GENEVA (5 July 2018) – Weeks of protests and violence in Nicaragua have laid bare the serious human rights situation in the country and the need for the Nicaraguan Government to take meaningful steps to prevent further loss of life, address impunity and guarantee justice for victims, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has said.
“The violence and repression seen in Nicaragua since demonstrations began in April are products of the systematic erosion of human rights over the years, and highlight the overall fragility of institutions and the rule of law,” Zeid said.
The protests were initially against planned pension reforms but broadened into more general protests against President Daniel Ortega’s Government.
Information from several sources indicates that approximately 250 people, many of them young persons, were killed and thousands injured from mid-April to 4 July. Government sources indicate that 12 police officers were also killed. More than 700 people are reported to have been arbitrarily detained, with some allegedly subjected to ill-treatment. Cases of disappearances have also been reported.
“I call on the Government to cease State violence and to dismantle the pro-Government armed elements that have been increasingly responsible for repression and attacks. Those who have instigated or permitted such armed elements to act must also be held to account,” Zeid said.
A team* from the UN Human Rights Office visited Nicaragua at the invitation of the Government from 26 June to 3 July to carry out human rights monitoring and to support the work of the Verification and Security Commission. This is one of the commissions set up by the national dialogue involving Government officials and representatives from various sectors. Its objectives include the disarmament of pro-Government elements, and the creation of conditions for the barricades erected by some communities to be dismantled.
“While I am grateful to the Nicaraguan Government for inviting the UN Human Rights Office to the country, I now urge the authorities to take real steps to recognise the seriousness of the situation, and meet their human rights obligations, including by adopting appropriate measures to protect the population and prevent further deaths,” the High Commissioner said.
The excessive use of force against demonstrators observed at the beginning of the crisis has decreased as police officers have withdrawn from many of their functions. However, violence by pro-Government armed elements has continued to escalate, particularly against communities that have erected barricades or roadblocks as a form of protest or as a means of self-protection. There are alarming signs of selective repression and intimidation against demonstrators and their families, students, human rights defenders and members of the Catholic Church, among others. The team also received reports that the presence of armed individuals on the streets, in addition to pro-Government armed elements, had contributed to the climate of intimidation and insecurity. The team also heard allegations from Government supporters that they had suffered attacks and had been threatened with lynching.
“My team heard expressions of deep frustration and despair, as well as widespread fear. Real guarantees need to be established so that people can exercise their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association. Victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations also need to be upheld. I urge the State to guarantee that there will be effective, independent, impartial and prompt investigations to establish the truth and ensure accountability for the violations and abuses committed since April,” Zeid said.
“It is vitally important that evidence, including medical and legal documentation, be preserved. The work of the Independent Group of Experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will contribute to the establishment of the facts and the fight against impunity,” the High Commissioner noted.
The UN Human Rights Office will maintain a presence in Nicaragua to continue its monitoring and technical assistance work, and will coordinate its activities with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
*The UN Human Rights Office team met government officials, including from the Foreign and Health Ministries, the Attorney General, the President of the Supreme Court, commanders of the army and police. They also had meetings with victims and their families, human rights organisations, student and social movements, the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, the Verification and Security Commission, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, representatives of the private sector, the UN and some representatives of the international community
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