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Latin America

OAS human rights panel calls for Ortega to be investigated for crimes against humanity

A report by an OAS panel of experts holds the Nicaraguan government responsible for more than 100 deaths during a wave of street protests earlier this year.
21 Dic 2018 – 03:22 PM EST
Presidente de Nicaragua - Daniel Ortega Crédito: AP

A team of investigators convened by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a report Friday calling for Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, along with other government officials, to be investigated for their role in the deaths of more than 100 people during massive street protests this year.

After a detailed examination of the violence that occurred in April and May, the panel concluded that "the State of Nicaragua has carried out acts that, in accordance with international law, must be considered crimes against humanity."

It said his findings were the result of six months of work, including meetings with victims and witnesses, and the review of thousands of pages of documents and videos.

The 450-page report of the international panel of experts provided one of the most detailed accounts of the violent repression of protests throughout the country that began in April, as well as the systematic impunity to the lack of any judicial investigation into the deaths.

The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) was created in an agreement with the government of Nicaragua to examine the violence that took place following the outbreak of the protests on April 18. However, the panel said the report was carried out without government cooperation.

According to the report, "the GIEI was able to determine that most of the murders and serious injuries are the responsibility of the National Police, whose personnel acted directly and also in a coordinated manner with para-state armed groups."

It added that "this level of coordination between the different areas of the National Police, on a repeated basis, can only be explained by decisions made at the time by the highest authorities, for which the GIEI recommends investigating the responsibility of President Daniel Ortega in his capacity as overall head of the National Police."

Between April 18 and May 30, 2018, the GIEI registered at least 109 deaths due to the violence, more than 1,400 injured and more than 690 detainees. Of the 109 deaths analyzed by the GIEI, 95 were shot by firearms, all struck in the skull, neck or thorax.

Of the 109 violent deaths, 100 have not even investigated. In the nine cases that have been prosecuted, six were in one way or another associated with state authorities or the ruling Sandinista party.

Among a detailed list of 24 recommendations, the panel called on the Ortega government to cease its harassment of journalists, the investigation and firing of all government officials involved in human rights abuses, the dissolving of all paramilitary forces and the purging of the police, the hiring of international prosecutors to investigate crimes and the payment of reparation to victims of government repression.

Contrary to government claims that it is using legitimate police measures to defend itself from “terrorist” attacks and attempts to stage a coup against Ortega, the report concluded that the anti-government protests were by and large a “peaceful” exercise of universally recognized democratic freedoms.

The idea that the anti-Ortega protesters are terrorists is “a preposterous idea,” said Eric Olson, a Latin American security and human rights expert and Director of the Seattle International Foundation's Central America - DC Platform. “Instead of going after the perpetrators, the government is going after protesters who are exercising their basic rights,” he added.

The Nicaraguan government expelled the independent panel of OAS investigators on Wednesday, the day before they were scheduled to present their final report on violence and human rights abuses in the country at a press conference in Managua.

The idea that anti-Ortega protesters are terrorists is "an absurd idea," said Eric Olson, an expert on security and human rights in Latin America and director of the Central America Platform of the Seattle International Foundation. "Instead of persecuting the perpetrators, the government is persecuting the demonstrators who exercise their basic rights," he added.

The Nicaraguan government expelled the independent panel of OAS investigators on Wednesday, one day before the scheduled date to present its final report at a press conference in Managua.

"The decision of the Nicaraguan government to expel an international group of experts, after inviting them to investigate the violence related to the protest, is a flagrant and deplorable effort to silence the truth," said Geoff Thale, Vice President of Programs of the Office of Washington for Latin America (WOLA), a group that has been monitoring what happens in the region for decades.

In the last seven months, more than 300 people died, mostly at the hands of paramilitaries and security forces linked to the government and hundreds more were arbitrarily accused of political crimes. Thousands more have fled the country for their safety and that of their families.

Ortega seems to maintain firm control after the street protests were crushed this summer and the Nicaraguan government will probably ignore the OAS report.

Even so, the report's finding was valuable, Olson said. "These are the facts that we have to support," he said. "The government invents a new fact, a new lie every day. Hopefully this will encourage other countries, some of those on the margins like Mexico, to be more proactive and speak more clearly. "