The preliminary report on the April killings in Nicaragua from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is definitive in its findings regarding the dimensions of the horrors suffered by the victims of the repression. Its conclusions on the responsibilities of the State for excessive use of police and paramilitary violence are devastating.
Given the nature of the mandate of a mere four-day visit, the report doesn’t establish any findings about the individual responsibilities of those who perpetrated the violence, leaving us still very distant from being able to attain the justice that the victims’ families demand. However, it represents an irreversible step towards dismantling the stone wall that covers the crimes of the Ortega Murillo regime.
The IACHR report has set a foundation for transparency in the new Nicaragua, to the point where not even the regime’s foreign minister himself dared to refute it, and in the name of the government accepted their fifteen recommendations during the national dialogue.
In the Nicaragua that existed previous to the mid-April rebellion, in that kingdom of murkiness and impunity, this would have been impossible, beginning with the fact that the presence of the IACHR was proscribed in the country and the government was absent from all the Commission’s sessions.
After April 18, Ortega objected on three occasions to a visit from the IACHR, alleging that he first they wanted to wait for the conclusions of internal investigations carried out by state entities: the Attorney General’s office, the Police and the “Truth Commission” appointed by his Parliament. It was only because of popular pressure, the struggle of the university students and the backing they received from the Episcopal Conference and all sectors of the country, that the dictator – like Somoza after the genocide of September 1978 – found himself forced to accept the Commission’s visit.
As such, this report against impunity has been made possible against the regime’s true wishes. It’s the result of the national civic resistance and of the anger and grief of the family members of the victims who poured out to present their testimony and denunciations before the IACHR in Managua, Masaya, Leon and Matagalpa.
Those insulted and vilified by the regime have managed a victory, for the moment a moral and political one, that will require new actions to identify the perpetrators and establish their ultimate criminal responsibilities. Meanwhile, it falls on Luis Almagro, secretary general of the OAS, and to the other governments of the continent to call together the political organs of the OAS to discuss the responsibilities of those governing for one of the worst massacres that has occurred in Latin America in peacetime.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights presented the findings from their 4-day visit to Nicaragua on May 21, 2018. Photo: Carlos Herrera /confidencial
Among the findings and recommendations of the IACHR report, I can mention three that require immediate action on the part of the Nicaraguan State and that can only be achieved if pressure continues to be applied via national civic mobilization:
First, the State should make public the identities of all the fatal victims of the massacre and of those seriously wounded, and turn over to their family members the file on each case. Up until a week ago, the regime only recognized the existence of 12 dead, and this unofficially. However, at the last minute on Sunday night, the foreign minister turned over to the IACHR a list of 76 dead, a number that is even greater than the estimates of independent national human rights organizations such as the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and the Permanent Commission for Human Rights, and of media outlets such as Confidencial that had worked independently to corroborate the victims’ identities. Now the State is obligated to publish this list and publicly recognize the victims of the killing spree.
Secondly, the State should “dismantle the para-police groups and take measures to impede the continued operations of armed third-party groups that attack and harass the civil population” as the IACHR report demands. The Episcopal Conference had also called for the suppression of the paramilitary forces and shock troops allied to the government, although the government still has not complied with this requirement for the national dialogue. Up until now, no member of the paramilitary groups have been arrested or placed under investigation. Disarming these groups and submitting their members, leaders and associates to justice is a sine qua non condition for tomorrow launching a police reform to guarantee that the stability and safety of the citizens will no longer be undermined by the existence of armed gangs.
Third, “a mechanism for international investigation of the violent events that have occurred” is necessary, “with guarantees of autonomy and independence, to assure the right to the truth and duly identify those responsible.” In formally accepting this recommendation of the IACHR, the Ortega-Murillo regime have committed themselves to facilitating one of the requirements for a democratic transition, by reestablishing the bases for justice. But at the same time, Ortega and Murillo continue determined to remain in power, and refuse to negotiate terms for their peaceful exit.
That’s the crossroads that Nicaragua finds itself in today. While the people are demanding the three inseparable steps of truth, justice and an end to this regime in power, those governing the country threaten to impose a new escalation of violence on the country. Because of this, it’s imperative that the IACHR return to Nicaragua and maintain its presence here, where the Rule of Law was abolished under a dictatorship that respects neither the right to life nor the right to peaceful protest. We need the right to truth at least, to prevail if we’re going to be able to prevent the next massacre.
Translated by Havana Times