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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Nicaragua

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Nicaragua, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa460.html [accessed 22 October 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 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). She has delegated significant executive authority to her son-in-law, Presidency Minister Antonio Lacayo. The executive branch coexists with an increasingly independent National Assembly, which has become the central forum for political debate. With an unprecedented degree of cooperation among the FSLN, key parties belonging to the National Opposition Union (UNO) coalition that had supported President Chamorro's election in 1990, and several moderate parties, the Assembly passed significant legislation on labor, civil-military relations, and property compensation bonds, and is currently working on constitutional reforms.

The President, in her capacity as commander in chief and Minister of Defense, and the Ministry of Government are legally responsible for overseeing the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS) and the National Police, respectively. In practice, however, in the absence of a defense ministry, Nicaragua's security forces continued to be led by senior officers who maintained ideological and political links to the FSLN and who operated with substantial institutional and legal autonomy. Nevertheless, civilian control over the National Police was more evident in 1994, particularly during two transportation strikes. Moreover, on September 2, President Chamorro signed into law a Military Code, passed by the National Assembly, which established institutional mechanisms intended to strengthen civilian control of the security apparatus. The law provides for the retirement of current EPS Commander General Humberto Ortega in February 1995, presidential appointment of his successor to a term limited to 5 years, civilian court jurisdiction over common crimes committed by military and police personnel, prohibition of "political intelligence activities" by the EPS's Defense Intelligence Directorate (DID), and civilian oversight of the newly created military social security system and of EPS-operated private enterprises. By the end of 1994, it was not clear whether all of these provisions would be implemented sucessfully.

The economy is predominantly agricultural, dependent on sugar, beef, seafood and banana exports, with some light manufacturing. After years of hyperinflation and negative growth, the inflation rate was about 20 percent and real growth approximately 3 percent in 1994; per capita annual income was estimated at $410. Unemployment and underemployment totaled over 50 percent, while the investment climate remained unsettled. Although the Government's fiscal deficit has been cut by 80 percent since 1990, Nicaragua remained heavily dependent on foreign aid. The security forces persisted in committing significant human rights abuses, although they are declining in number. Murders, extrajudicial killings, torture, widespread mistreatment of detainees, and violence by paramilitary and criminal bands in rural areas were common. 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 human rights organization 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) estimates that 270 ex-RN were killed from June 1990 through 1994. The conviction rate among killers of ex-RN is so low that a state of impunity for abuses committed against ex-RN can still be said to exist.

The Tripartite Commission, composed of the Government, the Catholic Church, and OAS/CIAV, has issued recommendations which the security forces continued to resist implementing in 1994. The Commission, whose meetings the Government convenes, met 18 times during the year, a reduction from 48 meetings in 1993, and failed to produce any reports.

A weak judiciary continued to hamper prosecution of human rights abusers. An office of human rights within the Attorney General's office, created in 1992, remained unstaffed; discussions about creating a human rights ombudsman independent of the executive continued during the year. Violence against women, including rape and domestic violence, continued to be a serious problem, with the Government taking 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 Extrajudicial Killing

The civil war formally concluded in June 1990 with the demobilization of the Nicaraguan Resistance. However, politically motivated or connoted violence continued into 1994, as Nicaraguan society continued to be both politically polarized and heavily armed. The police, army, and Sandinista militants continued to kill demobilized RN combatants, but the number of such murders dropped from a monthly average of 6.1 in 1990 to 4.0 in 1994. With the demobilization of the 380 Northern Front (FN-380) in April and smaller bands of rearmed ex-RN (recontras) in August, the situation in the trouble-ridden north calmed somewhat. According to OAS/CIAV, the National Police or EPS killed 7 former combatants through November 1994, unknown assailants killed 11, and rearmed EPS veterans (known as recompas) killed 3. However, it attributed the majority--23 deaths--to other ex-RN members or recontras. The total of 44 deaths in 1994 brought to 270 the number of ex-RN members who died under violent circumstances since the beginning of the Chamorro administration. OAS/CIAV and national human rights group continued to report details of these human rights abuses to the Government and the media.

To address the issue of ex-RN deaths, President Chamorro established the Tripartite Commission in late 1992. The Commission, composed of the civilian Government, the Catholic Church, and CIAV, issued three reports during 1993, covering investigations of 88 deaths and including 120 recommendations for government followup action, ranging from arrest of known perpetrators to investigations for obstruction of justice. Of these, the Commission has verified that the Government complied fully with three of the recommendations in the first report. Consistent with an expanded mandate granted to CIAV by the June 1993 OAS General Assembly, a fourth Commission report discusses 33 additional cases of both Sandinista and ex-RN deaths, plus an evaluation of the compliance level of all the recommendations contained in the 1993 reports. This report was expected to be released in late 1994 but was delayed into 1995. Senior EPS and police officials continued to impede the work of the Commission by their refusal to implement its recommendations or respond to its requests for information. Only a handful of officials named in the first report, dated January 1993, received criminal or administrative sanctions. Although the EPS claimed that it had punished several soldiers named by the Commission's report as wrongdoers, by year's end the Commission had not received any confirming documentation to this effect.

Of those perpetrators named by the Commission, CIAV later listed five who later committed additional human rights abuses. They are police officers Johny Jose Rugama (cases 110 and 113), Captain Benito Diaz Perez (case 149), and Santiago Irias (mentioned in the special case of La Trinidad in the third Tripartite Commission report) as well as Etnio Obregon Ruiz of the EPS (case 61). In December the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) released the names of four police officials and three EPS officials who were involved in five separate human rights incidents. It said the military convicted and sentenced them, but none is behind bars. One soldier, EPS Lieutenant Jose Antonio Barberena, had been sentenced once before for killing a fellow soldier. In neither instance has he served time in prison.

Human rights groups such as CIAV and CENIDH have witnessed continued violence in rural areas of northern Nicaragua, primarily as a result of land disputes and criminal activity. Since July 1993, CIAV has calculated that 45 percent of the homicides it investigated were committed by rearmed former Resistance members (recontras). The majority of the victims were demobilized resistance members or their families who lived in the community. CENIDH reported that during the first quarter of 1994, there were 3 homicides of FSLN members, bringing the total number of FSLN homicides from May 1990 through March 1994 to 169. During the same period, CENIDH reported that 513 "ex-RN and recontras" were homicide victims. Due to the remoteness of many of the conflict zones, coupled with popular fear of retribution or apparent frustration with the inability to bring the perpetrators to justice, an undetermined number of other deaths are believed by some resistance members to go unreported.

Other incidents of political and extrajudicial killing dating from 1990 remained unsolved. On March 21, a band of renegade recontras led by Jose "Omar" Castro kidnaped Javier Barahona, a prominent local FSLN offical and ex-mayor of Wiwili in Juigalpa department. They seized Barahona from a public bus in broad daylight and later tortured and murdered him, despite negotiation efforts by both the church and CIAV to secure Barahona's release. At year's end, the authorities had not brought Barahona's killers to justice. In November 1991, the Government dissolved the special presidential commission charged with investigating the February 16, 1991, assassination of former RN commander Enrique Bermudez, claiming a lack of evidence. A British investigative team found no new evidence in 1993, and the Government took no further action in the case in 1994.

In June 1994 a military court declared EPS General Humberto Ortega and his bodyguards innocent of organizing or covering up the 1990 killing of high school student Jean Paul Genie, but declared the case still unresolved. This followed the December 1993 decision of the Supreme Court to remand the case to the military courts. Several human rights groups criticized both the Supreme Court's ruling, which rejected an appeal by Raymond Genie, the boy's father, to order the case tried in a civilian court, and the military court's acquittal. They cited numerous irregularities, including the nonadmissibility or disappearance of certain key pieces of evidence, as well as the conflict of interest of one of the Supreme Court judges who, after his retirement, acted as defense attorney for the bodyguards. Raymond Genie filed two appeals with the military On March 10, the Leon appellate court reinstated the 20-year prison sentence given to former EPS Lt. Colonel Frank Ibarra, leader of a pro-FSLN paramilitary group, Punitive Forces of the Left (FPI), for the November 23, 1992 assassination of Dr. Arges Sequeira Manga, then director of the Association of Nicaraguan Confiscated Property Owners. The same court overturned an earlier ruling granting Ibarra immunity under an August 1993 amnesty. Ibarra's lawyer appealed the matter to the Supreme Court, which had not ruled by year's end. Ibarra remained at large, and no apparent effort has been made to capture him; the police at one point claimed there was no warrant out for his arrest. The Government petitioned the Leon appellate court to obtain such a warrant, although it continued to argue that Ibarra's conviction made this step superfluous. On March 12, the EPS publicly denounced the Leon court's ruling, claiming it would lead to instability regarding those who had received previous amnesties from the Government.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights recorded 118 cases of inhuman and degrading treatment in 1994. In the majority of the cases, those accused of the abuses were the National Police, who often held the victims for days, only to release them without formally charging them with any crime. There were other credible reports during the year that the police beat and otherwise physically mistreated detainees, often to obtain confessions.

Three nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) worked together in 1994 to improve prison conditions as a result of innumerable complaints regarding police brutality in prisons as well as in police holding cells. Following complaints of mistreatment in police detention cells, representatives from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) visited the holding cell of the criminal investigation office and found the cells poorly ventilated due in part to solid metal doors and metal sheeting in the ceiling.

In June the prison population was 2,900, of which more than 10 percent were between ages 15 and 18, owing to the complete lack of juvenile detention facilities. The prisons had overcrowded cells, medical attention was nonexistent, and there was extensive malnutrition. Following accusations that prisoners received dietary intake of only 500 calories per day, the Government announced plans to increase the budget by $1 million, allowing each prisoner an average of $0.91 per day for food. Ministry of Government officials stated that they did not have sufficient funds to improve the conditions of prisons under their jurisdiction. The office of civil inspection for professional responsibility of the Ministry of Government, established in 1991, is charged with monitoring prison conditions. However, due to the unit's small budget and staff, it is able to investigate few complaints.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Arbitrary arrest and detention by the police were common. The Police Functions Law establishes procedures for the arrest of criminal suspects, which require police to obtain a warrant from a police official prior to detaining a suspect. The law requires police to notify family members of a detainee's whereabouts within 24 hours, but the police rarely comply. 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 Constitution declares that all detained persons have the right to be brought before a judge within 72 hours, but the authorities frequently ignored this in practice. Local human rights groups reported that the authorities routinely detained suspects far beyond the limits established under the Constitution.

The civil inspection unit also monitors police wrongdoing, including illegal detention. Through October 1994, the civil inspection unit received 360 complaints of abuse of power, illegal detention, and negligence. Victims filed 80 percent of the complaints against the police and the other 20 percent against prison guards, immigration officials, and other enforcement authorities. No internal mechanism exists to verify what official actions, if any, the Ministry of Government takes against these officials, once the unit submits the complaint to it. The location of the civil inspection unit in the Ministry building, which during the Sandinista era was the site of the feared Interior Ministry, is cited by members of the unit as an intimidating factor for those seeking to lodge complaints of police or prison abuse. Although the Constitution provides access to legal counsel for detainees after they have been charged with a crime, in practice police do not act to protect this right. The Reform Law of Penal Procedures provides for the release on bail of persons accused of certain crimes. Previously, the law permitted detainees to remain at liberty prior to trial only for compelling personal reasons, such as ill health.

ANPDH recorded 183 complaints of illegal detention through 1994. Over half of the incidents of illegal detention occurred in the north central region of the country, most of which were attributable to the National Police. CENIDH also criticized the police, noting that, from January 1993 to March 1994, 48 percent of all complaints involved abuses by the police. CENIDH and other observers cited many impediments to improved police performance and responsiveness to the public, including the lack of professional training, low salaries, and inadequate resources, as well as the physical remoteness of judicial centers that prevented relatives of prisoners from personally inquiring into the status of ongoing cases.

Exile is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system, comprising both civilian and military courts, is headed by a nine-member Supreme Court of Justice. The Supreme Court names appeals court and lower court judges. On December 13, 1993, the National Assembly approved the nominations of four Supreme Court replacements, giving the court a non-Sandinista majority for the first time since President Chamorro took office. Nonetheless, the inability to obtain a working quorum hampered the work of the Supreme Court, in part due to internal divisions in the Court and in part due to the Assembly's refusal to act on an executive branch nomination in May to fill a vacancy on the Court. Two of the nine seats on the Supreme Court remained vacant at the end of the year.

The Ministry of Government and Attorney General's office attempted several times during 1993 and 1994 to issue summonses to former Sandinista Ministry of the Interior and Immigration Service official Luis Guzman to testify in the Santa Rosa arms cache investigation. The Sandinista judge in charge of the case has repeatedly failed to meet legal deadlines for rendering a decision on whether or not the authorities should arrest Guzman for refusing to appear for questioning.

Police authorities commonly refused to implement decisions of lower court judges with which the police disagreed. Many Nicaraguans who returned to the country following the 1990 election after a decade in exile sued for the return of their properties confiscated under the Sandinista regime. In several cases, after the presiding magistrate ordered the return of an illegally confiscated property to the original owner, the police refused to enforce eviction orders against occupants, who were frequently prominent members of the FSLN or security forces. In the widely reported case of Jaime Solorzano, police repeatedly refused to arrest the illegal occupants even after they fired on the judge who attempted to serve the eviction order and wounded Mr. Solorzano's son. This case remains unresolved. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ruled on February 1 that the Government had violated the American Convention on Human Rights by refusing to return properties owned by the Marin family which the Government illegally seized in 1979. The Libyan-Nicaraguan Friendship Association--an arm of the Libyan Government--currently occupies the properties.

Until the enactment of the new Military Code on September 2, the military court system was responsible for investigating, prosecuting, and trying common crimes committed by or against members of the armed forces or police. Military courts often failed to investigate complaints or try cases against members of the military brought under the old code. They frequently imposed only light sentences against soldiers, and military authorities often failed to enforce them (see Section 1). The military court's acquittal of General Ortega and his bodyguards of the murder of Jean Paul Genie and the military's lack of compliance with the recommendations of the Tripartite Commission are cases in point. The new Military Code specifies that all common crimes committed by members of the military will be tried in civil court. By year's end, the authorities had begun processing three cases, two involving the police and one involving the EPS, under the new Code.

In all criminal cases, the accused has the right to legal counsel, and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Publicly funded attorneys to represent indigent defendants do not exist. Obtaining justice is a slow, uncertain process, and the authorities regularly arrested persons and held them without bail for months before they appeared in court. The CPDH estimated that nearly half of all those incarcerated in the prison system had 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 establishes 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. However, in April the police burst into the home of the Bishop of Leon looking for the driver of an illegally parked truck. The driver and two workmen were delivering material to a nearby chapel and had sought refuge in the Bishop's residence after being chased by the police. The police entered the residence without a warrant, caught the workmen, and beat them in front of the Bishop. The police later released the three uncharged persons, and Vice Minister of Government Frank Cesar personally visited and apologized to the Bishop (the police also apologized). The Bishop made no formal complaint.

Article 26 of the new Military Code prohibits the Defense Intelligence Directorate from undertaking "political intelligence activities" and places it under the authority of the President as head of all armed forces. Despite the new law, several political parties have complained that infiltration by the DID into their groups has not ceased.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

In several instances, police and the EPS used indiscriminate or unnecessary force, resulting in deaths or injuries to civilians. Despite the efforts of local human rights organizations, the authorities took no action to discipline senior officials nor to punish those who committed the abuses. An EPS patrol wounded 11 persons on February 8 when it indiscriminately opened fire with machine guns and rocket- propelled grenades on the town of Tomayunca in the mistaken belief that it harbored an armed recontra group. In fact, the group had passed through hours earlier. Both CPDH and ANPDH later testified to the absence of combatants in the village. The EPS publicly acknowledged the attack and accused the patrol leader of "negligence" but took no further action. On May 2, some 300 police officers armed with clubs and guns violently evicted 450 families of squatters, many of whom were former members of the EPS and the RN, and destroyed their makeshift homes in an area known as "Villa Reconciliacion." The land was claimed by a cooperative represented by a former Sandinista official, Oscar Loza, accused of murdering two prisoners during his tenure as operations chief of the FSLN security service. Although the police maintained that they were acting under official orders, the magistrate publicly stated that he had never issued an eviction order, and the police never produced any evidence that one existed.

A group of EPS soldiers reportedly chasing a group of local bandits entered the village of Puerto Viejo on April 23 and claimed that several men fired at them from the house of Porfirio Rayo. Mrs. Rayo later said the army opened fire without warning, killing a stranger and her husband, mortally wounding her 23-year-old son and injuring her two other children. She denied any involvement of her family in criminal activity; investigations by ANPDH, CIAV, and CPDH supported Mrs. Rayo's testimony. The authorities took no action to resolve this incident.

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 in large measure respects these rights. Diverse viewpoints were freely and openly discussed in public discourse, in the privately owned print media, in the broadcast media, and in academic circles.

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 can receive a wide variety of political viewpoints, especially on Managua's 45 radio stations. In 1994 there were no incidents of radio stations being attacked or subjected to incidents of sabotage, as occurred in previous years. There are seven television stations, five of which carry news programming with marked political overtones. The remaining two stations carry no local news. There is no official state censorship, nor is self-censorship practiced.

As a consequence of the lack of complete civilian control over the police, police harassment of journalists has continued. In July police attacked journalist Melba Sanchez as she covered the assault by ex-RN members on local government buildings in Chinandega. The police beat her with fists and rifle butts and destroyed her camera. Partly as a result of this action, the representatives of the two journalists' unions, the three main human rights NGO's, the president of the National Assembly's human rights commission, and the chief of police signed a cooperative agreement for the protection of the human rights of journalists on July 27. In an unprecedented move, the Inspector General of Police disciplined the officer involved in the Sanchez beating. The punishment of 15 days' confinement to desk duty, however, was widely regarded as too light to be an effective deterrent.

Freedom of the press is also potentially qualified by several constitutional provisions, one of which stipulates that Nicaraguans have a right to "accurate information," thereby providing a legal basis by which the freedom to publish information 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 sanctions against irresponsibility by the press. Finally, the Constitution provides that "the mass media are at the service of the national interests," implying that the Government may suppress media activity it decides is not in the national interest. There were no instances of the Government citing these provisions to suppress the media, although in early October the Government closed down an independent news show on government-owned Radio Nicaragua for 24 hours after it unfavorably reported a meeting of the Social Democratic Party attended by Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo. The Government gave no justification for the closure, nor for the quick reopening under heavy press pressure.

The Constitution recognizes, and the Government respects in practice, academic freedom in higher education.

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." Demonstrators must obtain permission for a march after registering its planned size and location with police. The authorities routinely grant 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 until they receive this designation from the National Assembly, which it routinely confers.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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. There are no government restrictions on movement within the country. The right of citizens to return to Nicaragua is not specifically established in the Constitution, but, in practice, the Chamorro Government has not restricted anyone's return. The Constitution provides for asylum, and political refugees expelled from Nicaragua cannot be sent back to the country persecuting them. In 1994 there were no reports of political violence against any returning Nicaraguan citizens.

In 1993 the Government attempted to strip former Red Brigade terrorist, Alessio Cassimirri, of his 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 the case, which must decide 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 first election under the 1987 Constitution, which took place in February 1990. The 14-party UNO coalition, the FSLN, and several smaller parties contested the election, which international observers declared free and fair. The Constitution centers political power in the executive branch, which consists of the President, Vice 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. Currently the President is also Minister of Defense, but this is not constitutionally mandated. The Vice President has no constitutionally mandated duties or powers. Both are elected for 6-year terms by direct popular vote.

The National Assembly exercises legislative power. Its members also serve 6-year terms. Ninety members are elected under a proportional representation system from nine departments or regions; defeated presidential candidates, of which there are two, also receive seats in the Assembly, provided they won a certain minimum percentage of votes in the previous presidential election. In December 1993, the National Assembly resumed operation following a 15-month period during which the withdrawal of the UNO coalition, which had moved into opposition to President Chamorro's Government, denied the legislature a working quorum. Deputies from the FSLN, the center group (former UNO deputies who had defected to a progovernment stance in mid-1992), and three parties which had either defected or been expelled from UNO joined to reactivate the Assembly and consider a legislative agenda that included constitutional reform. Although the remaining UNO members continued to insist that only a special constituent assembly should enact constitutional reform, the UNO deputies gradually rejoined the Assembly in January. Later in the year, the coalition espoused constitutional reform by the Assembly in which the UNO deputies participated.

Local elections held in the two Atlantic Coast departments in February were witnessed by over 150 international election observers and judged free and fair.

An independent branch of government, the Supreme Electoral Council, administers elections. All elections are by secret ballot, with all citizens aged 16 and over having the right to vote. 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 women hold a ministerial-level post and other senior positions in government. Two members of the National Assembly are Miskitos; 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

Four major local nongovernmental human rights organizations operate freely without government interference: the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, the Permanent Commission for Human Rights, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, and Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo's verification commission. In addition, CIAV, pursuant to its expanded mandate authorized by the June 1993 OAS General Assembly, carries out human rights related activities covering all those affected by the Nicaraguan civil war, whatever their political affiliation. Human rights groups operated without impediment in Nicaragua. However, their reports of human rights abuses committed by EPS and police personnel to responsible officials of these institutions or to concerned civilian authorities seldom elicited concrete responses. The Government took no action regarding the unsolved March 1993 murder of CENIDH activist Leonel Gonzalez despite repeated requests from that organization to reopen the case.

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. However, the Government has implemented only three of the Commission's recommendations.

On December 1, police lieutenant Julio Cesar Toledo threatened a CIAV official attempting to serve a judge's release order for a former resistance member being illegally detained in a Somoto prison. The day before, Lieutenant Javier Martinez and Captain Denis Tinoco had threatened the judge who signed the order. Despite formal complaints lodged by both CIAV and the judge, the three police officials received only mild administrative reprimands.

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."

Women

While there is no legal discrimination against women, they continued to suffer discrimination in the male-dominated culture prevalent in much of society. Women occupy senior positions in government, the trade union movement, and social organizations, but are underrepresented in management positions in the private sector. They are the majority of workers in the traditionally low-paid educational, textile, and health service sectors. A report the International Foundation for Global Competitiveness published in August claimed that women worked on average 21 more hours per week than men, 77 hours to 56 hours. Moreover, the report concluded, 41 percent of all households headed by women in 1993 lived in a state of poverty (up from 32 percent in 1992).

In a July report covering the southwestern portion of the country, the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSSBI) stated that "every 24 hours five women are sexually assaulted by strangers, five more by members of their own family." The report claimed that the majority of the assaults took place in the countryside and in the poorer areas of the cities. CENIDH quoted police statistics for 1993 of 1,741 cases of assault against women, of which 40 percent were crimes of rape. Because victims often were reluctant to publicize their charges, it is likely that such abuse was significantly underreported.

Local human rights groups reported that police sometimes intervene to prevent injury in cases of domestic violence but that they rarely charge the perpetrators because they consider domestic violence a "private" crime for which the victim, not the State, should press charges. A victim wishing to prosecute must first have an injury examined and registered by a forensic doctor; women's groups complained of the scarcity and inaccessibility of female forensic doctors. Most domestic violence cases thus go unreported, not only because of the difficulty of prosecution but also for fear of spousal reprisal. Those cases that actually make it to court usually result in a not guilty verdict due to judicial inexperience with and lack of legal training related to such violence.

The Ixchen centers and the Luisa Amanda Association of Nicaraguan Women, a Sandinista mass organization, provided medical and psychological counseling to women, as well as legal advice in divorce cases and to victims of rape and other violence. In November these groups joined with some 20 other Nicaraguan NGO's dedicated to women's issues to create the "Women's Network Against Violence" to promote women's rights and to pressure the Government to ratify the Inter-American Convention for the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women, which Nicaragua signed on June 9, 1994.

Judging from available statistics, women appear to have equal or better access to education than men. For example, net enrollment for girls in the primary grades is 79 percent, compared to 76 percent for boys. An the secondary level, it is 33 percent for girls and 26 percent for boys.

Children

Children 15 years and younger make up 46 percent of Nicaragua's population. The Government is publicly committed to children's human rights and welfare, but resources for programs for children are inadequate. The INSSBI estimated that it receives from 5,000 to 6,000 cases of mistreatment annually for children under the age of 10. The authorities conduct investigations if a parent makes a formal complaint, but this rarely happens. Every year the media carry stories of dozens of children abandoned or killed by parents who are too poor or otherwise unable to take care of them. Because of the economic situation of many families, thousands of children must work in the fields alongside their parents or in the streets as vendors or beggars.

Indigenous People

The indigenous people are concentrated in four major areas. On the Atlantic coast and in the eastern highlands are the Miskito (numbering 160,000), the Sumu, the Rama, and the black Carib (these last three exist in very small numbers). The Government considers these peoples identifiable tribes.

The Miskito tribe is the largest ethnic group in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (the RAAN, one of two such regions created in 1987 from the former department of Zelaya). 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. Indigenous people participate in government at both the local and national levels. However, in many instances, the Government makes decisions at the national level without adequate departmental or community consultation. Therefore, as in previous years, there were complaints that the authorities exclude the indigenous peoples of the Atlantic coast from meaningful participation in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources.

The fledgling, Atlantic coast-based Center for Human, Citizen, and Autonomous Rights strongly links autonomous rights with human rights for the inhabitants of the region and contends the central Government has granted business concessions in the autonomous regions without consulting the two relevant regional governments. The 1987 autonomy law deals with the ethnic minorities of the Atlantic Coast. It pledges that indigenous people shall have the right to participate in the exploitation of the resources of the region. While the law stipulates the structure of the Atlantic Coast governments, it does not outline any specific mechanism or regulations the central Government should employ to determine use of local resources.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Most Nicaraguans are of mixed mestizo background, and ethnicity does not appear to be a barrier to political or economic success. Various indigenous groups from both the northern and the southern Atlantic regions have criticized the Government for its failure to expend resources in support of the Atlantic coast population, which mainly comprises ethnic, racial, and religious minorities (particularly, members of the Moravian church). Successive central governments in Managua have traditionally neglected the minorities on the Atlantic coast. This has often taken the form of making decisions on exploitation of resources in the region without adequate consultation.

People with Disabilities

The Government has not legislated or otherwise mandated accessibility for the disabled. In August the FSLN's Organization of Handicapped Revolutionaries joined with the ex-RN-based Institute of War Victims in petitioning the Social Security Institute to provide aid to victims of Nicaragua's civil war--some of whom have been waiting over 30 months for such help. The Social Security Institute says that it pays benefits to some 30,000 victims of the civil war, including partly or totally handicapped victims, widows, orphans, and mothers of war victims, each of whom receives an average of $21 monthly. The Institute claims that those who protested in August either had verification cases pending or are ineligible for the benefits because they have outside employment or other disqualifications.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution guarantees 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, which must grant legal status before they may engage in collective bargaining; some labor groups report occasional delays in obtaining this status. It is likely that in some cases, the Labor Ministry has deliberately interfered with the already lengthy bureaucratic process to make it lengthier. Nearly half of the 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 of all the workers in an enterprise to call a strike. It also restricts strikes in rural occupations where produce 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. As a result, unions regard these lengthy procedures as too expensive and time-consuming and frequently ignore them when initiating a strike; this practice continued in 1994, with the majority of strikes declared illegal.

The Labor Code prohibits retribution against strikers and union leaders for legal strikes. However, this protection may not extend to illegal strikes. In June the Supreme Court voted to uphold a 1993 government decision to fire 144 customs workers. The Court justified its decision in part by citing an unrelated 1992 strike, in which the authorities claimed lives were endangered when demonstrators blocked the runway of the international airport. Transportation strikes to protest high fuel prices occurred in January and August, with relatively little violence.

The 1994 International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association issued a report critical of the Government for various 1992 arrests of union officials without sufficient cause, who were later released without charge. The ILO's Committee of Experts (COE) noted that the draft text of the new Labor Code (which the National Assembly passed on December 22 but was not signed into law by year's end) did not remove restrictions on the right to strike of rural workers, grant the right to associate of public servants, or reduce the number of workers in an enterprise required to call a strike to a simple majority.

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's labor negotiations continued primarily to be ad hoc efforts to resolve pressing labor conflicts, usually in the public sector. Despite unfavorable economic conditions and unfamiliarity with the practice, following 10 years of central planning, collective bargaining is becoming more common in the private sector. In 1994 the ILO's COE argued that the labor law provision requiring Ministry of Labor approval of collective agreements violates Convention 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining ratified by Nicaragua in 1967.

During 1994 13 firms, employing some 5,000 workers, operated in the single export processing zone. Although the zone's firms receive tax concessions, Nicaraguan law does not exempt them from compliance with any of its labor provisions. Nevertheless, of the 13 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 the other firms. Labor leaders contend that employers have told workers that they will be fired if they join a union. Free trade zone officials maintain that no union has received sufficient support from the workers to allow one to form and that the workers already receive more than adequate benefits.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there is no evidence that it is practiced. In 1991 the Assembly repealed the decree which empowered the police to impose penalties involving compulsory labor, a move specifically applauded in the ILO's 1994 COE report.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Constitution prohibits child labor that may affect normal childhood development or interfere with the obligatory school year. Education is compulsory to age 12, and the law prohibits employment of children under the age of 14. Nevertheless, because of the prevailing economic conditions, more than 100,000 children reportedly work up to 12 hours a day. Many are employed on family farms. Many children aged 10 or older work for less than $1.00 per day on the same cotton farms, banana plantations, and coffee plantations where their parents are employed. Many small children work in the busy streets of Managua hawking merchandise, cleaning automobile windows, and begging. Although the Ministry of Labor rarely enforces it, the child labor law is generally observed in the small modern sector of the economy.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Over the objections of the labor representatives, a commission made up of representatives from government, labor, and the private sector set sectoral minimum wages in mid-1991. The labor groups argued that the monthly minimum wage rates (ranging from $30 in the agricultural sector, through $39 for central government employees, to $65 in the banking sector) were inadequate, given the high cost of living. 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 pay less, particularly in the agricultural sector. However, Ministry of Labor surveys indicated that some 86 percent of urban area workers earned more than the minimum wage.

The Constitution establishes 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.

The Ministry of Labor's Office of Occupational Health and Safety is responsible for verifying compliance with health and safety standards. The Office lacks adequate staff to enforce these extensive standards. The ILO's COE criticized the Government for the Ministry's failure to enforce standards Nicaragua has committed to implement regarding the threat of occupational cancer, including measures for special protection for workers at risk and periodic medical examinations of these workers during and after their exposure. Workers have no specific right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

 

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