Amnesty International says Nicaragua used weapons of war to indiscriminately kill and injure anti-government protesters in, as part of the ongoing violent crackdown by the government of Daniel Ortega.
At least 322 people have been killed, and possibly as many as 500 or more, while more 2,000 others injured – mostly by the police and pro-government paramilitary groups – since demonstrations over social security system reforms began mid-April.
Protesters have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and prosecuted, many on terrorism charges in law passed earlier this year. At least one journalist has been killed, and several foreign reporters deported.
The new report by Amnesty International, “Instilling Terror“, documents several human rights violations committed between 30 May and 18 September 2018 and details the different elements that make up the state strategy of repression to suppress the protests.
Amnesty International believes that these violations were carried out not only with the knowledge of the highest authorities of the Nicaraguan state, including President Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice-president, Rosario Murillo, but also (in many cases) on their orders and under their command.
Ortega was once celebrated as a leader who helped win the Sandinista revolution. According to the Nicaraguan constitution, the country’s president is the commander-in-chief of the national police, and Ortega directly controls the force.
The state-sponsored repression conducted under the name “Operation Clean-up” has included well-planned operations using military-grade lethal weapons against mainly unarmed civilians. AI documented the widespread use of AK-type rifles by the police and pro-government armed squads, as well as sniper rifles, machine guns and even portable anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launchers. including the Russian manufactured RPG-7.
Meanwhile, anti-government protesters have used homemade mortars and firearms in a disproportionate and mostly indiscriminate fight against government forces.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas Director at Amnesty International, said: “The strategy of repression implemented by the security forces and pro-government groups in Nicaragua has led to grave human rights violations under international law…. which must be properly investigated and those responsible should be brought to justice.
“The international investigation must not only direct perpetrators, but also any officials – independent of their rank and political position – who ordered, permitted, or knew about the violations yet did nothing to stop them.”
The report is based on 115 interviews that uncovered six possible extrajudicial executions. Victims include 16-year-old Leyting Chavarría, who was found dead with a gunshot wound to his chest following an attack in July on makeshift barricades in the city of Jinotega by riot police and paramilitary groups. The teenager’s body was found in an alley alongside a catapult.
In a separate case, also in July, officer Faber López was killed shortly after telling his family that he was going to resign from the riot police and that if they did not hear from him the next day, it was because he’d been killed by colleagues.
Official reports said López was shot in the head by ‘armed terrorists’ while trying to direct traffic. His body was returned to his family with multiple signs of torture, but no bullet wounds.
Torture has been used by security forces as punishment and to force detainees to give false testimonies, the report concludes. Several people interviewed by Amnesty bore visible marks of injuries sustained weeks earlier.
As the official death and injury count continues to climb, the true number of victims could be even higher. Many people are too scared to report attacks, even deaths, to authorities in case of reprisals; official investigations are often inadequate and geared towards identifying protest leaders.
One consequence of the widespread persecution has been the internal displacement and forced migration of thousands of people, mainly to neighboring Costa Rica. More than 20,000 Nicaraguans have applied or are waiting to apply for asylum since the crackdown began six months ago, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
The situation shows no sign of improving: on Sunday police detained more than two dozen protesters after using batons and stun grenades to break up a peaceful demonstration in Managua calling for Ortega and Murillo to resign.