Doc. 12
22 February 1991
Original:  Spanish





          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights continued to monitor the human rights situation in Nicaragua during the period covered in this annual report.  This section updates the information it has in this regard and thereby supplements the special reports prepared in connection with Nicaragua and the various sections on that country included in earlier annual reports.


          Since the new Government took over on April 25, 1990, the Inter-American Commission has noted some positive developments in relation to the observance of human rights.  From the standpoint of society in general, the release of political prisoners in February and March 1990 obviated a problem that the IACHR had singled out repeatedly.  The Government has undertaken a study to reform the Nicaraguan Prison System and has created the National Prison Commission to prepare recommendations on what can be done to remedy the situation of those who have been imprisoned for extended periods while awaiting trial.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights appreciates the value of that effort and joins with others who advocate the closing of the "El Chipote" State Security prison as one of the reforms in the prison system.


          The Nicaraguan Resistance and the outgoing government signed peace agreements on April 23.  In July 1990, the Resistance turned over its weapons and  demobilized.  This served to create conditions more conducive to the proper exercise of human rights, bearing in mind the commitments that the Government undertook with respect to those who were demobilized.  The new Government proceeded to abolish the military service under Decree-Law 2-90, dated April 25, 1990, the very day Mrs. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro took office as President.  Those measures have been followed up by efforts to retrieve the many weapons that the civilian population has in its possession.  However, according to reports that the Commission has received, the results of that effort have been mixed and the police and military authorities charged with carrying out that measure have allegedly been acting selectively.


          The longstanding legal restrictions on freedom of expression were eliminated when the law in question was amended in the period immediately prior to that covered in this report, and the situation has remained unchanged.


          In the area of multilateral organizations, on April 25, 1990, the Government issued Decree No. 3-90, published in the Gazette on May 17, wherein it accepts the mandatory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  On February 12, 1991, the Government of Nicaragua, through its Ambassador, Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, deposited with the Secretary General of the Organization the statement recognizing the competence of the Inter-American Court.  The Commission is pleased with this measure, which strengthens the inter-American system for the protection of human rights and had long been a goal of human rights groups in Nicaragua.  In September, the Government invited the Inter-American Commission to visit Nicaragua and look at the human rights situation there.


          Also during the period covered in this annual report, the new Government took steps to make reparations for the effects of property confiscated from many citizens during the previous regime.  Thus, on May 11, 1990, Decree Law No. 11-90, on a Review of Confiscations, created the National Review Board chaired by the Attorney General and composed of four persons appointed by the President of Nicaragua.  The purpose of that measure was to restore the property and rights of those who suffered unjust losses or to compensate them.  According to official reports, by January 1991, some 6,000 claims had been filed; 300 had been favorably settled.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has received information  claiming that the processing of the claims is slow, partly because of the obstacles raised by those who benefited by the property that the previous government parceled out among its officials and supporters.  This was one of the reasons the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) did not sign the Economic and Social Agreement put forward by the Government and put together by a number of social organizations.


          But alongside the positive developments as described herein, various acts of violence occurred in Nicaragua during the period covered by this report.  They left a number of people either dead or wounded as well as damage to the country's infrastructure.  The National Labor Front-formed on the basis of the Sandinista Labor Union--called three strikes and demonstrations by its members on May 2, July 2, and September 26, 1990.  While those who called for the strikes contended that the forceful measures employed were calculated to safeguard the benefits gained under the previous government--job stability, to retain ownership of transferred producer goods, wage and salary increases, etc.--, other observers felt that those measures were intended to make good on a promise by former President Ortega to "govern from the grassroots level," a promise made in the concession speech he delivered in the elections held on February 25, 1990.


          The situations provoked at least four deaths, numerous wounded, and serious material damage.  Particular mention should be made of the barricades erected by militant members of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in the streets of Managua during the disturbances that took place at the time of the strike called in early July.  During these events, a powerful explosive device was placed in the Radio Corporación's broadcasting facility.  That station had been urging workers to go to their jobs and not to participate in the strike.  It should be noted here that Radio Corporación had been shut down on several occasions by the previous government.  A number of violent incidents took place in the vicinity of that station.  The incidents involved armed groups that were attempting to get to the station and other armed groups that were protecting it from any possible attacks.


          In July 1990, the governments of the Central American countries issued a statement expressing "their concern over the wave of violence in Nicaragua" as it jeopardized democracy and national reconciliation.  They urged "the various sectors of Nicaraguan society to forsake attitudes of violence" and to give "firm and steadfast support" to Nicaragua's constitutional Government.


          In late September, the National Labor Front initiated another series of strikes and demonstrations that culminated in violence near the Olof Palme Convention Center.  At the time, there were meetings in progress to work out the Consultation Agreements.  The vehicles of several diplomats and that of Cardinal Obando Bravo were damaged in these incidents.


          The Commission has received information to the effect that the National Police--the former Sandinista Police--did not make the necessary efforts to prevent the violence that occurred in the first half of July and in late September.  The report contends that its behavior is in sharp contrast to the violence used by the Police and Army alike when repressing the demonstrations of discontent staged by supporters of the UNO coalition in the Government.  Thus, the Police crack down in the incidents that occurred in Las Sabanas in the Department of Madriz, left six peasants dead and 20 wounded, when the town hall was taken over to protest the mayor's performance.  The peasants were members of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, which is part of the National Opposition Union (UNO).  The Commission has not yet been informed of the findings of the investigation conducted by a committee appointed for that purpose.


          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also received numerous complaints alleging that police officers have been charging UNO supporters with various common crimes.  Those charges are interpreted as a form of harassment.  In many cases, individuals' lives have been threatened.   The Commission has started to process these complaints.  During the period covered by this annual report, the home of Carlos Huembes Trejos, General Secretary of the Nicaraguan Labor Union, was machined gunned.  This took place on July 21, 1990, and thus far the authors of this heinous assault have not been identified.  Carlos Huembes Trejos was known for his opposition to the previous government and is an activist union leader.


          The most serious events--which had grave consequences for the right to life--occurred as a result of the discontent of the demobilized members of the Nicaraguan Resistance.  It erupted in violence that left a number of people dead and wounded.  According to information supplied to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the incidents began in the town of Yolaina, some ten kilometers from Nueva Guinea, when the Minister of Government ordered that the town's Rural Police Force be disarmed.  That Police Force was composed of former members of the Nicaraguan Resistance.  According to the information provided to the Commission, the disarming of the Rural Police Force was in the hands of combined troops from the Sandinista People's Army and the National Police.  It took place on October 24, 1990.  According to the Ministry of Government, the measure was warranted by the irregularities being committed by members of the Rural Police.


          On October 29, around 300 peasants decided to march to Nueva Guinea to ask that the disarming order be rescinded and that Commander Oscar be reinstated as chief of the Rural Police.  The group was intercepted by combined forces of the "Pedro Altamirano" Battalion of the Sandinista People's Army, the National Police and the El Almendro Rural Police.  According to information supplied to the Commission, to disperse the demonstration, the troops "fired toward the ground," leaving one peasant dead and 20 wounded.


          The discontent continued to mount among the people of the area, who asked that Commander Oscar be reinstated and that the Government comply with the commitments made at the time the demobilization of the Resistance was agreed.  The peasants began to go to the town of Nueva Guinea, and a considerable number of them assembled in the town's main square on the night of November 8.  Clashes with sympathizers of the Sandinista Front ensued.  In response, the park was surrounded by troops from the "Pedro Altamirano" Army Battalion and members of the National Police, who proceeded to repress the demonstrators.  The Commission's source indicates that at least six persons died and an undetermined number disappeared.  Again, according to that information, no weapons were found either on the demonstrators or on those who occupied the town church as part of the protest.  It was also reported that a woman had been raped and brutally beaten by Army soldiers.


          As these events were happening, protests by demobilized members of the Nicaraguan resistance began to spread.  They began by occupying stretches of the road to Rama, especially between November 6 and 10.  There were also protests in the town of La Concepción in Masaya, and in the city of Bluefields on the Atlantic.  Some Catholic churches in Masaya and Managua were taken over and those inside declared themselves on a hunger strike.


          One particularly serious incident occurred on November 14, 1990, on the bridge leading into the city of Sébaco.  The bridge had been taken by demobilized members of the Nicaraguan Resistance.  Just as the Anti-riot Police launched tear gas against those occupying the bridge, two grenades exploded among the ranks of the police, killing four and wounding 16.  As of the date this report was prepared, the circumstances surrounding the incident had not been sufficiently clarified.  Some say it was an accident, while others say it was an attack on the Police.


          On November 15, 1990, Dr. Arístides Sánchez Herdocia was arrested in Managua.  He was a former member of the leadership of the Nicaraguan Resistance.  He was imprisoned in El Chipote, the State Security prison.  Mr. Arístides Sánchez, according to the information the Commission received, has a heart condition and requires daily medication.  On Saturday, November 17, Mr. Sánchez was sent to the Military Hospital for some hours and then returned to El Chipote.  On November 19, Mr. Arístides Sánchez travelled to Miami to receive medical treatment.


          On November 18, the Government of Nicaragua issued a communique reporting that it had uncovered a vast plan, involving high-ranking government officials and Mr. Arístides Sánchez.  The purpose of the plan, according to the communique, was to subvert the country's political system.  Without providing any details of the plan, the communique announced that those implicated would be brought to trial.  It was later announced that Mr. Arístides Sánchez's absence from the country was for purely medical reasons and that he could return to Nicaragua whenever he decided.


          Mr. Arístides Sánchez--who has filed a complaint with this Commission that is now being processed--has said that he was tortured while in El Chipote and that he was forced to sign false statements; he signed in order to get back the medications that had been taken away from him.  On one of the three occasions Mr. Sánchez's wife visited him, she said that he seemed to have been "drugged."  Mr. Sánchez says his human rights were violated by authorities of the State Security and the Sandinista People's Army.  These continue to be controlled by known members of the Sandinista Front, in order to eliminate persons who continue to oppose them and to create problems for Mrs. Chamorro's Government.


          Mr. Arístides Sánchez's position is shared by many people, who believe that many of the violations of the rights of activists in the political parties that make up the coalition in the Government, the excessive violence used against them when they demonstrate their discontent and, conversely, the lack of any control over the acts of violence committed by members of the party of the previous government can largely be attributed to the fact that members of the Sandinista Front control the security agencies.


          One especially grave matter was the assassination of Colonel Enrique Bermúdez, former military head of the Nicaraguan Resistance.  This happened in Managua on February 16, 1991 and has caused considerable commotion within the Nicaraguan public.  The Inter-American Commission has opened a case in this connection.  It is deeply disturbed by this development, which it hopes will be investigated quickly so that those responsible can be brought to trial swiftly.


          The Commission must also point out that during the period covered by this annual report, it has received information to the effect that the power of the security forces is due to the authority granted to members of the Sandinista Front under the Law on the Military Structure of the Sandinista People's Army.  The genesis of this law is itself somewhat unique, since it was approved by President Ortega on December 20, 1989, during the Legislative Assembly's recess, and published in the official Gazette on February 23, 1990, which came out in March of that year.


          The provisions of that law invest the Army with certain authorities that undermine functions that, under the Constitution, belong to the President of the Republic.  Thus, the Commander in Chief of the Sandinista People's Army--who is appointed by the Military Council and is to be the highest ranking officer with greatest seniority- directs all matters of any consequence, including appointing officers and deciding what posts they will hold, setting up production, supply and service activities associated with Army business, deciding whether foreign troops will be allowed to move through Nicaraguan territory, etc.  It is also up to the Commander in Chief to decide on the structure and membership of the military unit charged with guaranteeing the safety of the President.  Military jurisdiction, on the other hand, is the exclusive purview of the Armed Forces' Judge Advocate General who, under Article 27 of the Law, "shall be competent to hear crimes and misdemeanors committed by members of the Armed Forces."  The Judge Advocate General is subordinate to the Office of the Commander in Chief (Article 15).


          As noted earlier, the new Government issued Decree Law No. 1-90 creating the ministries of State.  That ordinance gave the Ministry of Defense and its minister authorities that, under the previous law, had been the province of the Commander in Chief of the Sandinista People's Army.  As everyone knows, Mrs. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro took over the Ministry of Defense.  In practice, however, according to information the Commission has received, the previous law continues to prevail, as demonstrated by the removal and replacement of the Chief of the Air Defense Force.


          Somehow linked to the issue of the authorities and functions of the Nicaraguan Armed Forces is the problem presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in connection with the discovery of five hidden graves in Jinotega, Estelí and Nueva Segovia.  According to the information supplied to the Commission, those graves were alleged to have contained the remains of around 30 peasants who had allegedly been summarily executed by members of the Sandinista People's Army.  In a meeting between the Commission and the Ambassador of Nicaragua to the Organization of American States, he asked that it investigate  "all those matters related to the existence of secret burial grounds and cases of disappearances... and that the identity of victims, causes of death, approximate dates of the events being investigated and the events being denounced."  The Judge Advocate General of the Sandinista People's Army and the representative of the Commander in Chief have stated that if Army troops had any hand in the events, they would be covered by the amnesty granted in March of last year.


          One particularly serious event that occurred during the period covered by this report was the death of Jean Paul Genie Lacayo, age 16.  According to the information supplied to this Commission, on October 28, 1990, the young man was driving his car when he tried to pass a caravan of four Jeep "Renegades": two had their tops up, and two had their tops down.  According to the report, Genie was shot at from the two jeeps that had their tops down.  Some 52 AK-47 shells were found on the scene.  Jean Paul Genie had been hit three times and his car 19.  Apparently he was still alive just after the shooting.  The information supplied to the Commission contends that it is a relatively simple matter to identify the authors of the crime, since few people drive about in caravans of that kind.  It has also been pointed out that there were a number of irregularities in the police investigation, including the death of Deputy Commander Mauricio Aguilar Somarriba.  According to Genie's relatives, the Deputy Commander was investigating the circumstances of Genie's death.  The National Police have said that Aguilar's death was an accident and that the individual who caused his death, Officer Harold Meza, is undergoing psychiatric treatment.


          The President, Mrs. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, described Genie's death as "incomprehensible."  In reference to his death and to the deaths of some young people killed when a grenade was thrown into a public dance, she said that:


          ...it is our obligation to see that justice is done and to apply the full force of the law...  Therefore, I am giving the National Police specific instructions to investigate these crimes, which have struck at the very heart of the Nicaraguan family, to find those responsible and to turn them over to the competent authorities so that justice may be done.  These crimes cannot go unpunished.


          Summarizing, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights finds that during the period covered in the present annual report, there have been significant developments, instigated by the Government of Nicaragua, that serve to strengthen the instruments and institutions defending human rights, on the domestic front and on the international front.  Measures have also been adopted whose implementation will bring about improvements in the human rights situation.  However, there are still outbreaks of violence and a lack of respect for the normal functioning of democratic institutions.  This adversely affects the human rights of numerous Nicaraguans.  Particular mention should be made of the biased behavior of the security forces, which have become a state within a State, acting in concert with one particular political party and to the detriment of the civilian authority of the democratically elected, constitutional Government.


          In this connection, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers it appropriate to cite from the preamble of resolution AG/RES. 1044 (XX-0/90) of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States:


          That the system of representative democracy is fundamental for the establishment of a political society wherein human rights can be fully realized and that one of the fundamental components of that system is the effective subordination of the military apparatus to civilian power.


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