In 1992, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights continued to monitor developments in the human rights situation in Nicaragua. The purpose of this section is to update the information reported by the Commission in its previous annual reports.
During the period covered by this Annual Report, a delegation from the Inter-American Commission visited Nicaragua at that Government's invitation, to observe the human rights situation there. During its stay in Nicaragua, the Commission met with the highest ranking government authorities, with representatives of various State powers, with a number of human rights organizations, and with individuals and members of institutions representative of Nicaraguan society, among them the Movimiento Civilista, the Asociación Cívica Resistencia Nicaragüense and the Asociación Nacional de Confiscados.
During its visit, a subcommittee of the IACHR delegation traveled to Puerto Cabezas on the Atlantic coast and there met with various institutions and individuals interested in describing their situation in the context of human rights in the region. Another subcommittee went to the Tipitapa prison where it had an opportunity to speak with the men convicted of the murder of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro; the Commission has a case in process concerning these men.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a press communique on April 30, 1992, the last day of its visit to Nicaragua. In that communique, the Commission said that among the people it had met with the consensus had been that the situation of civil and political rights had improved since the armed conflict ended and the new administration took over. There was also a consensus, however, that economic, social and cultural rights were suffering because of the serious economic crisis the country was experiencing. The Commission also noted that high-ranking government officials directly informed it of their commitment to consolidating and furthering respect for human rights.
II. PROGRESS ACHIEVED
Some progress has been achieved in promoting and protecting human rights. In September of 1992, the Government of Nicaragua enacted Decree No. 46-92 whereby it amended the bylaws of the Attorney General's Office, expanding its functions and establishing a number of special prosecutors' offices, among them the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights and the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Property-related Matters.
The purpose of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights is "to promote and protect human rights so that the citizens may enjoy them to the fullest"; the purpose of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Property-related Matters is to "settle swiftly the various property-related problems that date back to the previous administration, all for the sake of the country's stability and development." The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights believes that the creation of these special prosecutorial offices is a positive development in the defense of human rights and that it is imperative that those institutions enjoy absolute independence so that they may discharge their sensitive functions to the fullest.
On October 2, 1992, at the initiative of the President of the Republic, a Tripartite Commission was established composed of the Government of Nicaragua, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, and the International Support and Verification Commission of the Organization of American States, for the purpose of guaranteeing the human rights of the demobilized former members of the Nicaraguan Resistance and their families. The mandate of the Tripartite Commission is based on the Agreements signed by the five Central American presidents at Esquipulas II (Guatemala) and at Tela (Honduras); agreements concluded between the Government of Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan Resistance forces; letters from the President of the Republic to Cardinal Obando y Bravo and to Mr. Santiago Murray, General Coordinator of CIAV-OAS, and, finally, the Protocol of Verification signed between the parties on October 2.
The fundamental objectives of the Tripartite Commission are "to analyze and review, given the political and social scenario in Nicaragua in the postwar period that began on June 26, 1990, the cases of violence against former members of the Nicaraguan Resistance and sectors of the population beset by collective conflicts, and those cases wherein the authors of the facts denounced are alleged to be former members of the Nicaraguan Resistance; to facilitate an exchange of views on the causes of the violence and to make recommendations to improve coordination and the mechanisms to prevent and eradicate the problems examined for the sake of Nicaragua's stability and peace; and to strengthen the system for protecting the rights and guarantees of those sectors of the population adversely affected by the war."
In mid October, the Commission began to meet on a weekly basis and will present a report to President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro within three months. It may also make its recommendations on the various cases brought to its attention.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also been informed that in November 1992 the Supreme Court of Justice launched a project to strengthen the Judiciary in order to correct some of the problems with the administration of justice. Projects have been instituted to establish the material infrastructure in municipalities that are not departmental seats and at certain locations within embattled areas. The Judiciary Training School has also started its activities. There, graduates of law schools will be trained to provide one year of social service in regions where the judges on the bench are not attorneys.
III. INSTITUTIONAL PROBLEMS
A. National Assembly
Since the visit, there have been a number of negative developments in the human rights situation with the heightening of political tensions between members of UNO--the coalition that brought President Chamorro to power--,her Administration and the Frente Sandinista. A group of UNO legislators purportedly linked to the Government have voted as a block with members of the FSLN on important matters such as the law on normalization of the property system. Against that backdrop, the United States Senate initially withheld disbursement of 104 million dollars in foreign aid, which merely served to exacerbate the economic and political problems in Nicaragua.
After the economic aid was suspended, the present crisis with the political institutions grew worse and eventually led to a confrontation between the branches of government. On September 2, 1992, according to the information received, the then Chairman of the National Assembly, Lic. Alfredo César, appointed two Secretaries of the House without the quorum required by law, when 39 Sandinista deputies and 8 from the government coalition "UNO" that formed the "Centro" group that supports the Chief Executive were absent. The Commission was also informed that Alfredo César accused the Chief Executive of meddling in Parliament's affairs and then in the affairs of the judicial branch of government, when a Managua Appeals Court provisionally suspended the decisions taken at the September 2 meeting and their effects. Later, on November 27, 1992, the Supreme Court of Justice handed down a ruling in favor of the petition of amparo filed by Sergio Ramírez and Gustavo Tablada, representatives of the FSLN and the "Grupo Centro", respectively, against Alfredo César, Chairman of the National Assembly at that time. That ruling nullified all actions taken since September 2, 1992. In late 1992, the Chief Executive dissolved the Governing Board of the National Assembly chaired by Alfredo César, and installed a provisional board in its place. It ordered all documents seized and the Congressional facilities placed under military guard. On January 9, 1993, a new Governing Board of the National Assembly was elected by a simple majority. Dr. Gustavo Tablada, a member of the Socialist Party, was elected its Chairman.
B. National Police
On September 5, 1992, the Government of Nicaragua, through Decree No. 45-92, issued a new charter for the National Police. In the preamble, it states that "the National Police shall be a civil institution; under Article 144 of the Constitution, the Supreme Commander of the National Police shall be the President of the Republic, who shall exercise that office through the Ministry of Government."
However, human rights organizations have said that rather than bolstering civilian power over the police, the new law weakens it and is at variance with the Law on Military Inspectorship, which puts police who commit common crimes under the jurisdiction of the military courts and even civilians who are involved in a crime with or against a policeman, thereby violating the universal maxim of the law that no one shall be denied a hearing by a competent judge.
These human rights organizations have also reported that the law is at odds with the Charter of the Ministry of Government, enacted by Presidential Decree in 1990. They argue that under the law, the newly created office of under secretary for police affairs has very little authority to supervise and control the police service, even though hierarchically it is above the Director General of Police. They have also said that there is practically no supervision of the heads of civil government in the provinces in the interior and that the authorities of the Minister of Government are weakened, among them the authority to appoint the police chiefs in the provinces who are appointed by and directly answerable to the Director General of Police.
During the period covered in this Annual Report, the Government of Nicaragua took steps to reorganize the National Police. Some 18 high-ranking officers were removed, including its Director General, Commandant René Vivas. Commandant Fernando Caldera was appointed to replace him on September 5, 1992. According to reports, under the previous administration he was chief of State Security in the embattled Region V. According to human rights organizations, he was allegedly responsible for very serious human rights violations. They also report that the changes made in the National Police have not affected those with the most serious records of human rights abuses. These human rights organizations believe that the changes are irrelevant in practice. Another change introduced was the appointment of a Presidential Delegate to the National Police, a position held by the newly designated Deputy Secretary for Government, Frank César. They are waiting to see the extent to which this institutional change will bring about a significant change in what human rights groups regard as a bias on the part of the National Police in favor of the FSLN.
In that context, the Nicaraguan human rights groups launched a public campaign to single out members of the security forces that have been involved in human rights violations in the past. The most notorious case they have cited is that of Commandant Lenín Cerna, Chief of State Security during the previous government and who is now performing similar functions in the Army. The human rights groups came under heavy attack by sectors of the FSLN and felt threatened by those security forces. In that context, the Inter-American Commission received a petition from that organization which it processed.
IV. RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL AND TO PERSONAL LIBERTY
Human rights organizations have told the Inter-American Commission that the administration of justice continues to be politicized, a problem that has a direct effect on the right to a fair trial and to due process of law. They say, in effect, that even though the Supreme Court of Justice has reported that 70% of the judges appointed under the previous government have been replaced, this would not necessarily mean that the new appointments have been made properly, as the human rights organizations continue to receive complaints that justice is administered too slowly and is biased.
Another problem that concerns the exercise of the right to a fair trial is that the law on the Office of the Military Inspector has still not been amended. Under that law, police charged with common crimes are under military jurisdiction; the military courts are also authorized to try civilians charged with involvement in a crime committed with or against a police officer.
As for personal liberty, the Inter-American Commission was told that on May 9, 1992, Harold Cedeño Aguirre, one of those convicted in the murder of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro on January 10, 1978, was paroled. Originally sentenced to 21 years and six months in prison, Cedeño was released on parole upon completion of three quarters of his sentence in consideration of the fact that he had no prior criminal record and was a model prisoner. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers Cedeño's release to be a positive development; however, it hopes that the situation of the others convicted in this case will soon be resolved. The Commission is processing a case in this regard and will adopt a decision in due course.
Again on the question of personal liberty, human rights organizations report that 70% of those being held have not been brought before the courts; the main problem is the sluggishness in the administration of justice, especially in rural municipalities.
V. RIGHT TO PROPERTY
As for the right of property, there has been some slow progress in returning certain properties confiscated from their owners under the previous government. However, the problem is far from settled and continues to be a source of serious friction in Nicaraguan society.
After taking office in April 1990, one of the first decrees issued by the Government of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro was Decree 11-90, which created the National Confiscations Review Board. Its purpose was to review the confiscations made by the Sandinista regime, estimated at some 25,000 farm and urban holdings.
According to the reports supplied to the Commission, the National Review Board was receiving applications for review up until December 31, 1990, by which time it had received some 4,600. By June 1991, the Board had ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in some 1,000 cases, where the properties in question were ordered returned to the plaintiffs.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was also told that only a few of the Board's decisions were complied with and the properties returned to the rightful owners when the properties were in the hands of the Central Government. According to those reports, almost all of the Board's decisions were ignored because the properties were in the hands of persons who claimed to have acquired them under laws 85 and 86, which are the laws that the Legislative Assembly passed between February 25 and April 25, 1990, and that have come to be called the "Piñata."
Decree 11-90 provided that to enforce a ruling of the Review Board, public force should be used if necessary; however, according to reports, the police systematically refused to enforce the orders of the National Review Board, because its decisions usually were against persons affiliated with the previous government.
On May 27, 1991, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling on a constitutionality case. It ruled that articles 7 and 11 of Decree 11-90 were unconstitutional, thereby leaving the National Confiscation Review Board virtually ineffective. Later, according to the reports received, the functions of the Review Board were virtually nullified as all confiscatory claim files were transferred from the Office of the Attorney General, who chairs the Board, to the offices of the Presidency to be inventoried.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was also informed that in August 1991, the deputies from the National Opposition Union political alliance passed a law ordering expropriation of property acquired under laws 85 and 86; where appropriate, the property acquired by virtue of those laws was to be taken back by the State to be restored to its rightful owner. That law, passed by the Legislative Assembly, also ordered that all grants of State-administered enterprises should be declared null and void. This law, known as Law 133, was vetoed by the Executive, who sent it back to the National Assembly on the grounds that it was in violation of the Constitution.
As the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights noted in its Annual Report 1991, many believed that laws 85 and 86 had benefitted the needy; however, there were those who said that prominent leaders of the Sandinista Front had also benefitted by these laws, being assigned valuable properties, including properties owned by the State or by individuals who had not ceded their rights thereto.
One article in Law 85 that was heavily criticized by the citizenry is Article 10, which refers to the taxes levied on property being sold. It reads as follows: "any treasury or municipal taxes owed on these properties up to and including the date on which the present law enters into force shall be waived." This provision would place those who had received these properties from the State in a privileged position, since they would be exempt from the payment of taxes, disregarding the fact that every law must apply with equal force to everyone; that the law cannot require some to pay taxes and others not, and certainly not deny the public treasury its tax revenues. The same article establishes another privilege for the property beneficiaries by stating that notaries need not require the proof of payment of taxes and the other documents required by law to issue registered deeds, which again adversely affects the public treasury. It also orders that any mortgage or lien on the property to which this law refers is automatically canceled.
During the period covered by this Annual Report, the Government of Nicaragua adopted new measures to correct this matter. Thus, through Decree 47-92, of September 9, 1992, the Government reinstated the National Confiscation Review Board to continue to examine the confiscations made and to adopt the appropriate decisions.
On September 9, 1992, via Decree 48-92, the functions of the Land Office created under Decree 35-91 of August 19, 1991, were expanded. In principle, it called for a Special Review Board to be set up to examine the distribution, deeding or possession of farm lands between February and April 1990. According to the legislation in force, those would be the functions of the Land Office. Despite the changes made, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has received reports that the Land Office continues to legalize the de jure and de facto situations of the new beneficiaries of urban housing and lots and the farm lands arbitrarily distributed on a massive scale during the period of transition from the Government of the Sandinista Front to that of Mrs. Chamorro. The original property owners are given very little in the way of a hearing.
Also in September, Presidential Agreement No. 248-92 was issued, instructing the National Review Board "to settle favorably all claims filed by the deadline with the Office of the Attorney General, in the spirit of Decree 11-90 and its amendments, meaning that only those claims filed under decrees 3 and 38 shall be subject to Board review." Decrees 3 and 38 were the first issued by the previous Government and under them the properties of the Somoza family and its followers were confiscated.
On October 15, 1992, through Decree 56-92, a system of compensation was established whereby securities were given as compensation to those people whose property had been expropriated by the previous Government and could not now be restored to them. The Government of Nicaragua has said that it will develop a privatization project involving a number of public utilities that will honor the securities.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hopes that the system of compensation will correct the problem and that the concern felt in some quarters that these companies will be in bad financial shape and controlled by politicized unions or unions with ties to the previous government will not affect payment of a fair compensation. As it has said before, the Inter-American Commission believes that this matter must be settled within the legal framework of the American Convention on Human Rights to which Nicaragua is a State Party and which has been incorporated into Nicaragua's system of constitutional law.
As the Commission noted in its Annual Report 1991, the many legal norms issued during the various periods and the various ways in which property was adjudicated, and the recipients' resistance to pressures from the owners are some of the factors that have made this situation so complex and so difficult to straighten out. It has a dangerous potential for social conflict.
In fact, one especially serious development during the period covered by this Annual Report was the murder of Dr. Arges Sequeira, President of the Asociación de Confiscados and President of the Unión de Productores Agrícolas de Nicaragua (UPANIC). According to information provided to the Commission, Dr. Sequeira was murdered on November 23, 1992, at 8:30 a.m.; three unknown individuals were waiting for him near his farm "El Queserito", located outside the city of El Sauce, Department of León and fired on him from a moving vehicle.
Dr. Sequeira was one of the principals negotiating the return of properties confiscated during the previous administration and--according to reports received-- recently rejected the Government's offer of securities as compensation, given the lack of funds to meet the demands of those whose property had been confiscated. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had an opportunity to meet with him, as President of the Asociación de Confiscados de Nicaragua, during its visit there last April.
In light of these unfortunate events, the Government of Nicaragua requested the Spanish Government's assistance in investigating the case. On November 29, the special detectives--Ricardo Sánchez and Manuel García--sent by the Spanish Government to collaborate in the investigation of the murder of Dr. Arges Sequeiras, arrived in Nicaragua. According to reports received, in mid January 1993, the Police allegedly identified two former military from the E.P.S. [Sandinista People's Army] as being involved in Mr. Sequeiras' murder. However, the whereabouts of the suspects is still unknown. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hopes that those responsible for the crime will be identified, brought to trial, and receive the punishments that such criminal conduct warrants.
The political tensions heightened in late November and early December when --according to the reports received--in the midst of a series of strikes called by unions controlled by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) the headquarters of the Private Enterprise Council (COSEP) in Managua was dynamited. The reports also state that the attack came at 2:00 a.m. and left two floors damaged but no casualties.
In its Pastoral Letter of October 6, 1992, the Conference of Bishops of Nicaragua said the following:
We are gravely concerned by the increasing proclivity to settle social differences through recourse to indiscriminate violence to have one's right vindicated or restored. While the social differences can be traced to injustices, they are being exploited by certain groups that use the aggrieved sectors to provoke chaos, thereby satisfying their own selfish lust for power.
The social decay caused by the economic crisis and the erosion of moral values leads to violence against goods and property, and against persons as well. The attacks have become an almost daily occurrence, at night and in broad daylight, causing upheaval, chaos and unrest for the entire citizenry, which needs a climate of peace and tranquility to work honorably and to support their families.
The social breakdown, loss of moral values, disrespect for the individual are becoming worse, and the agony caused to individuals and entire families is of no importance. The wave of kidnapping exacerbates the social tensions, leaving the general public with a sense of confusion and uncertainty, discouraging production and ultimately the generation of goods.
As the Inter-American Commission noted in its Annual Report 1991, the Government of Nicaragua has an obligation to guarantee the full observance of its citizens' rights when events occur that are prejudicial to the exercise of such fundamental rights as the right to life and to humane treatment. That obligation is established in Article 1.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights to which Nicaragua is a State Party and presupposes the subordination of the military to a lawfully elected civilian power.
VI. THE RIGHTS OF THE DEMOBILIZED AND RURAL VIOLENCE
Another issue to which the Inter-American Commission attaches particular importance is the human rights of the demobilized. As the Inter-American Commission has said before, the demobilization process officially ended in June 1990 with the disarming of some 22,000 combatants in the Nicaraguan Resistance and the commitments undertaken by the Government to take a number of measures to facilitate their reassimilation into civilian society, which included promises to provide land and other means to enable them to engage in productive work.
However, in July 1991, groups of former members of the Nicaraguan Resistance, calling themselves "recontras", resumed armed activities. According to their leaders, this was a response to the feeling of uncertainty and insecurity created as members of the police and the army were violating their rights. Another reason they cited was that the Government had failed to comply with the demobilization agreements, particularly the promises to turn over land and provide bank loans for farming.
Simultaneously, former soldiers with the Sandinista People's Army, calling themselves "recompas", took up arms again arguing that they felt threatened by the activity of the "recontras". All this added to the potential for conflict, especially in northern Nicaragua.
In response, the Government of Nicaragua expressed its determination to respond to the grievances of the "recontras" and "recompas" and began a series of talks and negotiations to launch a new disarmament drive and to get the "recontras" and "recompas" reassimilated into society, with full guarantees of their rights. The negotiations took place on June 11, October 17, November 18, 1991, and a last round on February 14, 1992. According to the Government, in disarming the "contras" and rearmed Sandinistas, some 10,600 weapons have been retrieved.
However, the climate of tension and violence continued, especially in the northern sector of the country: according to reports, in March former combatants with the Nicaraguan Resistance and former soldiers in the Sandinista People's Army joined forces for the first time since they established themselves in June 1991. They formed what has come to be called the "revueltos", to demand that the Government honor its commitments to provide them with land, housing and financing so that they can rejoin civilian society.
In effect, on March 6, 1992, according to reports received, a battalion of special troops and aircraft of the Sandinista People's Army forced a group of former "contras" and armed Sandinistas to leave the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal, part of which they occupied.
The Inter-American Commission also received reports that in April, rebel groups of "recontras" and "recompas" obstructed traffic on the main arteries in and out of a number of communities in the northern departments of Jinotega, Estelí, and Matagalpa. They also shut down traffic at the customs stations at El Espino and Las Manos, on the border with Honduras.
Again in April, according to reports received, anti-riot police had to be transferred from Managua to take on armed groups that had held up traffic along the Pan American Highway near the city of Estelí, some 149 kilometers north of the capital.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was also told that because of violence in the early months of the year, the Government of Nicaragua began the month of June with two military operations called "Winter 92" and "Recovery 92", calculated to control the bands of thugs operating in the northern and central regions of the country and to break up the groups of armed irregulars still operating in that area. According to the reports received, the first operation was executed by combined Army and National Police forces, while the second is being carried out by the Army alone.
Human rights organizations report that complaints have been filed by peasant farmers in that region, which indicate that the military campaigns are designed to intimidate demobilized members of the Nicaraguan Resistance or former collaborators. Those groups have also said that the great military deployment with that operation and the consolidation of the Army's military power in rural areas have escalated tensions and instilled enormous fear, forcing peasants to leave their land and move to the departmental seats.
The Pastoral Letter from the Conference of Bishops of Nicaragua, dated October 6, 1992, also states that:
There are increasing numbers of human rights violations committed by the military and police authorities, especially in the interior. The peasant farmers have been those most affected. It all adds to the climate of ill-will and insecurity.
The offer of reconciliation sometimes seems to be one-sided. The reports of deaths among former members of the Nicaraguan Resistance are adding fuel to a fire that threatens to unleash more armed violence, death and property damage.
With this scenario the people continue to clamor for the promise to abolish or reduce the Army and reorganize the national police whose job it is to protect the interests of the people and make them feel truly safe.
As the Inter-American Commission pointed out in its 1991 Annual Report, it hopes that the human rights situation of the demobilized will cease to deteriorate and that a negotiated settlement can be found to the existing differences, one that fully respects the human rights of all persons involved.
VII. DISCOVERY OF SECRET GRAVES
One particularly crucial aspect that the Commission has been examining concerns the discovery of secret cemeteries or common graves in various regions of the country since the end of the armed conflict.
According to the information supplied to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, between January 14 and 15, 1992, seven common graves were discovered in El Bijagua district, Camoapa jurisdiction, department of Boaco. They contained the bodies of 75 people. The investigations conducted by human rights organizations found that they were the bodies of peasant farmers from the area who were murdered in November 1984, after being "recruited" by elements of State Security who pretended to be members of the Nicaraguan Resistance. They were taken to the site where the graves were discovered supposedly to receive military training. According to the reports received. The current Chief of the National Police, Commandant René Vivas Lugo, was Deputy Secretary of the Interior at the time these events occurred.
The Inter-American Commission was also told that in May, a common grave containing the six corpses of an entire family were discovered in the town of Quininowas, Department of Jinotega. Human rights groups investigated and found that the killings were allegedly committed by members of the Ligero Cazador Battalion of the Sandinista People's Army, who invaded that town on February 7, 1985.
By December 1992, human rights groups had received 72 reports of common graves and had investigated 13 of those reports. While the majority of those graves seem to contain the remains of individuals summarily executed by members of the Sandinista People's Army, some contain the remains of persons executed by members of the Nicaraguan Resistance.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is confident that the Government of Nicaragua will launch a thorough investigation to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the persons whose bodies were discovered in these common graves.
During the period covered by this Annual Report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has received information to the effect that with the grave economic crisis the country is experiencing, the situation of the economic, social and cultural rights has continued to deteriorate. It has also been reported that the suspension of the United States' foreign aid in June served to hasten that process. However, in December the United States Government announced that it would unfreeze part of the aid being withheld, which would enable the Nicaraguan Government to improve the people's living conditions with a view to putting into practice the economic, social and cultural rights.
Summing up, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights finds that in the period covered by this Annual Report, some progress has been made in the promotion and protection of human rights.
However, it is the Commission's view that in that same period, violence in the country has become worse. There has also been a disturbing deterioration in the political situation and unhealthy feuding between the branches of government, all to the detriment of the human rights situation. Contributing to this is the failure to identify and punish those responsible for serious crimes committed since this Administration took office and the magnification of an institutional crisis of alarming proportions.