“Sanctions are the only language that Ortega and Murillo understand”

This interview of the Director of Human Rights Watch was done on the release of their report on repression and torture in Nicaragua. It is significant because it came out right before the Nica Act demanded sanctions against Nicaragua if there was no progress by the Nicaraguan government  on prosecuting human rights abusers and corruption. It also came out days before the General Assembly of the OAS would look at applying the Democratic Charter to Nicaragua for similar reasons. 

“Sanctions are the only language that Ortega and Murillo understand”

by Carlos F. Chamorro in Confidencial, June 20, 2019

[see original Spanish at https://confidencial.com.ni/sanciones-es-el-unico-lenguaje-que-entienden-ortega-y-murillo/ ]

Hours after Human Rights Watch presented in Washington a report on the repression and torture against the freedom of expression in Nicaragua this Wednesday, in Managua and Masaya the Police repressed and detained citizens for protesting.

This police State merciless with civil protest and the attempts of the Ortega-Murillo regime to mislead national and international opinion about the fulfillment of the agreements in the dialogue table, are some of the reasons that moved José Miguel Vivanco, Director for the Americas of HRW, to vigorously demand the United States, Canada and Latin American democracies to “redouble sanctions” against Managua.

The HRW report proposes applying individual sanctions against the members of the chain of command of the National Police: its Supreme Commander, President Daniel Ortega; the ex Director, Aminta Granera; the current Director, Francisco Díaz, and generals Ramón Avellán, Assistant Director; Jaime Vanegas, Inspector General; Luis Pérez Olivas, Director of the Judicial Support Office (DAJ also known as El Chipote); and Justo Pastor Urbina, Director of the Special Operations Office (DOEP).

Vivanco stated that these sanctions “that freeze pocketbooks” worry authoritarian regimes, but he also highlighted that “It is the only language that they understand.”

“If the international community stops, or lets itself be confused by the recent release of prisoners who should never have been in prison, there are no possibilities that an improvement would result in human rights and public liberties, much less a transition to democracy”, warned Vivanco.

In this wide ranging interview offered to the program Esta Noche, he analyzes the principal findings of the report titled “Crackdown in Nicaragua: Torture, ill treatment and Prosecutions of protestors and opponents.”

This report analyzes the pattern of the repressive methods and is based on more than 70 interviews, and an exhaustive study of 13 political prisoners who were tortured, and some of the doctors who treated them. What is its principal conclusion on the situation of Nicaragua?

This is a study done in Nicaragua. We have been able to enter Nicaragua, to go around the country and gather direct testimony from the victims, their relatives, doctors and civil society experts. On the basis of that information and testimonies, we have arrived at the conclusion that the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo are directly responsible for the commission of serious and massive violations of fundamental rights. These violations have been committed by police agents and highly armed criminals who have a license to shoot and kill.

The people who have survived the murders, or those who have been left seriously wounded, have been arbitrarily detained by the regime. They have not had the possibility of defending themselves before an independent tribunal, exercise their basic rights. Many of them have been the subject of brutal and abhorrent torture.

The torture that we have been able to document are extremely cruel. They include sexual rape, removing fingernails from those detained, electric shock, brutal beatings, asphyxiation to the point of killing the detainees…really they are the very practices of the dictatorships of the sixties that governed the southern cone of Latin America. Those of Pinochet.

Is there proof of these tortures that you have pointed out?

Yes, there is. We gathered the proof in the report. We are fortunate to have the testimony of doctors, and not just the victims and witnesses who have supported us in the preparation of this report. Doctors who in some cases we have had to protect their identity, and who in other cases have had to leave the country. Several doctors told us, and it was information consistent with several localities, that there was an order issued by the regime at the highest level prohibiting especially the doctors in public hospitals, but also in private ones, to assist and treat victims of the repression. Something really unheard of that shows the level of cruelty that this regime is willing to reach.

The allegation of the regime is that they reacted to an attempted coup, and that on the other hand abuses were also committed by the protestors against the police and the partisans of the Government. What criteria does the report have about these allegations?

There is no evidence that we have been able to gather, credible evidence, that would pass a minimal level of reasonability and seriousness, that would show that an initiative of a coup was in play here. Under no circumstance can one justify the type of atrocities that Murillo and Ortega are responsible for, as well as the hierarchs of the party in power, and particularly the highest authorities of the police of Nicaragua. There is no possibility of justifying before any type of serious, impartial international body that a State would end up committing these type of atrocities to protect itself from an imminent coup. But there is no evidence that that has occurred in Nicaragua.

The arguments of the regime are for propaganda purposes. Typical of a tyranny. That abuses were also committed against the police, there is no doubt about that. We have serious information that reveals the death of police offers during some confrontations.

They Urge International Sanctions

You propose that the international community be called to apply sanctiopns, principally individual ones against those responsible for the repression. Why? Is there evidence that sanctions in individual cases like Nicaragua might produce the results that are sought, establishing justice, truth and ending the repression?

A totalitarian regime like what Nicaraguan is suffering today is, usually, very sensitive to sanctions that are directed at freezing pocketbooks. Because what it deals with is punishing the corrupt people who have stolen from the national coffers. And since those who are governing Nicaragua have done it for many years, without being accountable to anyone, in a system of government with complete concentration, where there is no independent oversight over the use of public funds, the fact that the United States, Canada, the European Union and some of the most important democracies of the region would freeze the assets of the hierarchs of the regime and their relatives and their front men, and at the same time cancel their visas, we know that that worries them.

We believe it is time to redouble and duplicate the sanctions. That is why we are offering a list headed by Daniel Ortega as the Supreme Commander of the Police, an entity that has shown no mercy with grotesque cruelty toward disarmed civilians; vulnerable people in different places in Nicaragua. It is a Police force that Daniel Ortega directs. And therefore he, along with other police authorities, should be the object of these sanctions. That they be replicated by the European Union and democracies of Latin America.

The government of the United States in previous sanctions already applied them to Daniel Ortega´s wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, to one of her sons, Laureano Ortega, and also to the current chief of police, the treasurer of the party and the administrator of the Albanisa funds, Francisco López, now HRW proposes sanctioning President Ortega. What consequences does it have that a State with which Nicaragua has diplomatic relations would sanction Ortega?

Legally it is possible that a democratic and sovereign State, for reasons linked to corruption and the violation of fundamental rights, might do so. It is acceptable that someone like Daniel Ortega would be included in that list. In our opinion this is the only language that Ortega and Murillo understand. It is time to redouble the pressure. If the international community quits, or is distracted, or lets itself be confused by the recent liberation of prisoners who should never have been in prison, and allows itself to be manipulated by the propaganda of the regime, there are no chances that an improvement would be produced in terms of human rights and public freedoms, nor much less a transition to democracy.

This transition should be accompanied in any negotiation by strong and unequivocal sanctions from the world community.

How do you evaluate what happened yesterday in Managua, when the time frame ended that Ortega himself had accepted for definitively freeing all the political prisoners? The government says that it already complied because it freed some prisoners from an agreed upon list with the OAS, the Vatican and the Civic Alliance. But the Civic Alliance says that they have not complied because there are 86 prisoners left, and the police state prevails. What can be expected from the international community?

Much more can be expected from the international community. Here there are full judicial responsibilities that should be exercised by the international community. On a multilateral level as well as bilaterally. In this sense the OAS has a role to play, and in fact there is a General Assembly in Medellín where we expect that the issue of Nicaragua will be on the agenda, and not just that, but the application of the Democratic Charter with direct sanctions against the regime.

You ask me what can be expected from the government in these negotiations. I would say very little. It is a duplicitous regime that manipulates national and international opinion. In addition it is a regime that represses those who bravely challenge it in the streets and churches. Many of those who have been freed continue connected procedurally to a fraudulent process. Many are freed but detained in their own homes.

The proposal to quit financing the Police

There are another two proposals in the Human Rights Watch Report. One is about the proposal that the European Union and the Central American Integration Bank end the financial relationship that they have with the Police. And the other is the invocation of the convention against torture of which Nicaragua is a signatory. With these two cases, can processes and investigations and penal processes be opened in light of these crimes?

In international law there are solid principles and precedents that allow for the exercise of universal jurisdiction if some of those responsible for the repression in Nicaragua are found under the jurisdiction of a State that is respectful of and has signed international commitments on matters of human rights. That path exists and we call on the member states of the European Union, the OAS, the United States and Canada to take advantage of any opportunity to begin a penal type process for the atrocities committed. Some of these cited authorities of the regime have direct responsibilities. This is an important path.

In terms of the financing for the police, we have discovered with this investigation that the police budget is maintained to a large extent on international aid. The European Union provided the Police last year $1.2 million dollars as part of a donation. We have tried unsuccessfully to find out whether the European Union is going to continue contributing resources to the Police. We have spoken with the authorities at the highest level, and we have not been able to figure out the response. We do not understand what their position is. The responses of the European Union are ambiguous. We hope that the political debate that this report generates would force the bureaucrats of the European Union to make a clear and firm decision about suspending any type of financing for an entity that has stood out for its repressive conduct.

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