Nicaragua has historically been regarded as one of the safest Central American nations. This is in part due to low levels of corruption and homicide coupled with the fact that unrest and violence in Nicaragua is not as pervasive as it is in other Central American countries. As a result, Nicaragua has had low migration to the United States. Of the migrants that do leave Nicaragua, most of them are seeking better paying jobs in neighboring Costa Rica. However, this overall peace within Nicaragua ceased under President Daniel Ortega.
Since April 2018, thousands of citizens have demanded Ortega’s resignation. In response to these outcries, Ortega dispatched police and hired para-police groups. These para-police groups are combinations of plainclothes police officers, the Sandinista Youth paramilitaries, and gang members. The use of para-police is not a new strategy. In fact several Central and South American countries have used para-police to suppress critics of the government. This tactic of outsourcing law enforcement duties to handle unrest has most notably occurred in Venezuela. In Venezuela, this tactic created a lot of problems because lack of government oversight resulted in para-police groups becoming criminal organizations rather than law enforcement personnel.
According to Human Rights Watch, the para-police groups in Nicaragua have caused at present hundreds of deaths and over a thousand injuries. Despite calls from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to end the repression of protesters and adopt measures to stop the violence, the Nicaraguan government has refused to accept responsibility or take action to end the bloodshed.
The killing of protestors in general is in violation of the right of life protected in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). Moreover, Articles 18, 19, and 20 of the UDHR protect the rights of freedom of thought, opinion, expression, and assembly. Similarly, Articles 13 and 15 of the ACHR solidify the freedom of thought and right to assemble.
President Ortega has attempted to extract himself from responsibility by labeling the para-military groups as foreign agitators, gangs, and citizens defending themselves. Even if that were true, Ortega would still have the responsibility to protect his citizens from being killed on the streets for exercising their right to protest. According to Article 1 of the ACHR, states are required to not only refrain from violating the provisions, but also to ensure that their citizens can exercise their rights under the ACHR. Moreover, Article 2 of the ICCPR, which Nicaragua is a party to, also requires states to respect and protect rights and remedy violations.
At this point—with such widespread killing of his citizens—Ortega cannot simply disavow the human rights violations as the actions of foreign agitators. Nicaragua’s human rights obligations are universal; they do not depend solely on acts of commission, as human rights violations can also be based on acts of omission such as failing to protect citizens from widespread killings. According to Article 1 of the ACHR, the government has the responsibility to ensure that the enumerated rights and freedoms are protected. By ignoring violations of rights and freedoms, the head of the state is effectively condoning those violations, eliminating the protections of the ACHR.
Nicaragua signed and ratified the ACHR in 2006, consenting to all of its authority, including the competence of Article 45. Article 45 provides that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights can “examine communications in which a State Party alleges another State Party has committed a violation of a human right set forth in this Convention.” Because of this jurisdiction, a state party may bring a complaint to the Commission or the Court against Nicaragua for not respecting human rights. If the Nicaraguan government refuses to respect the rights of its citizens, it is up to the international community to utilize the human rights bodies to hold Ortega and the para-police accountable for the fundamental human rights violations.