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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Nicaragua

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Nicaragua, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3a0.html [accessed 21 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
NICARAGUA

 

Nicaragua is a constitutional democracy, with a directly elected President, Vice President, and a 92-member unicameral National Assembly. President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro was elected in a free and fair election in 1990, defeating the incumbent Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) candidate, Daniel Ortega. She delegated significant executive authority to her son-in-law, Antonio Lacayo, who served as Minister of the Presidency for 5 years until he resigned in September. The executive branch coexists with an increasingly activist National Assembly, whose powers were augmented as a result of reforms to the 1987 Constitution which were enacted in July. These reforms followed 9 months of political and institutional struggle between the executive and legislative branches, which contributed to paralysis of the Supreme Court and interrupted the work of the Supreme Electoral Council (the two other coequal branches of government). The stalemate was overcome only after Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo was brought in as a guarantor for the negotiated settlement.

The President is commander-in-chief of the army and nominal Minister of Defense; there is no Defense Ministry. On February 21, General Humberto Ortega stepped down after 16 years as head of the army, and President Chamorro named General Joaquin Cuadra as his successor for a 5-year term of office in accordance with the 1994 Military Code. In a constitutional reform symbolic of strengthened civilian control and depoliticization of the military, the Sandinista Popular Army was officially renamed the Army of Nicaragua. The Ministry of Government oversees the National Police, which are formally in charge of internal security; however, they share this responsibility on a de facto basis with the army in rural areas. Members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

Nicaragua is an extremely poor country. The economy is predominantly agricultural, dependent on sugar, beef, coffee, and seafood exports, with some light manufacturing. The economy grew for the second year (after 10 years of negative growth) at a rate of 4 percent. Despite significant foreign debt relief negotiated during the year, the country continued to have a precarious balance of payments position and remained heavily dependent on foreign assistance. Although investment increased, the slow and complicated resolution of confiscated property claims and uncertainty over the political succession in 1996 continued to dampen the investment climate. The estimated rate of unemployment was 18 percent, while total unemployment and underemployment may have exceeded 50 percent. Inflation, which reached hyperinflation levels in the late-1980's through 1990, was 11 percent in 1995. The estimated per capita annual income is $458.

The security forces continued to commit human rights abuses, although fewer than in previous years. Murders, extrajudicial killings, reports of torture and widespread mistreatment of detainees by police, and violence by criminal bands in rural areas of northern Nicaragua were common. A January 6 incident near the northern town of La Maranosa resulted in the deaths of 13 members of a criminal band and 2 army personnel. Local human rights groups pointed to credible evidence that the army ambushed the band, while the army claimed that it only acted in self-defense. In May a civilian judge absolved army personnel of all wrongdoing.

Since President Chamorro assumed office, the focus of international attention has been on safeguarding the human rights of former members of the Nicaraguan Resistance (RN) since most human rights observers, including the Sandinista-led Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), acknowledge that more ex-RN than FSLN members have been homicide victims. The Organization of American States International Support and Verification Commission (OAS/CIAV) recorded 370 ex-RN members killed from June 1990 through August 1995, with 71 of these deaths occurring during 1995. The number and percentage of these deaths attributed to the security forces continued to decline from previous years. The conviction rate among the killers, particularly but not exclusively of the ex-RN, was so low that a state of impunity could still be said to exist.

The security forces continued to resist implementing recommendations issued by the Tripartite Commission composed of the Government, the Catholic Church, and OAS/CIAV. In September the Commission submitted a fourth report to President Chamorro, covering an additional 33 cases, which showed that only 14 of 120 recommendations contained in the three previous commission reports had been complied with. Of the 111 members of the security forces named in the report, only 4 were found guilty of homicide and 3 of negligence--none of whom served a full sentence. In response to requests from the army and the Ministry of Government, President Chamorro asked the Supreme Court to review cases involving army and police officials whom the military court system had either found not guilty or failed to prosecute. The Supreme Court agreed to this request, and a three-judge panel was named to review the cases. By year's end, however, the panel had not ruled on a single case.

A weak judiciary continued to hamper prosecution of human rights abusers. Arbitrary arrest and detention, the slow pace of justice, and poor prison conditions also remained problems. On December 13, the National Assembly passed legislation creating an independent Attorney General for Human Rights, to be staffed in 1996. Violence against women, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem, but public officials took little effective action to counter it.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

The civil war formally concluded in June 1990 with the demobilization of the Nicaraguan Resistance; however, Nicaraguan society continued to be politically polarized and heavily armed. In particular, the rule of law and basic infrastructure did not extend to rural areas. Reflecting these sources of instability, the level of violence primarily criminal in nature has increased over previous years in the traditionally conflictive, poverty-stricken northern and north-central zones. At the same time, OAS/CIAV reported that deaths of demobilized RN combatants attributed to police and army officials continued to fall, both in number and as a percentage of total homicides, from a monthly average of 6.1 in 1990 to 1.1 in 1995. The latter represents a 72 percent decrease from 1994. A total of 71 deaths in 1995 brought to 370 the number of demobilized RN members who died under violent circumstances since the beginning of the Chamorro administration. Of the 71 dead, according to OAS/CIAV, the security forces killed 13, and unknown other assailants killed 25. OAS/CIAV attributed the remainder--33 deaths--to fellow ex-RN members or to Recontras (rearmed resistance members).

To address the issue of ex-RN deaths, President Chamorro established the Tripartite Commission in September 1992. The Commission, composed of the civilian Government, the Catholic Church, and OAS/CIAV, issued three reports during 1993, covering investigations of 88 deaths and including 120 recommendations for followup action by the Government and security forces, ranging from arrest of known perpetrators to investigations of probable obstruction of justice. In September the Tripartite Commission submitted to President Chamorro a fourth report, covering an additional 33 cases plus an evaluation of the compliance level of all recommendations contained in the three reports issued in 1993. The Commission verified that only 14 of the 120 recommendations contained in the first three reports had been fully implemented. Of 73 members of the police named in the three reports, 36 were tried on criminal charges and 5 were convicted. Of 38 military officials named, 20 were tried and 2 were convicted. According to OAS/CIAV, none of those convicted served a complete sentence.

Senior army and police officials had long impeded the work of the Tripartite Commission by refusing to implement its recommendations or respond to its requests for information. However, on June 6 army commander General Joaquin Cuadra asked President Chamorro to have the Supreme Court review cases involving military personnel. The Minister of Government submitted a similar request on July 11 for review of cases involving the police. The Supreme Court president agreed to form a three-judge panel of court members to review the cases (10 from the army and 9 from the police) but had produced no rulings by year's end.

Armed bandit groups blocked highways, burned vehicles, and engaged in robbery, kidnaping for ransom, and murder in the conflictive northern and north-central zones. Clashes between these bands and security forces resulted in numerous deaths on both sides and heightened tensions in the area. In response, the Government initiated "plan cafe" (also known as "plan norte") in November 1994. During the succeeding 6 months, the Government deployed increased numbers of army and police to guard coffee transport routes and to protect farmers from extortion or kidnaping. Local human rights groups reported very few cases of human rights abuses by the security forces deployed in the plan, and producers gave the army and police high marks for responsiveness to public security needs.

On the night of January 6, 11 members of the Meza family criminal band--a group with a well-documented history of extortion, arson, and murder--as well as 2 other civilians associated with the Mezas and 2 army enlisted men were killed under questionable circumstances near La Maranosa, in the northern department of Jinotega. OAS/CIAV records listed two of the deceased (including one of the soldiers) as demobilized former RN members; up to three others may have also been associated with the RN. The army contended that the 13 civilians, who were being transported in an army vehicle to a disarmament site but who had not yet been disarmed, attacked their military escorts, killing 2 soldiers, and were themselves killed in an ensuing firefight with military personnel in a trailing vehicle. Although a police investigation corroborated the army's version, local human rights groups, OAS/CIAV, and the National Assembly's Human Rights Commission issued reports to the contrary. They cited forensic evidence, the volume of spent bullet cartridges and military supplies found in the vicinity, and eyewitnesses who claimed that the civilians had already been disarmed and that a squad of soldiers had deployed hours earlier at the site of the incident. These organizations concluded that the army had carried out a premeditated ambush, even a massacre. A civilian judge absolved the army of wrongdoing (see Section 1.e.).

On July 14, police lieutenant Marvin Torres shot and killed Camilo Sanchez while interrogating him in a police detention cell. Torres claimed that he shot Sanchez in anger after the latter confessed to sexually molesting a minor. With full police cooperation, the Attorney General's office pressed charges against Torres. Despite initial support for Torres from a public frustrated with the lack of successful prosecutions in child abuse cases, no evidence of Sanchez's confession existed except for Torres' testimony. The judge charged Torres with murder and denied him bail. Torres' trial was still pending at year's end.

On the night of September 24, off-duty army Major Ivan Gutierrez was at a local amusement park with his family when some men made disparaging remarks about his daughter. Gutierrez removed his family and returned to kill Carlos Jose Salinas. According to eyewitnesses, Salinas was not even involved in the incident. Gutierrez was charged on October 6 with homicide and imprisoned pending trial which had not begun by year's end.

Many other incidents of political and extrajudicial killings dating as far back as 1990 remained unresolved by year's end. In November 1991, a special Presidential Commission charged with investigating the February 1991 assassination of former RN commander Enrique Bermudez was dissolved after it claimed that there was a lack of evidence. The authorities took no action to reopen the case in 1995.

On January 27, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights formally accepted the case of 16-year-old Jean Paul Genie for review on the charge of obstruction of justice. Genie was slain in October 1990 in an incident involving the motorcade of then army commander General Humberto Ortega. The Court rejected the Government's argument that it lacked authority in the case due to the fact that Nicaragua had not yet accepted the Court's jurisdiction at the time of the incident. On December 9, the Court formally issued summonses for General Ortega, current army commander General Joaquin Cuadra, and four other government and army officials involved in the case to testify on September 6, 1996. While those involved claimed that the Inter-American Court had no jurisdiction in Nicaragua, the then vice Foreign Minister, Jose Pallais, called on all Nicaraguans to cooperate with the Court and to honor obligations to the international community, although he claimed that the witnesses were called before the Court as private citizens. In June 1994, a military court had declared General Ortega and his bodyguards innocent of the killing. The Genie family appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, but by year's end the court had not ruled in the matter.

On July 14, the Attorney General's office petitioned the Supreme

Court to order the immediate arrest of former army Lieutenant Colonel Frank Ibarra. Ibarra was sentenced in 1993 to 20 years' imprisonment for the November 1992 murder of Dr. Arges Sequeira Mangas, director of the Association of Nicaraguan Confiscated Property Owners. A Leon appellate court upheld the sentence in March 1994. The Supreme Court has not ruled on the Attorney General's petition nor on an appeal filed by Ibarra's lawyer to overturn the appellate court ruling on the grounds that a presidential amnesty covered Ibarra's crime. Ibarra has remained at large since Sequeira's death.

b. Disappearance

While there were no reports of politically motivated disappearances in 1995, there was no progress in resolving the case of Mario Benjamin Mendez. He was last seen being led by three soldiers and a policeman into the mountains outside the northern town of Juigalpa on October 27, 1994. Mendez had been prominently involved in a local land dispute. Witnesses to the incident, one of whom police threatened and severely beat, identified the policeman and two of the soldiers. The army subsequently reported that the two soldiers had deserted, and no action was ever taken against the policeman.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There were no confirmed reports of torture by the authorities during 1995. However, there were credible reports that police frequently beat and otherwise physically mistreated detainees, often to obtain confessions. Human rights groups attributed these abuses in part to the prevailing state of impunity, as well as to a lack of training in sophisticated investigative techniques that would enable the police to avoid resorting to crude, often brutal methods. CENIDH and other observers argued that the lack of adequate budget support for professional training, salaries and benefits, and proper equipment and supplies hampered efforts to improve police performance. In addition, the physical remoteness of judicial centers prevents prisoners' relatives from personally monitoring the status of ongoing cases, which detracts from police responsiveness to the public.

The Office of Civil Inspection for Professional Responsibility of the Ministry of Government also is responsible for monitoring allegations of illegal detention and police abuse. Through October the office formally received 194 complaints. However, the office concluded that only 33 of these were human rights cases; these figures represent a decline from the same period in 1994--341 and 47, respectively. Civil inspection officials credit this drop in part to the public's willingness to present complaints directly to the police. Because no internal mechanism exists, the office is unable to verify if those suspected of abuses are ever formally punished. According to the office, the authorities did not punish any police official for any of the abuses recorded. The unit's small budget and staff hamper the investigation of complaints, and no internal mechanism exists to pressure the Ministry of Government to take corrective action once the unit submits a complaint. Members of the unit consider its location in the Ministry building--which during the Sandinista era was the site of the feared Interior Ministry--to be an intimidating factor for those seeking to lodge complaints of police or prison abuse.

The prison system in Nicaragua remained overcrowded and underfunded, with medical attention virtually nonexistent and malnutrition a constant problem. According to government statistics, prisons had an inmate population of 3,299, an average of 60 percent overcapacity, as of mid-December. The prisons of Esteli, Chinandega, and Juigalpa housed more than double their intended capacity. The 1995 prison budget was actually less than the 1994 budget, although the inmate population increased by 12 percent. Prison officials calculated that the daily expenditure on prisoners fell from $3.67 per prisoner in 1992 to $3.06 in 1995. Press reports at the end of the year announced the deaths of two inmates for lack of medical attention.

An estimated 10 percent of the prison population was between the ages of 15 and 18. A lack of separate juvenile detention centers required youths to be housed in the same prisons as adults. Although prison officials often tried to separate youths and adults in different wings of the institution, crowded conditions generally made it impossible to prevent juveniles' contact with older prisoners. While only Managua has a separate prison for women, there have been no reports of problems ensuing from mixed facilities.

Police station holding cells (where suspects can legally be detained for 48 hours before evidence must be presented to a judge) were equally overcrowded. Officials claimed that suspects were often left in these cells during their trials, as budgetary shortfalls often restricted the use of scarce fuel for the frequent transfers from prison to distant courtrooms. As a result of overcrowding in both the cells and in prisons, police and penitentiary officials issued urgent calls for increased budgets to build more facilities and increase food purchases. Government officials claimed that their budget, already stretched thin, could not meet these demands.

On September 18, university student Cardo Jiron was killed in cross fire between police and a gang which was in the process of assaulting Jiron. The criminals fled after initiating fire on the police. Police detained and severely beat several students who were with Jiron, believing them to be part of the gang even though they had no weapons. Three of the police were charged in the case.

On December 13, a demonstration by university students and others outside the National Assembly left 2 protesters dead, 66 demonstrators wounded (10 by gunfire according to police officials), and 8 police officers wounded. (That demonstration followed a December 12 incident in which the students had "invaded" and temporarily shut down the national airport and forcibly occupied two government ministries.) Police officials denied issuing an order to open fire and claimed that individual officers were forced to fire in self-defense when attacked by demonstrators hurling rocks and firing homemade projectiles. Some human rights groups contended that the demonstrators turned violent only after the police fired tear gas and acted with excessive force against peaceful demonstrators. The police were not adequately prepared to control the violence, and on December 14, suspended 14 officers suspected of being involved in the incident, pending further investigation. A commission composed of the police, the civil inspection unit, and the attorney general's office reported that the demonstration had not been authorized, cited the students for initiating the violence, accused some police officials of "unauthorized and unnecessary use of firearms," and called for the outfitting of riot police with nonlethal equipment. A trial of police officers suspected of firing on the crowd is scheduled for the spring of 1996.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Arbitrary arrest and detention by the police were common. The Police Functions Law requires police to obtain a warrant prior to detaining a suspect and to notify family members within 24 hours of the detainee's whereabouts. However, the police rarely comply with this law. Detainees do not have the right to an attorney until they have been formally charged with a crime. Local human rights groups criticized the law for providing inadequate judicial oversight of police arrests.

The constitutional reforms instituted in July reduced from 72 to 48 hours the time police may legally hold a suspect before they must bring him before a judge for initial sentencing. The judge must either then order the accused released or transferred to prison. Human rights groups complained that the police often held detainees illegally beyond the 48-hour deadline, as they had when the 72-hour rule was in effect, only to release them without formally charging them of any crime.

In July police officials issued a public warning that delays in the transfer of detainees from police station detention cells to prison were creating dangerous levels of overcrowding of more than 30 percent beyond the designed capacity of the detention cells. This was rapidly depleting the annual food budget.

The Reform Law of Criminal Procedures provides for bail for certain crimes. The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) recorded 171 complaints of illegal or arbitrary detention by the National Police, out of 377 police-related complaints received through November. CENIDH charged that 60 percent of all complaints it received from January to August were filed against the police.

Local human rights groups conducted a series of human rights seminars with members of the police, for both active officers at their regional headquarters and new recruits as part of their initial training.

Exile is not practiced. There were no reports of political violence against any citizens returning from self-imposed exile overseas as a consequence of the civil war of the past decade.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system comprises both civil and military courts. The 12-member Supreme Court of Justice is the system's highest court and is also responsible for nominating all appellate and lower court judges. A political crisis from mid-1994 until the enactment of constitutional reforms in July created internal political divisions within the court. A frequent lack of a quorum of seven judges often prevented the issuance of binding legal decisions. The reforms expanded the court's composition from a maximum of 9 to 12 magistrates, extended their term of office from 6 to 7 years, and mandated the court's division into specialized chambers on administrative, criminal, and civil matters. The reforms also permitted the National Assembly and the executive branch to submit lists of candidates to fill court vacancies. The National Assembly elected 1 new justice on May 3 and 5 additional justices on July 21 to bring the court up to its new complement of 12.

In April the Supreme Court dismissed a local magistrate in Bluefields for administrative incompetence after he authorized the provisional release of several boat crewmen charged with transporting cocaine. In contrast, Supreme Court officials maintained they had no authority to intervene with a Sandinista judge in Managua who was alleged to have failed to meet legal deadlines during 1995 for issuing an arrest warrant against a former high-level Sandinista official who had repeatedly refused to appear for questioning in the investigation of a May 1993 explosion of a terrorist arms cache in the Santa Rosa neighborhood of Managua. The judge resigned on December 8. Human rights and legal groups complained about the delay of justice caused by judicial inaction, sometimes for years, as with the Jean Paul Genie case before the Supreme Court (see Section 1.a.).

The 1994 Military Code allows the civilian court system to try members of the military charged with common crimes, and by the end of November, 137 cases (10 involving the army and 127 involving the police) were being processed by the civil system. As a result, a civilian judge in Jinotega heard the "La Maranosa" case (see Section 1.a.) and on May 24 dismissed all charges against 21 army officials involved in the incident. Local human rights groups decried the Attorney General's report to the court for failing to take fully into account the reports on the incident by the human rights groups and the National Assembly's Human Rights Commission. They also criticized the judge's failure to summon eyewitnesses and family members to testify or to consider forensic evidence relevant to the case. Some observers alleged that the army had pressured the judge directly to obtain acquittals in the case and reported that relatives of the Meza family did not appeal the local judge's verdict for fear of army reprisals. The army denied interfering in the judicial process.

In all criminal cases, the accused has the right to legal counsel, and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The presiding judge appoints attorneys from a standard list to represent indigent defendants, but because they are not paid by the State, many attorneys pay the $1.50 fine rather than represent a client without receiving any compensation. This contributed greatly to the slow pace of justice, as many prisoners spent more than a year in jail without a trial. The Permanent Commission for Human Rights (CPDH) has estimated that nearly half of all those incarcerated in the prison system have been awaiting trial for between 6 months and 2 years.

There were no known political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides that all persons have the right to privacy of their family and to the inviolability of their home, correspondence, and communications. It also requires warrants for searches of private homes and excludes from legal proceedings illegally seized letters, documents, and private papers. The Government respects these rights in practice, and there were no credible reports of official interference with the right of privacy.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and a free press, and the Government respects these rights in practice. The privately owned print media, the broadcast media, and academic circles freely and openly discussed diverse viewpoints in public discourse with no interference from the Government.

The news medium with the largest audience is radio, but polls show that television is the primary source of news, particularly in the cities. Listeners receive a wide variety of political viewpoints, especially on Managua's 45 radio stations. There are five television stations, three of which carry news programming with partisan political content. There is no official state censorship, nor is self-censorship practiced.

On the night of July 21, in the context of an apparent campaign of harassment of Catholic Church-linked institutions by unidentified parties (see Section 2.c.), vandals broke into the Church's official radio station, Radio Catolica, and stole transmission equipment that prevented the station from broadcasting for several hours until the parts were replaced. Station officials described the break-in as a "warning" carried out by professional criminals.

Freedom of the press is potentially qualified, however, by several constitutional provisions. The Constitution stipulates that Nicaraguans have the right to "accurate information," thereby providing an exception by which the freedom to publish information that the Government deems inaccurate could be abridged. Although the right to information cannot be subject to censorship, there is retroactive liability established by law, defined as a "social responsibility," implying the potential for sanctions against irresponsibility by the press. The Legislature did not modify these provisions in the constitutional reforms, but neither did the Government invoke these provisions to suppress the media.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution recognizes the right to peaceful assembly without prior permission. It also recognizes the right to public assembly, demonstration, and mobilization "in conformity with the law." The law requires demonstrators to obtain permission for a rally or march by registering its planned size and location with police. The authorities routinely granted such permission.

The Constitution provides for the right to organize or affiliate with political parties, and opposition and independent associations functioned freely without government interference or restriction. Private associations do not have legal status to conduct private fund raising or receive public financial support until they receive this authorization from the National Assembly, which it routinely confers. Some human rights and political groups criticized the Assembly for extending legal recognition in January to the pro-FSLN Revolutionary Front of Workers and Peasants (FROC), which in July 1993 had attacked the town of Esteli robbing five local banks and killing and wounding scores of citizens. Supporters of the FROC argued that a 1993 government amnesty had cleared its record and pointed to the Assembly's April 1994 legal recognition of the 380-Northern Front, a group of formally disarmed Recontras which likewise had been amnestied, as a precedent.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

On May 3, the Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a public statement criticizing the impasse between the executive and legislative branches on the pending constitutional reforms. On the night of May 8, a small bomb exploded outside the Church of San Felipe in Leon. Similar small nighttime explosions occurred at Catholic churches and offices, principally in Managua, Leon, and Masaya, during subsequent months in what appeared to be a campaign by anonymous individuals or groups to intimidate the Church. Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo and other church officials also received numerous telephone threats during the year; Church spokesmen attributed the explosions and threats to an organized effort by anti-Church elements to prevent the planned February 1996 visit of Pope John Paul II. In early August, the police arrested three persons, including an army lieutenant, in connection with supplying the bombers with explosives, but the attacks continued. On August 29, a military court convicted Lieutenant Alberto Elvir Quiroz and sentenced him to 6 years' imprisonment for misappropriation of military property. A civilian court later convicted him and a former soldier of terrorism and theft. Despite these convictions, the small bombings continued through the end of the year.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for the right to travel and reside anywhere in Nicaragua and to enter and exit the country freely. The law requires citizens to obtain an exit visa to leave the country, but immigration authorities routinely granted these. However, the law also allows a judge to order immigration officials to deny exit visas to those involved in court cases if there is reasonable suspicion that the accused will abscond. Judicial experts agree that the spirit of this law was violated when the publisher of the daily newspaper La Tribuna was denied an exit visa in October after his paper published excerpts from a public report by the Comptroller General's office alleging corruption in the property registrar's office. On November 6, a court of appeals overturned the decision.

There are no government restrictions on movement within the country. The right of citizens to return to Nicaragua is not established in the Constitution, but, in practice, the Government has not restricted anyone's return. The Constitution provides for asylum, and political refugees cannot be expelled to the country persecuting them.

In 1993 the Government attempted to strip former Red Brigade terrorist, Alessio Cassimirri, of his Nicaraguan citizenship and to deport him. Cassimirri has been accused in the 1978 murder of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro. At year's end, the Supreme Court was still debating whether the annulment of the citizenship which the Sandinista Government granted him in 1988 was legal.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens exercised their right peacefully to change their government in the national elections of February 1990, the first election under the 1987 Constitution. The 14-party National Opposition Union (UNO) coalition, the FSLN, and several smaller independent parties contested the election which international observers declared free and fair.

The 1987 Constitution centers political power in the executive branch, headed by the President and a Cabinet appointed by the President. The President is both Head of State and Head of Government, as well as commander in chief of the defense and security forces. The Vice President has no constitutionally mandated duties or powers. Both are elected by direct popular vote. The constitutional reforms enacted in July reduced the terms of office of the President and Vice President from 6 to 5 years and prohibited the President's reelection, beginning with the next national elections in the fall of 1996. Also prohibited from running for election as President are all relatives, by blood or marriage, of the incumbent president, an issue which President Chamorro's son-in-law (who was Minister of the Presidency until his resignation on September 7) publicly questioned as a violation of his political rights. In addition, a group of ministers and vice ministers challenged the constitutionality of the new provision requiring them to resign their posts 1 year prior to running for high elective office in 1996. As of year's end, the court had not ruled on these issues.

A single-chamber National Assembly of 92 members exercises legislative power. Its current members, elected concurrently with the President and Vice President in 1990, also serve 6-year terms. Deputies elected in 1996 will serve 5-year terms. The constitutional reforms also stipulated that 20 deputies will be elected in 1996 by proportional representation from national lists and 70 from lists presented in each of the nine departments or regions; defeated presidential candidates, of which there currently are two, also receive seats in the assembly, provided that they won a certain minimum percentage of votes in the previous presidential election.

On July 4, the President accepted 65 amendments to the 202-article Constitution of 1987, which had been passed by the National Assembly, ending a 9-month dispute between the executive and legislative branches. Moderate Sandinista deputies, who had broken away from the FSLN, joined with other parties to form the required 60 percent majority to pass these reforms. This gave the legislative branch many new powers that traditionally had belonged exclusively to the executive branch, including powers over budget and taxation, ratification of international financial instruments signed by the Government, and the right to nominate members of the Supreme Court and Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the Comptroller General, the Attorney General, and the Superintendent of Banks.

The Assembly had sought unsuccessfully to enact and implement these reforms unilaterally in February after the President refused to do so. After the Supreme Court voided the Assembly action in April, political negotiations between the two branches, overseen by a support group of five friendly governments (Canada, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden) were held but produced no results. Eventually, Cardinal Obando y Bravo served as a guarantor in talks that produced an agreement called the Framework Law or "Ley Marco," which led to President Chamorro's promulgation of the reforms.

The Supreme Electoral Council, an independent and coequal branch of Government composed of five magistrates, administers elections. All elections are by secret ballot; all citizens age 16 and over have the right to vote. The 1994 Military Code specifies that the Defense Intelligence Directorate (DID) is specifically prohibited from undertaking "political intelligence activities." Despite this prohibition, proconstitutional reform legislators denounced army colonel and former DID Director Lenin Cerna for using military intelligence operatives to try to influence--in part through intimidation of key deputies--the outcome of elections to the National Assembly's governing board in January. The army denied these accusations; the authorities failed to undertake any official investigation.

There are no restrictions in law or practice against women, indigenous groups, or other minorities voting or participating in politics. A woman serves as President of the Republic, and a woman was elected in October as the new Vice President after the incumbent resigned to run for president in 1996. Women also hold ministerial and vice ministerial level posts, other senior positions in government, and legislative seats in the National Assembly. Two members of the National Assembly are Miskito Indians; indigenous people are represented in government at both the local and national levels.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Human rights groups operated without government interference, with rare exceptions. Major organizations included the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, the Permanent Commission for Human Rights (CPDH), the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, the Episcopal Center for Development, and Cardinal

Miguel Obando y Bravo's Verification Commission. The OAS's International Support and Verification Commission, which was first installed in Nicaragua in 1990 to oversee the repatriation, disarmament, resettlement, and protection of human rights of the members of the Nicaraguan Resistance, continued its mission. In June 1993, the OAS General Assembly expanded the mandate of OAS/CIAV to monitor the human rights of and provide assistance to all those affected by the Nicaraguan civil war, regardless of political orientation. On June 9, the Government extended the OAS/CIAV mandate through June 1996.

Army and police officials rarely took action to respond to human rights groups' accusations of abuses by military or police personnel. The Government took no further action regarding the unsolved March 1993 murder of CENIDH activist Leonel Gonzalez despite repeated CENIDH requests to reopen the case.

In May OAS/CIAV formally complained to the Government after a military jeep fired on one of its vehicles three times. The army claimed that the soldiers were firing at "wild animals" and not at the vehicle. The Government called the actions "irresponsible" and said that the army would discipline those involved in the incident. There has been no information as to whether any such discipline was imposed.

In June CENIDH filed a complaint with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights against the Government after police injured several CENIDH officials during police attempts to break up a demonstration of striking workers outside a Managua match factory.

Since its establishment in September 1992, the Tripartite Commission has been the most effective mechanism for raising human rights allegations to an official level and eliciting a response from Government authorities. Recognizing a lack of police training in human rights (see Section 1.c.), ANPDH, CENIDH, and CPDH conducted numerous human rights workshops both at the police training academy and at various police headquarters throughout the country. OAS/CIAV began implementing an indigenous human rights network among isolated rural northern communities.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of birth, nationality, political belief, race, gender, language, religion, opinion, national origin, economic condition, or social condition. In practice, however, the Government makes little or no effort to combat discrimination. Few, if any, discrimination suits or formal complaints were filed with government officials.

Women

The police created four "women's commissariats"--two in Managua, one in Esteli, and one in Masaya--in response to a growing body of evidence of domestic abuse directed against women. The centers are annexed to local police stations and staffed by female police officers. They provide both social and legal help to women and mediate spousal conflicts. Despite this effort, however, local human rights groups reported that while police sometimes intervened to prevent injury in cases of domestic violence, they rarely charged perpetrators because they considered domestic violence a "private" crime for which the victim, not the State, must press charges. A victim wishing to prosecute must first have an injury examined and registered by a forensic doctor; women's groups criticized the scarcity and inaccessibility of female forensic doctors. Most domestic violence cases thus went unreported because of the difficulty of prosecution and the victims' fears of spousal reprisal. Those cases that actually reached the court usually resulted in a not guilty verdict due to judicial inexperience with, and lack of legal training related to, such violence.

While there is no legal discrimination against women, they continued to suffer discrimination in the male-dominated culture prevalent in much of society. Women are underrepresented in management positions in the private sector, and they constitute the majority of workers in the traditionally low-paid education, textile, and health service sectors.

According to government statistics, women have equal or somewhat better access to education than men. Net enrollment for girls in the primary grades is 79 percent, compared to 76 percent for boys. At the secondary level, 33 percent of girls and 26 percent of boys are still enrolled.

Children

Children 15 years and younger make up 46 percent of Nicaragua's population. The Government expresses its commitment to children's human rights and welfare publicly but does not commit adequate funding levels for children's programs. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates 6,000 children have been abandoned by their families, some 2,000 live in orphanages, and approximately 1,800 are in foster homes. Every year the media carry stories of dozens of parents who abandoned or killed their children because they were too poor or otherwise unable to take care of them. Because of the economic situation of many families, it is common for children to be found working in the fields alongside their parents, and UNICEF estimates some 20,000 work in the streets as vendors or beggars.

People With Disabilities

The Government has not legislated or otherwise mandated accessibility for the disabled.

Indigenous People

Comprising about 6 percent of the country's population, the indigenous people live primarily in the northern autonomous region (RAAN) and southern autonomous region (RAAS), created in 1987 out of the former Department of Zelaya, which border the Caribbean Sea and comprise 47 percent of the national territory. The Government reported in May that four major identifiable tribes are the Miskito (numbering 140,000), the Sumu (15,000), the Garifona (1,500), and the Rama (1,000).

The indigenous people of the RAAN (the Miskito and the Sumu) have their own political party, the Yatama, with strong representation in regional and municipal councils and one deputy in the National Assembly. Indigenous people participate in government at both the local and national levels. The 1987 Autonomy Law requires the Government to consult the indigenous regarding the exploitation of their areas' resources. The central Government often made decisions without adequate departmental or community consultation. As in previous years, some indigenous groups complained that central Government authorities excluded the indigenous people of the Atlantic coast from meaningful participation in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources. Critics of government policy cited official statistics that unemployment approached 70 percent in the RAAS and was nearly 90 percent in the RAAN, far above national averages.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Most Nicaraguans are of mixed background, and ethnicity is not a barrier to political or economic success. However, various indigenous groups from both the RAAN and the RAAS sometimes linked the Government's failure to expend resources in support of the Atlantic coast population to the largely ethnic, racial, and religious (principally members of the Moravian church) minorities that predominate in that region.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the right of workers to organize voluntarily in unions. Legally, all public and private sector workers, except those in the military and the police, may form and join unions of their own choosing, and they exercise this right extensively. New unions must register with the Ministry of Labor and be granted legal status before they may engage in collective bargaining. Some labor groups reported occasional delays in obtaining this status and claimed that, in some cases, the Labor Ministry deliberately interfered with the already lengthy bureaucratic process to make it still longer. Nearly half of the formal sector work force, including agricultural workers, is unionized, according to labor leaders.

Nicaragua's unions are independent of the Government. Affiliation to or activity in political parties or associations is grounds for dissolution of a trade union under the existing Labor Code; however, the Government does not enforce this provision. Many unions and federations are affiliated with political parties, most notably with the FSLN, the Nicaraguan Socialist Party, the Christian Democratic Union, and, until 1992, the Nicaraguan Communist Party.

The Constitution recognizes the right to strike. The Labor Code requires a 60 percent majority vote of all the workers in an enterprise to call a strike. It also restricts strikes in rural occupations where production may be damaged. Workers may strike legally only after they have exhausted other methods of dispute resolution, including mediation by the Ministry of Labor and compulsory arbitration. Unions generally regard these lengthy procedures as too expensive and time consuming and frequently ignore them when initiating a strike, a practice which continued in 1995, resulting in a majority of strikes being declared illegal. The Labor Code prohibits retribution against strikers and union leaders for legal strikes. However, this protection may be withdrawn in the case of an illegal strike.

Both a brief strike by electrical workers in January and a 7 week teachers' strike in the spring ended peacefully and with minimal violence. However, on May 17 a demonstration organized by the violence-prone Sandinista Transport Cooperative "Parrales Vallejos" resulted in a clash with police that left two demonstrators and one police officer dead. CENIDH officials and the pro-Sandinista media claimed that the officer died as a result of "friendly fire," but an investigation by the Ministry of Government's civil inspection unit agreed with the Government's account that gunfire originating from the striking union's compound killed the officer and that the two demonstrators were killed when police returned fire.

On January 18, President Chamorro partially vetoed a reform of the country's 50-year old Labor Code which the National Assembly had passed in late 1994. Because it was otherwise occupied with the constitutional reform debate and other priority legislative matters, the National Assembly had not taken action on the veto by year's end and agreed to work out differences with the executive as part of the constitutional reforms compromise reached in June.

Unions freely form or join federations or confederations and affiliate with and participate in international bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution provides for the right to bargain collectively. The Chamorro Government generally sought to foster resolution of pressing labor conflicts, usually in the public sector, through informal negotiations rather than through formal administrative or judicial processes. Despite unfavorable economic conditions and unfamiliarity with the practice during a decade of central government planning and political direction under the Sandinistas, collective bargaining is becoming more common in the private sector.

Seventeen firms, employing some 7,000 workers, operated in the single export processing zone (EPZ); a second zone is in the process of opening. In June the Minister of Labor reminded employers in the zone that while they receive tax concessions, the law does not exempt them from compliance with any of its labor provisions. Managua-based representatives of the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) contend that the Labor Ministry has thus far failed to enforce its call for compliance with the Labor Code. Of the 17 enterprises, only 1 (a state-owned firm) has a union. Labor leaders and employers have provided conflicting accounts as to why unions do not represent workers in other firms. Local labor leaders told the AIFLD representative that employers threatened workers with dismissal if they join a union. EPZ officials maintained that no union has received sufficient support from the workers to allow one to form and that the workers receive better wages and benefits than the average worker.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there is no evidence that it is practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Constitution prohibits child labor that can affect normal childhood development or interfere with the obligatory school year. The current Labor Code allows children between the ages of 12 to 16 to work but only with parental permission. The law limits the work day for such children to 6 hours and prohibits night work. Children under age 14 are prohibited from working in factories but can be used in agricultural work if the work does not interfere with their schooling. While the law requires school attendance through the sixth grade, it is not enforced. Moreover, because of the economic needs of many families and little government initiative, child labor rules were rarely enforced except in the small, modern sector of the economy.

A recent UNICEF study, citing 1993 statistics, estimated that some 108,000 children under the age of 15 are involved in some sort of labor in the formal and informal sectors of the economy. The same report estimated that 72,000 children under the age of 15 help with planting and harvesting crops. Children age 10 or older often worked for less than $1.00 per day on the same banana plantations and coffee plantations as their parents. Many small children work in the busy streets of Managua hawking merchandise, cleaning automobile windows, or begging.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Over the objections of the trade union representatives, a commission made up of representatives from the Government, labor, and the private sector set sectoral minimum wages in mid-1991. The labor groups argued that the monthly minimum wage rates were inadequate given the high cost of living. Adjusted periodically, the minimum wage in November ranged from $30 (236.70 cordobas) in the agricultural sector, through $39 (307.71 cordobas) for central government employees, to $65 (512.85 cordobas) in the banking sector. According to a 1991 estimate by the Government's National Commission on the Standard of Living, the minimum wage did not provide a family of four with the income to meet its basic needs. Enforcement of the minimum wage is lax, and some employers reportedly paid their workers less, particularly in the agricultural sector. However, recent Ministry of Labor surveys indicate that some 86 percent of urban area workers earned more than the minimum wage.

The Constitution provides for an 8-hour workday with weekly rest and establishes the right to a safe and healthy workplace. The standard legal workweek is a maximum of 48 hours, with 1 day of rest weekly.

The Ministry of Labor's Office of Hygiene and Occupational Security is responsible for verifying compliance with health and safety standards. The office lacks adequate staff to enforce these extensive standards. Workers have no specific right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

In 1995 the International Labor Organization's Committee of Experts (COE) cited Nicaragua for its failure to enact changes in the Labor Code that would grant workers in small agricultural enterprises equal rights to workers' compensation as those granted to other wage-earners. The COE also noted that the Government had taken no steps to ban night work by women. However, the COE did note that women's organizations and female deputies in the National Assembly disagreed with any attempts to restrict female integration into the work force and called for legislation that would regulate maternity protection instead.

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