Blunt IACHR Expert Group report: The State is committing crimes against humanity!

Friday December 21, 2o18, in Washington, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented the final report of its work for the last 6 months in Nicaragua.

The GIEI was created to assist and support the Nicaraguan State in investigating and clarifying the violent events that have occured in the country since April 18. Read more about the mandate here as well as the composition of the group here.

The Nicaraguan government gave its consent to the 6-months mandate on May 30 and, with that, it was established that only violent events between April 18 and May 30 would be covered by the work of the GIEI. That same day, in the afternoon of May 30, 19 young protesters were killed by snipers during the Mother’s Day March, making it the single most bloodiest day of the socio-political crisis of the country.  The violence continued and escalated in the months to follow but these events were left out of the GIEI investigations. The group of experts started their work in Nicaragua on July 3.

In the end, the Government of Nicaragua ended up not cooperating with the GIEI. The presentation of the report was to have taken place in Managua on Thursday 20 December 2018 but it was cancelled because the Government expelled the group with immediate notice the day before

What follows is a transcript in English of the press conference held by GIEI in Spanish. The video can be found here.

The report can be downloaded from the multimedia site gieinicaragua.org here. The site is primarily in Spanish, but the part concerning ‘eventos principales’ is also available in English. Testimonies and more than 200 videos are available, herunder the special videos made by GIEI themselves and shown during the press conference.

The video is available as a live video on the FB page of El Nuevo Diario. What follows is a transcript in English of the press conference held by GIEI in Spanish, by the 4 Experts:

3) Claudia Paz y Paz

How did the justice system react to these very serious events? What did the prosecutors and the judges in Nicaragua do while – as we saw in the videos and Pablo reported – the police, in the great majority of the cases, committed these very serious crimes? Where were the judges in Nicaragua and where are they now? Where were the prosecutors and where are they now?

I will take my point of departure in one point that seems very central to me because it explains many other elements that I will describe very briefly, – we present this in greater depth in the report:

Since we arrived in the country, I think what surprised us the most was the lack of independence of the justice system, the lack of autonomy of the Office of the Prosecutor!

We arrived with a very clear mandate to contribute to the investigation and clarification of the cases. The first thing the highest government authorities told us, the Foreign Ministry, the President of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Attorney General was: “You must work through the executive government! Any recommendation to investigate, any recommendation for actions that can further clarify a case, has to go through the cabinet.” We insisted, “Ma’am, prosecutor. You are autonomous! We need to work with you. We cannot send a note through a State organ that could be responsible for many of these acts”.

However, unfortunately, the prosecutor refused to work with us. Just as my colleague Amérigo has already informed us, they refused to give us access to the files. However, through different sources like the media and conversations with other sources that we cannot disclose now, we do have access to at least 7 case files that represent 9 victims. Moreover, we have 14 files of people who were criminalized for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, right to protest, and right to form an association.

A first point that is very striking to us is that of the 109 cases of violent deaths that we documented in the period[1], of these 109 cases, 100 have not reached the justice system, they have not been presented to any judge i.e. they are left in impunity. Of the nine cases prosecuted, six correspond to victims who would have some relation to the State.

What is more important to point out: No investigation has been opened against state security forces although we have seen evidence that indicate their possible responsibility.

The report documents serious shortcomings in the investigations of these 109 cases, shortcomings that any person close to a criminal investigation or any person with common sense would notice: For example, most crime scenes were not investigated. There is abundant videographic information that documents how the bullet casings, like all the ballistic evidence, remained in the places of the events and was not properly investigated. We know of several cases where the victims were on the street and people repeatedly called the police and they called Forensic Science but they never came to see the scene and pick up the bodies to perform an autopsy. One of such cases is an extremely serious one, relating to the events that took place on April 20, 2018, in front of the Mayor’s Office in Estelí when Franco Alexander Valdivia Machado, Francisco Orlando Pérez Corrales and César Castillo Castillo were murdered. We have access to video material that clearly documents where the crime scene was.

Another element that is very alarming is the absence in performing necropsies. In many cases they were not done and when they were done, they violated the minimum standards of the matter.

Of the 79 victims registered in the acts of violence between April 18 and May 18[2], of the 79 victims that we have registered up to that moment, the Institute of Forensic Science could only account for 41 deaths and just delivered 23 autopsies.

We also documented at least 11 cases in which the relatives of the deceased were forced to give up on any criminal investigation and not lodge any complaints in order to get the body of their loved ones released. We all know that the obligation of the State to investigate is not something that can be disposed of. The State, of course, cannot force the victims to relieve the State of its obligations. In the few cases to which the GIEI had access, in these few cases, seven cases corresponding to 9 victims, there were also serious deficiencies: A basic element in any current research is the digital test like the telephony test or geolocation. This was not incorporated. There is abundant videographic information, which was not presented to the degree that it should have been presented. We are talking about violent deaths and only in one case was a ballistic correspondence analysis made.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office did not act in an objective and impartial manner and did not exhaust all the lines of investigation. The Prosecutor’s Office accused people who could be innocent, and some cases have already been condemned. This is a situation that is not only unfair for the accused but also for the victims and their families, since they do not get a true answer.

This is a summary. There is much more information in the report. The State of Nicaragua has systematically violated its duty of due diligence regarding the investigation of cases of violent deaths from April 18 to May 30. In other words, the Justice System, the Public Ministry and Judicial Power has acted as one more piece in the human rights violation scheme by seeking impunity in the serious violations of human rights, and in another phenomenon that I am going to explain very briefly: The criminalization of the citizens who participated in the protests. In the processes that have been initiated against social leaders, student leaders and peasant leaders, for acts linked to the protests, types of crimes like organized crime or terrorism among other have been used illegitimately to persecute and punish acts of opposition to the Government. Freedom of expression, right to assembly and right to demonstrate have been criminalized. Literally, the Prosecutor has accused people for the act of thinking. In one of the cases, the Prosecutor’s Office affirms before the judge and I quote: “The problem is that you do not need 16 weapons, each one of them (referring to the students) is a weapon. Their ingenuity represents a weapon for terrorism”.

It is the police, which currently decides who is imprisoned, who is deprived of their freedom, and they do so by violating the minimum standards for the restriction of freedom. Although the Nicaraguan legislation allows the police to make arrests, it is with a series of reservations that have not been respected in these cases. Finally, the trials are held behind closed doors and only the official government media are allowed to attend although the Constitution clearly states that criminal proceedings are public. I will finish by insisting that in these conditions, the justice system in Nicaragua has become one more means of repression.

[1]  It is very important to clarify that we are talking only about the period that comprises our mandate from April 18 to May 30 because everyone here knows that violence continued and even increased in the months of June and July.

[2] On May 18 was when the Inter-American Commission came to visit the Institute of Forensic Science and ask for information, which was given directly to Pablo Abrao.