maria Pulido: The Commission had a great opportunity to work jointly with the State of Nicaragua in strengthening the judicial system. That agreement signed on May 30th between the government, the General Secretariat of the OAS and the IACHR broke grounds for the GIEI. But, definitely, for GIEI to exercise its functions, help the authorities and advance in the clarification of the facts, it needs to have access to the files; to the public prosecutors who are directly conducting the investigations.
This is an opportunity that we hope the State will be able to use in favor of the right to truth, of the right to reparation for the hundreds of victims who lost their lives after April 18th. That is a way to strengthen the rule of law. Actually, the IACHR recognizes that the State has opened its borders for these mechanism to be present in Nicaragua. It is something that we cannot ignore. But, in order for them to truly carry out the mission for which they have been invited, those facilities must be given.
The government presented an official report on the violence in which it recognizes 197 people dead during the protests, and questions the number of victims of 317 by the IACHR. What is the reason for this discrepancy?
MP: The IACHR keeps a very rigorous record of deceased persons as of April 18th. We have figures that are published in an annex to the report we published. There you can find the sources for the documentation we have. We received an official note from the Government, on August 7th, where, in addition to the 197 people that the State says are victims of “coup terrorism”, also register 253 persons who have died between April 18th and July 25th. If we take that into account, they are reporting 450 deceases persons. The IACHR, in a very conservative manner and according to information registered from civil society organizations, documents 317 deaths. Now, we have a record of 322 deaths.
But, here the issue is that immediately after, President Ortega invited the IACHR to collate the figures. The IACHR, in a written note, asked the State for access to information. And, also requested it in meeting with high government authorities, Public Prosecutor’s Office, Attorney’s General Office, Police, Legal Medicine, including the Health Ministry, in order to collate with the number of victims that we have registered. So far, the only thing we have received from the government is a note with global numbers, and we are hoping to be able to do this joint work with the authorities. It is necessary to advance in this exercise, with the willingness to do the verification on the number of deaths.
The IACHR report attributed the greatest responsibility for these deaths to state repression, caused by the excessive use of force by the police and para-police groups. However, among the first 132 persons that the Prosecutors’ Office has accused there are no police officers or para-police. Why?
MP: That question is very important because the IACHR, during its work visit, was able to receive testimonies and systematize them. They clearly marked the repression patterns that, until May 21st, have been registered in Nicaragua. There it was possible to establish, from the voice of the victims and their relatives, where the bullets came from. But, of course, who has to give the information, the results and clarify the facts are the judicial authorities.
Part of the most important task that the GIEI group has to carry out is to assist the authorities in the investigation of these crimes. Regrettably, neither the Group of Experts nor the IACHR has had access to information that the Public Prosecutor’s Office is working with to identify clearly which persons are being processed, charged with these crimes. We have not had information that State agents have been captured as perpetrators of these acts.
Taking that into account, what results have the work of MESENI produced in recent weeks? Which are the main trends that have been documented?
MP: The main result has been to transmit information to the international community about what is happening in Nicaragua. Present information to the political bodies of the OAS, and to establish the patterns documented.
There have been three stages of repression. The first was the direct attack on demonstrations. The second as the government itself has called it was the “clean-up operation” against roadblocks and barricades; and, the third, is a wave of reprisals characterized by: arbitrary repression and criminalization of the social protest through judicial processes that have been opened for serious crimes such as terrorism.
We would like to advance more with MESENI; enter the penitentiaries, have the information that has been requested to the State, and to be able to have access to those places where the repression took place in order to receive first-hand testimonies.
The Government proclaims that the country has returned to normal. However, after that many civic leaders and citizens denounce that there is persecution against them. What is the evaluation done by the IACHR?
MP: Definitely, there is no normality in Nicaragua. There is the fact of an uprising through the “Clean-up Operation” which meant loss of human life, hundreds of people wounded and detained. Let’s say that circulation in the country has resumed, but it cannot be said that the repression against the people who have demonstrated and expressed their opinions have ceased. What we have now is a differentiated phase, where there has been selective persecution. It is a phase that is affecting student and social leaders, peasants, doctors. A very important indicator is the twenty-eight thousand requests for refugee status that Costa Rica has received according to ACNUR. You cannot speak of normality, when the human rights of hundreds of persons continue to be violated.
In recent weeks there have been dismissals of doctors, teachers and other public employees as political reprisal, as well as threats and intimidation against journalists and the forced exile that you mentioned. How does the IACHR define this new situation in Nicaragua?
MP: What the IACHR has analyzed is that we are in the phase of reprisals against anyone who demonstrated or protested in different ways. The government, after having used force in this operation, is using other elements such as the judicial system apparatus to make arbitrary detentions, even with para-police groups. It has taken people who have been arrested, abused and tortured to legal proceedings where there are no guarantees. Trials in which it is difficult to exercise the right to legitimate defense and to freely select a lawyer, where the defendants have no access to their relatives.
In addition, there are massive layoffs of people that in one way or another provided humanitarian assistance to hundreds of wounded that had been the object of repression. All of these have been foreseen by the IACHR in one of the recommendations of its final report, asking the State to refrain from repressing or retaliation. We are stating that there is a situation of retaliation that goes by different plans and actions. All have led to a terrible insecurity of the protesters, who fear for their lives, for their freedom or who are leaving the country in a massive way.