Inter-American Commission on Human Rights continued to monitor the
development of the human rights situation in Nicaragua during 1991. This
section updates the information processed by the Commission in its
special reports on that country and the appropriate sections included in
its annual reports.
period covered in this Annual Report the trends that marked the period
covered in the Commission's previous Annual Report have continued.
The Commission finds that the right to exercise political rights
and related civil rights has been upheld without interference from the
government. According to
information supplied to the Commission, during this period relations of
cooperation have been maintained between the Government of Nicaragua and
the organization for the defense of human rights, with which there have
been positive and jointly promoted activities.
The State's institutional structure in regard to human rights has
been strengthened with the creation of the Civil Inspectorate of the
Ministry of Government. Another
positive development was the Attorney General's recent announcement of
the creation of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights,
to oversee observance of the provisions of the Constitution and of
international agreements on the matter of human rights.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also been informed
that human rights concepts have been introduced in primary and secondary
education syllabuses, constituting an important step in the promotion of
such rights in Nicaraguan society.
of government respect for political rights which now exists is reflected
in the fact that there are no political prisoners in Nicaragua.
The amnesties decreed on March 14, 1990, May 9, 1990, and
December 28, 1991, effectively freed those who were deprived of their
freedom, both for political offenses or common crimes connected with
political ones, and for persons sentenced for or accused of serious
violations of human rights or acts considered as war crimes.
The Commission was told by certain people that an amnesty of that
kind could not cover war crimes, by virtue of United Nations resolution
No. 2391 through which it adopted the Convention on the
Imprescriptibility of War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity, to which
the Republic of Nicaragua acceded through Decree No. 189 published in
the Official Gazette of May 9, 1986.
Inter-American Commission also heard complaints claiming that the
amnesties had not been fully applied, since those sentenced for the
murder of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, which occurred on January 10, 1978,
were still being detained, despite the efforts deployed by the President
of Nicaragua to obtain their release.
According to the denunciation, the fact that those persons had
not been allowed to benefit from the amnesty constituted an act of
discrimination, since Article 1 of Law No. 100 of May 9, 1990,
and unconditional amnesty be granted for all political offenses and
related common offenses, committed by natives of Nicaragua prior to the
date of publication of the present Law.
This amnesty applies to all those detained, prosecuted,
sentenced, pending trial, still at large, and prisoners that have served
out their sentence, as well as those who have been granted a simple
The case in question is currently before the Commission, which will pronounce a decision on the matter in due course.
has also been informed that the amnesty of December 22 is being enforced
selectively, as demonstrated by the case of journalist Moisés Absalon
Pastora, against whom an arrest warrant has been issued in connection
with events that transpired on November 9, 1991, when a mob attacked and
destroyed the facilities of Radio Corporacion, where Mr. Pastora works.
According to the information given to the Commission, when the
attack occurred, Mr. Pastora allegedly fired shots at people carrying
arms, wounding one of them. That
person later died. Considering
that all the individuals arrested in connection with the serious events
that transpired in Nicaragua that day have been released, the arrest
warrant issued against Mr. Pastora shows, according to the information
provided, how the administration of justice has become politicized.
Still on the
subject of personal freedom, the Commission was also informed that
constructive actions of cooperation have been taken by human rights
organizations and government authorities to ensure that such an
important right should be more effectively exercised. In that connection, visits were made to detention centers to
determine the legal status of detainees and to assess the conditions of
their imprisonment. Inquiries
were also made into the rights of individuals deprived of their freedom
and the manner in which the executing bodies have proceeded.
All this has led to the formulation of recommendations and the
exchange of views which would make it possible to lay the groundwork for
improvements in the exercise of the right to personal freedom,
especially with regard to compliance with the legal formalities at the
time of arrest; the absence of undue violence, during both the arrest
and questioning of the suspect; prompt information of relatives, and
respect for the detainees' right to defense.
In these recommendations, consideration has also been given to
aspects relating to inadequate prison conditions, largely caused by the
acute economic crisis that Nicaragua is currently undergoing.
on the proper exercise of the right to personal freedom is the defective
administration of justice. As
the judicial branch has repeatedly pointed out, the major limitation
here is the acute shortage of resources.
All the same, the authorities have declared that they are firmly
engaged in a campaign to enhance the structure and professional training
of those responsible for meting out justice.
In that regard, they claim that since the change of government,
30 judges have left the Court and that a high proportion of judges have
been dismissed following disciplinary measures against them.
This notwithstanding, the judicial authorities have declared that
while they are aware of the existing shortcomings, they are faced with a
dire lack of resources with which to overcome them.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also received
information to the effect that another serious problem besetting the
exercise of the right to justice and the due process of law is the
politicization of the judges appointed during the previous
administration. According to that information, although changes in the
composition of the Supreme Court constitute a positive step, they have
not substantially reduced the preponderance of judges appointed during
the previous administration.
has also been informed that on July 12, 1991, the Criminal Procedural
Reform Law was enacted. The purpose of that law is to expedite proceedings in the
criminal courts. The law
institute trial by jury and eliminates the method that weighed evidence
on the bases of "sound criticism", which was the target of
heavy criticism during the last Administration.
It is claimed
that the exercise of the right to justice is also jeopardized by the
existence of the military code invoked in all cases in which members of
the Armed Forces are involved, considerably hindering clarification of
those situations affecting such personnel.
The right to
property is a subject that has continued to provoke many serious
problems in Nicaragua. The
American Convention on Human Rights recognizes this right in its Article
21, and states that the law may subordinate the use and enjoyment of
property to the interest of society, stipulating that no one shall be
deprived of his property except upon payment of just compensation
"for reasons of public utility or social interest, and in the cases
and according to the forms established by law."
Article 46 of the Constitution of Nicaragua establishes that all
citizens enjoy the rights recognized in the various international
instruments to which Nicaragua is a State Party, with specific mention
of the American Convention on Human Rights.
In the case of Mr. Carlos Martínez, the Inter-American
Commission adopted a resolution in 1986, stating that the Government of
Nicaragua had violated the right to property when it deprived him of his
property without any legal grounds and without compensation.
As of July 19,
1979, a number of legal instruments concerning the right to property
were adopted in Nicaragua. The
first were Decrees 3 and 37, which were used as the basis for
confiscation of property belonging to the Somoza family and its
associates, as well as property belonging to members of the National
Guard. Subsequently, laws
were passed providing for the transfer to the State of property of
persons who had absented themselves from the country for more than six
months (Absentees Law); later, the Agrarian Reform Law was adopted and,
in one way or another, affected the system of agricultural land tenure.
Laws stipulating the confiscation of undercapitalized firms were
situation became even more complex with the promulgation, during the
transition period, of Laws 85 and 86, which affected large-scale
urban and farm property--the so-called "Piñata"--allocated
to small-, medium- and large-scale owners connected
with the losing Party in the elections.
While there are many who feel that this measure benefited needy
persons with scant resources or low-level officials, they also
feel that it benefited important leaders of the Sandinista Front to whom
valuable property was assigned, including State property or property
belonging to individuals who had not renounced it.
adopted various measures aimed at tackling this situation, while further
measures have been proposed in the National Assembly.
Mention should also be made of the serious disturbances provoked
by consideration of the issue in the Assembly.
the Government set up a National Review Commission through Decree
11-90, for the purpose of reviewing the confiscations made and
adopting appropriate decisions, indicating that the review process would
be conducted "upholding the rights acquired by the campesinos that
had benefited from the agrarian reform, the rights of cooperatives
carrying out their social and economic function, and the acquired rights
of the underprivileged." The
Supreme Court of Justice later declared one of the functions entrusted
to the Review Commission to be unconstitutional, on the grounds that it
trespassed on the jurisdiction of the courts of justice.
The procedure applied by the Review Commission was then modified.
The Office of the Attorney General was entrusted with the task of
processing the requests for review and issuing an appropriate verdict,
and it handed down decisions in a great many cases.
Information supplied to the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights claims that the decisions of the Review Commission
encountered various obstacles with regard to their implementation, some
arising as a result of the judicial procedures that need to be followed
in order to complete them, and others originating with the persons now
in possession of the property.
On July 3,
1991, the then Vice Minister in the Office of the President and the
National Coordinator of the Nicaraguan Communal Movement signed an
agreement concerning the actions to be undertaken in order to regularize
the legal situation of sites and dwellings of those inhabitants of
Managua who have no deeds of ownership.
Those agreements came after a number of demonstrations called by
the beneficiaries of the allocations of property under the previous
For its part,
the National Assembly set up a Special Property Commission to study the
problem and find a legal solution.
The representatives of the Sandinista Front withdrew from the
Commission, and last July, just as the Commission was preparing to issue
a judgement that would serve as a basis for a draft law, the Sandinista
Front provoked serious incidents in Managua and in the interior of the
country, seizing radio stations, occupying mayors' offices and giving
various shows of force. Former
President Daniel Ortega and former Vice President Ramírez Mercado
declared that any retrograde step with regard to the right to property
would lead the country into another civil war.
On Tuesday, 20 August, the National Assembly approved the
Property Law, without the participation of the Sandinista Front.
In September, the President of Nicaragua vetoed the Property Law,
and in December the National Assembly upheld the presidential veto, so
that now negotiations were still under way with a view to adopting a
legal instrument that would reconcile the different positions.
were made by the "Concertación", a group comprising
representatives of the productive sectors of Nicaraguan society, and
chaired by the Minister of Finance, within which political accords to
solve the problems relating to the right to property were being
discussed. The agreements
reached in the second phase of the negotiation were instituted in
decrees 35/91 and 36/91, which the Executive Branch enacted.
Conference of Nicaragua, in its Pastoral Letter of November 8, 1991,
The conflict on private property in Nicaragua is particularly sensitive and the cause of serious disturbances.
widespread invasion of property, illegal and arbitrary occupation of
houses and other buildings and, in general, usurpation as a means of
acquiring property are all scandalous, even when they can be carried out
under the protection of extremely questionable laws.
general clamor reclaiming land can be heard across the length and
breadth of the country. It
is the clamor of those whose property was unjustly confiscated, of
campesinos and ex-combatants who are waiting for electoral
promises and other later commitments to be kept.
legal systems and the modalities used in the award of property, as well
as the beneficiaries' resistance to the pressures of the owners, partly
explain the serious obstacles facing the regularization of this matter,
wherein lies a serious potential source of social conflicts.
In effect, on
June 18, 1991, following the Assembly's approval of the establishment of
the Commission to study the draft Property Law, there were serious
incidents provoked, as the Commission was informed, by militants of the
Sandinista Front. Allegedly,
various groups, including armed persons, seized the mayors' offices in
Managua, Masaya, Granada and Matagalpa, while others occupied the
premises of Radio Corporación in Managua and Radio Darío in León.
The Commission was also told that a series of attacks were
carried out with explosives which damaged the homes of Mr. José
Castillo Osejo, Director of Radio Corporación, President of the
National Conservative Party and a member of the Board of the Permanent
Human Rights Commission; of Dr. Wilfredo Navarro, President of the
Independent Liberal Party; of Dr. Julio Ruiz Quesada, in Matagalpa, a
leader of the National Conservative Party; the home of Dr. Sergio Torres
Ogregario in the town of Jinotega; the home of the mayor of Matagalpa,
Mr. Frank Lanzas, and the headquarters of the Democratic Party of
was informed that no one had been detained by the National Police
following those grave incidents. Mention
should be made of the fact that during the occupation of premises,
particularly the radio stations mentioned, expensive broadcasting
equipment was either seized or destroyed, as well as cash.
The Commission was also told that armed persons took part in the
occupation of Radio Corporación and that the National Police cordoned
off the area, so that the absence of arrests suggests complicity between
the police and the persons who occupied the premises.
The Chief of the National Police, Commander René Rivas,
maintained that he had been ordered to ensure that Radio Corporación
was cleared with a minimum of cost, and since there were armed persons
both inside and outside the radio station, the first thing he had done
was to ensure that the station was recovered by force, after which a way
out had been cleared for the occupants in order to avoid bloodshed.
Inter-American Commission was also informed that on August 23,
1991, an explosive device had partially destroyed the premises of the
new radio station La Voz del Pinar in the city of Ocotal.
The owner of the station allegedly had links with the owners of
Further acts of
violence occurred, starting on November 9, when a bomb exploded in the
tomb of Carlos Fonseca Amador, founder of the Sandinista National
Liberation Front, causing damage to the tomb.
In reaction to the attack, mobs occupied the office of the mayor
of Managua and destroyed and burned part of the building, as well as
municipal vehicles, while three ministries were occupied by other
groups. The offices of
Radio Corporación were badly damaged, and those of Radio Minuto in
Managua, Radio Darío in León, and Radio San Cristóbal in Chinandega
were also occupied. All the radio stations mentioned were known to be
opposed to the Sandinista Front. Acts
of violence also occurred in Managua opposite the headquarters of the
Civil Association of Resistance, where shots were exchanged.
The violence spread to León, Estelí, Matagalpa, Jinotega and
Chinandega. The disturbances caused the death of two persons and
considerable damage. On
that occasion, too, the National Police failed to act with the diligence
required to put down the violence.
24, 1991, Pastoral Letter from the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua,
cited above, also stated that:
Particularly serious is the repeated use of violence in all its forms, as a normal course of action, applied outside the law and established institutions or procedures, in pursuit of a right or for the attainment of any benefit.
problem is further exacerbated when all this is the result of
irresponsible incitement to violence and insurrection on the part of
those who hold outstanding political positions in the country and
publicly announce the need for dialogue, reconciliation, peace and
are constant occupations and break-ins, damage to property,
blocking of the means of communication, protest demonstrations, causing
serious damage to many Nicaraguans and to the general economy of the
country. Added to which,
the irresponsible and criminal illegal possession of arms by individuals
or groups fired by fanaticism escalate insecurity and anguish because of
their risk of culminating in unpredictable and irreparable situations.
The Episcopal Conference also stated:
Rule of Law
On a number of occasions and in various documents, we have expressed our view on this matter.
again we say that it is not enough to speak of the rule of law; it must
be made of reality.
the rule of law has not yet been achieved, then it is partly because
there is no enforcement arm that supports and defends government
decisions and enforces the laws of the Republic.
is why one has a Government that seems incapable of doing justice and
commanding respect. This
message is reinforced when one sees how many crimes and terrorist
assaults go unpunished.
Inter-American Commission considers that the Government of
Nicaragua has the obligation to guarantee the full exercise of the human
rights of its citizens in the face of events such as those described,
which affect the exercise of important rights such as the right to life,
to personal safety and to freedom of expression.
According to information received by the Commission, another
example of the absence of guarantees was the lack of proper
investigation of the armed attacks on the residence of the Vice
President of Nicaragua, Dr. Virgilio Godoy Reyes, on September 27 and
to which the Inter-American Commission accords special importance
is the human rights of persons who have been demobilized. The Commission
was told that the Nicaraguan Resistance had been completely demobilized
in 1990, with the help of the United Nations and the Organization of
American States and through the good offices of Cardinal Miguel Obando y
Bravo. The demobilization
culminated in the surrender of arms by the combatants of the Nicaraguan
Resistance and with promises from the Government to institute a set of
facilities for reinstating them into civilian life, including
commitments to allocate them land and other resources so that they may
engage in productive work. Also
organized were systems known as "poles of development" for
establishing links between such productive work and the demobilized
persons were provided with resources so that they would have a monthly
income and means of subsistence. The Government of Nicaragua entrusted the International
Commission for Support and Verification (CIAV/OEA) with the task of
administering those funds and supervising the different aspects of the
demobilization, including monitoring the rights and guarantees of
It should also
be noted, however, that the process of incorporating demobilized persons
into Nicaraguan society has been a complex one.
As the Inter-American Commission pointed out in its Annual
Report 1990-1991, during the months of October and November 1990
serious incidents occurred due to various actions carried out by
demobilized members of the Resistance, in reaction to what they
described as hostile actions against them by the Police and the Army,
and the fact that the government's promises had not been kept.
has adopted a number of measures to deal with the problems that this new
situation has created, one of which is that massive numbers of people
who had been displaced to other countries are now returning.
Here it should be noted that according to information provided by
the Government of Nicaragua, in 1991 there were 605,000 people in
Nicaragua who had been directly affected by the armed conflict:
they were either displaced persons or people who had been
physically impaired or had lost some member of the immediate family.
The Government created the National Commission for the Displaced,
Demobilized, Refugees and Repatriated Persons, to devise and set in
motion a national reconciliation and economic and social rehabilitation
program. That Commission is
attached to the Office of the President of the Republic.
Government's reaction to some of the demands of the demobilized was to
appoint some of their number to positions of importance in the State.
However, the problems have persisted, especially as regards the
security of the demobilized. In
a document of April 1991 submitted to the General Assembly, the
Secretary General of the Organization reported that the CIAV/OEA had
processed complaints concerning the death of 35 demobilized persons, the
disappearance of four, and 186 arbitrary arrests in connection with
rights and guarantees.
The problems became more acute in July 1991 with the seizure of
the village of Quilalí by a group of "recontras", rearmed
groups of the former Nicaraguan Resistance, leaving two policemen and
two "recontras" dead, which caused tensions to escalate.
According to demobilized leaders, their rights were being
violated by the Police and Army, and the "recontras'" decision
to rearm themselves for their own protection was the result of the
situation of insecurity. Human
rights groups have declared that one of the most serious problems is the
continued presence, both in the Police and in the Army, of persons
accused of serious violations of human rights during the previous
administration. In that
connection, the Ministry of Government declared that investigations of
those complaints were continuing and that some of the elements mentioned
by the human rights groups had been dropped.
both the Army and the National Police pointed out that it was not only
the demobilized who were in a situation of insecurity, but also the
leaders of the Sandinista Front, over 60 of whom had been killed in acts
of vengeance by the demobilized, and that it was the Police that had
come under most pressure from the demobilized.
According to information supplied to the Commission, former
members of the Army had obtained arms and had gone into operation, under
the name of "recontras" and escalating the potential for
conflict, especially in the north of Nicaragua.
has sought to tackle the problem of security through the establishment
of regional security committees composed of representatives of the
Ministry of Government, the Army, the Police and the demobilized forces,
and with the participation of CIAV.
The purpose of these committees would be to respond expeditiously
to any security problems that might arise.
The Government has also laid plans for disarming the civilian
population, and setting up a special disarmament brigade to be composed
of 356 demobilized members of the Nicaraguan Resistance and the Army.
That Brigade was installed on November 12, 1991, in Matagalpa.
According to the information that the Government provided to the
Commission, thus far some 134,000 weapons of war have been retrieved, in
the course of three operations conducted jointly by the Army and the
Police. Independent groups
believe this figure is inflated.
It should also
be noted that the Government of Nicaragua has said that it is
endeavoring to be responsive to the demands of the so-called
"recontras" and the "recompas" by means of dialogue
and negotiations. The purpose is to get them to demobilize and become
part of mainstream society once again, with all the necessary guarantees
for the safety and the protection of their rights.
Negotiations were held on June 11, October 17, and November 18.
Further negotiations are expected to take place in February 1992.
According to the Government this approach has managed to
demobilize 532 of the "recontras" and "recompas".
situation of instability has led to loss of life.
Information supplied to the Commission claimed that some 215
people had lost their lives--including 11
children--in Nicaragua as a result of incidents of political
violence, during the period running from May 1 to September 15, 1991.
Inter-American Commission hopes that a halt will be called to the
deterioration of the situation of the human rights of the demobilized
and that the existing conflicts could be resolved through negotiation,
with full respect for the human rights of all those involved.
1990, the Commission was informed of the discovery of common graves in
Nicaragua, especially in areas where fighting had occurred.
The information was provided by the Nicaraguan Pro Human Rights
Association, which had received its first complaint in June 1990.
By December 1991, that Association had received reports of 60
common graves and had investigated 15 of them.
While most of the graves seem to be the result of summary
executions by members of the Sandinista People's Army or the State
Security, some contain the bodies of individuals executed by the
This raises a
number of important problems. The
first is the matter of the victims' identification.
The second is to ascertain the circumstances of their deaths, the
time and place of their deaths, and those responsible.
This issue of responsibility is directly linked to the amnesty
that was decreed on March 14, 1990, when the National Assembly was
controlled by the Sandinista Front.
The amnesty has protected the authors of acts that violate human
rights. Because of the
circumstances under which the amnesty was granted, some human rights
groups believe it was tantamount to a self-pardon.
This measure was used at the very outset, to prevent
those investigations are being carried out, members of human rights
groups say that those investigations come up against numerous obstacles
in the National Police or in the Office of the Inspector General of the
Army, which is the institution to which investigations are referred when
there is evidence that military personnel are involved.
rights groups state that one of their chief concerns is that those
responsible for the human rights violations that the graves reveal
remain in positions of power in either the Police or the Army, or are
members of grass roots organizations of the Sandinista Front.
Both the Nicaraguan Pro Human Rights Association and the
Permanent Commission on Human Rights have proposed that a special
committee be formed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the
deaths of those whose bodies were found in the common graves.
period covered in this Annual Report, serious cases evoked earlier are
still unresolved. A case in
point is the murder of the youth Jean Paul Genie, and the crime
committed against Colonel Enrique Bermúdez. In the case of Jean Paul Genie, it should be mentioned that,
according to information received by the Inter-American
Commission, the results of the investigation conducted by the Venezuelan
Technical Commission were published in August, and pointed to
"citizens forming part of the escort of General Humberto Ortega
Saavedra as the main suspects in the murder of the minor Jean Paul Genie
Lacayo." In September
the declarations of the Chief of General Ortega's Escort were published,
in which he declared that the log containing the movements of the
General's escort had been burnt.
With regard to
the case of Colonel Enrique Bermudez, the corpse was exhumed during the
period covered in this annual report and a further autopsy was carried
out, contradicting the findings of the medical examinations conducted in
cases have been extremely important and the Inter-American
Commission are currently considering cases on which it will announce a
decision on the basis of the investigation carried out.
received information on what appears to be the deterioration of
economic, social and cultural rights due to the serious consequences of
the economic crisis besetting the country.
Alongside a marked improvement in important indicators of
economic activity there are adverse living conditions that need to be
improved so that the exercise of the above-mentioned economic,
social and cultural rights may be ensured.
situation summarized in this section is a source of serious concern, due
to the erosion of some institutions and the recourse to violence on the
part of important actors on the Nicaraguan political scene.
This led the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, in the Pastoral
Letter of November 1991 cited earlier, to call for the restoration of
the State of Law as an urgent need of Nicaraguan society.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is prepared to
collaborate with the Government of Nicaragua in order to ensure the full
exercise of human rights in that country to achieve full observance of
human rights in that country; accordingly, it will soon be making an
on-site visit to that country to observe, firsthand, the human
rights situation in Nicaragua.