U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Nicaragua

  Nicaragua is a constitutional democracy, with executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral branches of government. President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, who was elected in a free and fair election in 1990 as the candidate of the 14-party National Opposition Union (UNO), governs through an appointed Cabinet; she has delegated comprehensive executive authority to her Presidency Minister and son-in-law, Antonio Lacayo. UNO, which broke with the President over her policy of governing with the assistance of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), declared itself in opposition to the Government and boycotted votes in the National Assembly for most of the year. During 1993 the President continued to rule through executive decrees with the force of law, depending on the FSLN bloc and nine former UNO deputies (the "center group") to support her few legislative proposals. In December three additional UNO parties decided to return to the Assembly, reducing the original UNO bloc to seven parties. The President (as nominal 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, Nicaragua's security forces continued to be led by Sandinista officers who operated with substantial institutional and legal autonomy; EPS Commanding General Humberto Ortega and his general staff openly resisted presidential attempts to assert civilian control over the EPS. With the deaths of nine former members of the Nicaraguan Resistance (RN) attributable to the police and the EPS, the number of serious human rights violations committed by the state security forces declined slightly in 1993, but most of these violations went unpunished. Nicaragua's efforts to reactivate its predominantly agricultural economy were unsuccessful, as economic growth remained stagnant. The country's balance of payments position was precarious; the investment climate, unsettled. The estimated rate of open unemployment was 20 percent, while total unemployment and underemployment approached 50 percent. Nicaragua's estimated per capita income of $400 per year was one of the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Inflation, which by 1992 had been slashed to under 4 percent, increased to about 20 percent during 1993; the purchasing power of salaried workers dropped 15 percent in the first half of 1993. Although the Government's fiscal deficit has been cut by 80 percent since 1990, Nicaragua remained heavily dependent on foreign aid. Major persistent human rights problems included: continued political kidnapings and murders; extrajudicial killings, torture, mistreatment of detainees, and other abuses by security forces; and violence by paramilitary bands in rural areas. The Government's continuing failure to prosecute and punish those responsible for human rights abuses and the backlogged and often partisan judicial system contributed to the impunity with which human rights violations occurred. The Government was reluctant to challenge the police and the EPS over human rights violations. Additionally, while the Government's repeated amnesties for those guilty of "political crimes" and related common crimes, including murder, were intended to promote national reconciliation, they arguably lessened restraints on those inclined to commit human rights abuses. There were continued problems with violence against women (including rape and wife beating). An Office of Human Rights within the Attorney General's office, created in 1992, remained unstaffed. A Tripartite Commission on political violence, composed of the civilian Government, the Catholic Church, and the Organization of American States' International Support and Verification Commission (OAS/CIAV), sent the President 3 reports covering 50 murder cases; the reports recommended sanctions against some members of the police and the EPS. Although two of the police officers were convicted of murder and legal action is pending against some of the other policemen named, no action was taken against any implicated EPS officers.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Politically motivated violence remained commonplace in 1993. The civil war, which formally concluded in June 1990 with the demobilization of the Nicaraguan Resistance (RN), left Nicaraguan society both politically polarized and heavily armed. Armed groups continued to operate in various areas of the country, mainly in the north. Their activities were principally criminal but often had political overtones. They included kidnapings for ransom by former members of the EPS and killings of Sandinista cooperative members by rearmed members of the RN known as recontras. In February, March, and April, there were several brutal murders of Sandinista peasants in northern Nicaragua. These included the murder of Juan Davila and his two young daughters near Waslala by fellow members of their Sandinista farm cooperative; the torture and murder of three members of the Wenseslao Espinoza family near El Guaylo, again by fellow members of their Sandinista farm cooperative; the torture and murder of five peasants near Wilikito by recontra bandits; and the torture and beheading of four peasants by recontra bandits at El Jicaro. There were credible reports that the police, army, or Sandinista militants killed demobilized RN combatants during the year. According to OAS/CIAV, the National Police or active or demobilized EPS members killed 9 former combatants in 1993; FSLN militants or Sandinista farm cooperative members killed an additional 3; and unknown assailants killed 18. Rearmed EPS veterans (known as recompas) killed 8 and recontras or other ex-RN members killed 12. This number of 50 deaths brought to 215 the number of ex-RN members who died under violent circumstances since the beginning of the Chamorro administration. OAS/CIAV provided details of these human rights abuses to the Government. To address the issue of ex-RN deaths, many of which were politically motivated, President Chamorro established a Tripartite Commission composed of the civilian Government, the Catholic Church, and OAS/CIAV in late 1992. In February the Commission sent its first report, covering 10 murder cases, to the President. It recommended prosecutions or sanctions against 12 police officers and 10 members of the EPS for participating in or covering up the deaths. A military court convicted two policemen of killing one of the victims and sentenced them to 15 years in prison, but their actual incarceration could not be confirmed. The EPS took no action against any of the EPS members named. Many incidents of political and extrajudicial killing dating from 1990 had not been resolved by the end of 1993. In November 1991, a special presidential commission charged with investigating the February 16, 1991, assassination of former RN commander Enrique Bermudez was dissolved after it claimed there was a lack of evidence. Since then, no progress in investigating the murder was reported. At the request of the Government and the Tripartite Commission, a British police team reviewed the procedures used in the Nicaraguan police investigation, but it did not uncover any new evidence. The military courts have not yet prosecuted those accused in the 1990 killing of high school student Jean Paul Genie, despite the fact that a criminal court concluded in July 1992 that EPS Commanding General Humberto Ortega covered up the murder of Genie by Ortega's bodyguards and ruled that only the military courts could try them. In December 1993, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the military justice system, denying an appeal to try the case in civilian court. The Inter- American Commission on Human Rights has referred the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, but the Government maintains that since the killing took place prior to Nicaragua's adherence to the Court, the Court does not have jurisdiction. There were no arrests in the November 23, 1992, assassination of Dr. Arges Sequeira Manga. A terrorist group, the self-styled "punitive forces of the left," publicly took credit for the murder. The EPS claimed that all of Sequeira's killers had recently retired from its ranks, but the father of one publicly stated that his son was still on active duty. The leader of the group, Lt. Colonel Frank Ibarra (the former EPS intelligence chief in Leon), and two henchmen (both former intelligence officers) were tried in absentia in July 1993; the trial was suspended when the jury failed to reach a verdict. In September, at the request of the President, the National Assembly passed an amnesty law covering "political crimes" and related common crimes committed by rearmed groups. (The UNO opposition was boycotting the Assembly at the time.) Although the President publicly maintained that Sequeira's killers were not included in the amnesty, the intent of the legislators was clearly to benefit Ibarra and his group. Ibarra had well publicized contacts with the Government's special disarmament brigade in mid-1993, but that organization did not attempt to arrest him. When the suspended trial resumed in November, another jury convicted Ibarra but acquitted the two other defendants. Two weeks later, the trial judge dismissed all charges against Ibarra, ruling that he cannot be punished because he is covered by the amnesty. On November 29, the public prosecutor asked the Leon court of appeals to overturn the decision of the trial judge. Local human rights monitors charged that security forces continued to be staffed by many former members of the disbanded General State Security Directorate (DGSE), cited for repeated human rights violations under the Sandinista Government. On September 2, President Chamorro announced the removal of the Defense Information Directorate (DID – the successor to the DGSE) from EPS control, its transfer to the Presidency, and the future appointment of a civilian to replace its chief, Colonel Lenin Cerna, who was responsible for human rights violations while he headed the DGSE. On October 15, President Chamorro issued a decree creating the Directorate of Intelligence Affairs (DAI) attached to the Presidency, under the direction of a civilian and three vice directors (one appointed by the Ministry of Government, one by the Police, and one by the EPS). Simultaneously the EPS named Colonel Hugo Torres, a Sandinista Comandante who headed the EPS political directorate, to replace Cerna as head of the DID and announced it would appoint Torres as the EPS representative on the new DAI. Cerna was temporarily transferred to the post of Inspector General of the EPS, a move strongly criticized by local human rights groups. All three local human rights groups and a number of foreign ones denounced the September 1993 amnesty for political crimes and related common crimes. The Government's avowed purpose for the first amnesty was to promote reconciliation following Nicaragua's civil war; for the second and third amnesties, to accomplish the disarmament and disbanding of rearmed combatants involved in rural violence. In general, the Chamorro Government has not been able or willing to try, convict, and punish offenders. Many of them continue in the ranks of the police and the EPS and can only be tried by the military court system, which continues to protect its own. Convictions by the military courts are rare and actual punishment uncertain. Although the civilian Government has recommended that the police enforce administrative sanctions against a few officers, the police took only weak action against some and cleared others.

b. Disappearance

Official forces are not known to have been responsible for disappearances during the year, and there are no reliable accounts of other groups having been responsible for such actions. In August a government negotiating delegation including two prominent Sandinista members of the National Assembly were taken hostage in northern Nicaragua by a recontra group, the "380 Northern Front." The group demanded the firing of EPS Commanding General Humberto Ortega and other governmental changes. Soon thereafter, a group of masked former Sandinista army officers, styling themselves the "National Dignity and Sovereignty Command," took hostage in Managua the top leadership of the UNO coalition, including the Vice President of Nicaragua. The Managua group demanded the release of the hostages in the north. After 5 days of negotiation with special commissions appointed by the Government, both groups released their hostages. The Government amnestied both groups.

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

There were numerous credible reports during the year of beatings and other physical mistreatment of persons detained by the police, often to obtain confessions from detainees. According to the Permanent Human Rights Commission (CDPH), a prominent human rights group, the use of torture as an investigative tool is "systematic" in the national police, especially in the departments of Leon, Boaco, and Chontales. Police offenders enjoy almost complete impunity; only the worst cases are sent by the civil inspection unit to the military courts for action, and those accused are normally absolved. The CPDH charged that the Government has no policy to eliminate physical maltreatment of prisoners. There were reports in February that EPS members targeted women for rape during field operations in the Central Zelaya region, particularly mothers, sisters, and wives of former RN members. However, it was not possible to obtain independent verification of these complaints. Conditions in the prison system threatened the life and the health of the prisoners. The Civil Inspection Unit of the Ministry of Government is responsible for checking prison conditions, which are also independently monitored by local human rights groups. The CPDH attributes the conditions to the Government's "inexcusable indifference" and its failure to allocate adequate funds.

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. After detention, police are required by the law to notify family members of the detainee's whereabouts, but in practice this is rarely done. 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 in practice this right is ignored. The Police Functions Law permits a suspect to be detained for up to 9 days before being brought before a judge; if released sooner, the police are not required to justify the detention. Although the National Assembly specified the 3-day deadline in the reform Law of Penal Procedures, passed in 1991, it did not amend the Police Functions Law. Local human rights groups reported that detainees routinely continued to be held indefinitely. The Civil Inspection Unit of the Ministry of Government, established in 1991, continues to monitor and correct police wrongdoing, including illegal detention. Although the Constitution provides that detainees are to receive access to legal counsel once 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, detainees were permitted to remain at liberty prior to trial only for compelling personal reasons, such as ill health. The CPDH estimated the number of arbitrary detentions in 1993 in the hundreds; it noted that arbitrary arrest is commonly used by Sandinista police officials in the provinces to harass political opponents, principally members of the UNO coalition parties and former members of the Nicaraguan Resistance. Exile is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system comprises both civilian and military courts and is headed by the Supreme Court of Justice. The Supreme Court consists of at least seven judges. They are appointed by the National Assembly from lists of nominees selected by the President and serve for 6-year terms. During 1993 the Court consisted of nine judges: five holdovers appointed during the Sandinista Government and four judges appointed by President Chamorro. On December 13, the National Assembly accepted the nominations of four Supreme Court replacements, giving the Court a non-Sandinista majority for the first time since President Chamorro took office. This has potentially positive implications for human rights because the Supreme Court appoints appeals court and lower court judges. Non-Sandinista appointees are widely considered by Nicaraguans to be more impartial than their Sandinista counterparts. The military courts are responsible for investigating, prosecuting, and trying crimes committed by or against members of the armed forces or police. These courts can thus under certain circumstances try civilians; in a controversial 1993 ruling a military court extended its jurisdiction to convict a former member of the EPS. Military courts often fail to investigate or try cases against members of the military; sanctions against soldiers are frequently light or the sentences are not enforced. The Supreme Court's decision in December, on the last day of the terms of four Supreme Court justices, to remand the Jean Paul Genie case (Section 1.a.) to the military court will therefore be a test of the military court system's integrity. 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 process, and many persons are arrested and held without bail for months before they appear in court. According to one report by the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), based on information from the chief of the national prison system, 52 percent of the prison population is awaiting trial. The CPDH estimates that nearly half of all those incarcerated in the prison system have been awaiting trial for between 6 months and 2 years. The 1991 Reform Law of Penal Procedures reestablished trial by jury and allowed individual citizens to denounce criminal activities directly to a judge. Previously all accusations of criminal wrongdoing were processed first by the police, who determined whether the case merited further action. However, the jury system has not proved effective so far. Many prospective jurors seek to evade jury duty, thereby delaying trials. Jurors are also generally regarded as excessively susceptible to argumentation based on emotion. The civilian Government does not punish political activity, and there were no known political prisoners in Nicaragua in 1993.

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. Local human rights groups claimed that officers from the Defense Information Directorate continued to operate as they had under the DGSE, operating wiretaps and other electronic surveillance, intercepting mail, and searching private homes and offices without judicial authorization. During 1993, there were credible reports that the EPS and police officials illegally entered homes and businesses. In May President Chamorro, in connection with military operations against rearmed groups in northern Nicaragua, issued a presidential decree partially suspending for 30 days constitutional guarantees in 14 counties in the departments of Nueva Segovia, Madriz, Esteli, Matagalpa, and Jinotega. The rights suspended were inviolability of the home, freedom from arbitrary detention, freedom from arrest without warrant, the right to be immediately informed of charges, the right to an appearance before a judge within 72 hours, and the right to legal action against authorities for an illegal detention. This suspension was the Government's largely symbolic attempt to crack down on crime in the countryside, principally by organized bands of recontras and recompas. Human rights monitors registered no complaints concerning the violations of these rights in the areas affected. Some human rights monitors suggested that the police and the military, who routinely ignore constitutional guarantees in the countryside, became more scrupulous than usual about respecting them because of the international criticism generated by the suspension decree.

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

There was considerable armed conflict in northern Nicaragua between the EPS and the recontra and recompa rearmed groups. In July some 500 EPS troops attacked one recompa group (the Peasant Worker Revolutionary Front) of 150 men that had occupied portions of the city of Esteli. Credible reports indicate that 8 civilians, including 2 children, were killed in the attack, and 68 civilians were wounded, of whom 18 were children. By most reports, the EPS used heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and rifle-propelled grenades during its operations. Nicaragua is so polarized that few can agree on the facts, much less the interpretation of the facts. Initial reports were that dozens were massacred. A CENIDH report condemned the EPS for "disproportionate and irrational use of force" and declared that an EPS assault on Esteli's Davila Bolanos hospital "flagrantly violated the norms of humanitarian law." U.S. Embassy officers visited Esteli after the event and confirmed that some fighting had taken place there, but they could confirm the deaths of only two combatants. On October 18, shortly after the EPS began a major offensive against a recontra group in northern Nicaragua, four EPS helicopters fired rockets into the hills surrounding the village of El Guanito. Although no one was injured in the 90-minute attack, some 300 terrified villagers fled across the border into Honduras. On December 22, reacting to an editorial criticizing such attacks as "genocide," EPS General Humberto Ortega filed a criminal libel suit against the editor of La Prensa. The suit, which alleged that the newspaper had damaged the honor of the army, itself drew widespread criticism and was withdrawn 6 days later.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

These freedoms are provided for in the Constitution, which declares that "Nicaraguans have the right freely to express their beliefs in public or private, individually or collectively, in oral, written, and any other form." In practice, during 1993 diverse viewpoints were freely and openly discussed in public discourse, in the privately owned print media, in the broadcast media, and in academic circles. Freedom of the press is qualified, however, by several constitutional provisions. The Constitution also stipulates that Nicaraguans have the right to "accurate information," thereby providing an exception 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 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. The most important medium for news distribution is radio. Listeners can receive a wide variety of political viewpoints, particularly in Managua. In August Sandinista terrorists attacked the studios of two center-right Managua stations, Radio Corporacion and Radio Minuto, causing some $50,000 in damages and silencing the stations for 1 and 3 weeks, respectively. In September, amidst antigovernment rioting over a proposed vehicle tax, terrorists attacked Radio Corporacion's transmitter, knocking the station off the air for 1 week. The attacks were the fourth and fifth against the outspokenly anti-Sandinista and antigovernment Radio Corporacion in the past 4 years. Radio Catolica, the Church-owned station, complained that a March 31 power cutoff to the station and earlier electrical problems were punishment for commentaries critical of the Government. There are seven television stations, four of which carry news programming with marked political overtones. One state-owned station (confiscated by the Sandinista Government) was restored to its original owners in July; its news is produced by COSEP, the Higher Council of Private Enterprise. There is no official state censorship in Nicaragua, nor is self-censorship practiced. Fears that the broad language of a new antisodomy law, which penalized any person who "induces, promotes or practices in a scandalous manner sexual intercourse between people of the same sex," might be used to curtail freedom of speech and bar the dissemination of health and sex information did not materialize. However, some governmental actions did pose threats to freedom of expression: In May a criminal court's application of Chapter VII of the Penal Code, which deals with libel and slander, had a chilling effect on freedom of the press. Despite provisions in the Code protecting criticism of the performance of public officials, a La Prensa journalist and the newspaper's director were convicted of libel for reporting charges of mismanagement against a former health minister, now an FSLN deputy in the National Assembly. They were fined $1,600 by a Sandinista criminal court judge. In June policemen beat two El Nuevo Diario (a pro-Sandinista newspaper) journalists attempting to cover a clash between police and striking customs workers in Managua. No action was taken against the policemen responsible. Academic freedom in higher education is recognized by the Constitution and was respected in practice by the Government.

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. This permission is routinely granted. Numerous marches and demonstrations were held throughout the year by groups representing a range of political views. However, in April the Government, vaguely citing "security" reasons and possible antigovernment "provocations," revoked permission for the National Opposition Union to hold a march in La Concepcion to celebrate the third anniversary of its electoral victory over the Sandinistas. In September the Government refused permission for an independence day celebration by Sandinista teachers and students in Managua, on the grounds that the event would have conflicted with an official celebration promoted by the Education Ministry at another location. The unofficial event was held anyway, without government interference. In June police used rubber bullets, tear gas, and clubs to break up a peaceful but unauthorized protest march by 150 military veterans in Managua; 11 persons were injured and some 30 arrested. The Constitution provides for the right to organize or affiliate with political parties. Opposition and independent associations of all sorts coexisted in Nicaragua throughout 1993. Private associations of any kind may be formed without restrictions but do not have legal status until they receive this designation from the National Assembly. Such legal recognition is routinely conferred. Nevertheless, approval of the legal status of the Nicaraguan Resistance Party was delayed for 2 years; it was finally granted in 1993.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and this is respected in practice. There are no constitutional or legal restrictions on any religious groups or foreign clergy. Although at least 75 percent of Nicaraguans are Roman Catholic, other religious groups practice without hindrance. There are no constitutional or legal restrictions on places of worship, training of the clergy, religious publishing, religious education, or conversion. Churches legally operate radio stations, and one of the television stations broadcasts exclusively Protestant evangelical programming.

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 freely enter and exit the country. 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, there was no restriction on their return under the Chamorro Government. During the past 3 years, tens of thousands of refugees and expatriated members of the Nicaraguan Resistance and their families returned from Honduras, Costa Rica, the United States, and other countries, without restriction or legal disability. The Constitution offers asylum "to those persecuted for their struggle for democracy, peace, justice, and human rights," and political refugees expelled from Nicaragua cannot be sent back to the country persecuting them. However, in May the Government summarily expelled to Spain three members of a Basque terrorist group (the ETA) who had been given asylum and Nicaraguan citizenship in 1990 by the former Sandinista Government. Their citizenship was administratively annulled without a hearing. CENIDH, foreign human rights groups, and some officials of the National Police charged that the expulsions were illegal and unconstitutional.

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. It was contested by the 14-party UNO coalition, the FSLN, and several smaller parties, and was declared free and fair by international observers. 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, while the Vice President has no constitutionally mandated duties or powers. Both are elected for 6-year terms by direct popular vote. Legislative power is vested in the National Assembly. Its members also serve 6-year terms. Ninety members are elected under a proportional representation system from nine departments or regions; defeated presidential candidates are also allocated seats in the Assembly, provided they received a minimum percentage of votes in the previous presidential election. Throughout 1993, UNO boycotted National Assembly votes after the January 9 elections to the Assembly directorate gave the majority seats on the directorate to the Sandinistas and a group of "Centrists" (defecting UNO deputies). In February the Assembly agreed to fire the Comptroller General following his charges that the Government had bribed some of the Centrist deputies to support its legislative program. The Government depended on the majority coalition of FSLN and Centrist deputies to pass its legislation, while the UNO coalition demanded that the Government act to restore the legislative majority given UNO by the voters in the 1990 elections. Three member parties of UNO decided late in 1993 to return to the Assembly, which led to their expulsion from UNO. At year's end, UNO intended to participate in ordinary sessions and perhaps vote on constitutional reform towards the latter stages of the reform process. In theory the rights of citizens to change their government remains limited by Article 5 of the 1987 Constitution. That article guarantees the existence of political pluralism "without ideological restrictions, except for those who seek a return to the past or advocate the establishment of a political system similar to it." There have yet to be cases which would define this exception in practical terms. However, in June El Nuevo Diario, citing this article, advocated the withdrawal of legal status from the Independent Liberal Party and the Liberal Constitutionalist Party, which it accused of forming a political alliance with the followers of the late President Somoza and former members of the defunct National Guard. Elections are administered by an independent branch of government, the Supreme Electoral Council. 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 people, or other minorities voting or participating in politics.

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

The Government generally permitted local and international human rights monitors to operate freely in Nicaragua in 1993. Nevertheless, its attitude regarding international and nongovernmental investigations of alleged violations of human rights was mixed. The Government invited international investigations of limited scope in a few specific, well-publicized cases, but it generally ignored complaints of less notorious abuses brought by local human rights groups. Civilian authorities cooperated with local human rights groups in the presentation of human rights seminars for school children and for the police. However, police and prison officials frequently refused to allow access to jails and prisons by human rights monitors, even when permission had been granted by the Ministry of Government. The military refused to cooperate with investigations by human rights monitors. There are three active local human rights organizations: the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), the Permanent Commission for Human Rights (CPDH), and the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH). There were no reports of repression against human rights observers by the civilian authorities in 1993. However, the CPDH was the target of mail tampering and telephone tapping, presumably by the Defense Intelligence Directorate. In March CENIDH human rights activist and justice of the peace Leonel Gonzalez was shot to death in rural Chontales department by three unidentified men dressed in military uniforms; the murder remains unsolved. In April Alberto Blandon, a representative of the Catholic Church on the Tripartite Commission, was threatened with death by members of a recompa band, and his farmhouse was looted. In June ANPDH activist and local UNO leader Salvador Icaza fled Nicaragua after repeated police harassment and death threats. The CPDH reported that its local collaborator in Boaco was beaten by police and that shots were fired at her vehicle.

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."


While there is no de jure discrimination against women, they continued to suffer de facto discrimination in the male- dominated culture prevalent in much of society. Women occupied some senior positions in government, the trade union movement, and social organizations, but were underrepresented in management positions in the private sector and formed the majority of workers in the traditionally low-paid education, textile, and health service sectors. Local human rights organizations continued to monitor violence against women, including rape and wife beating. Because victims often are reluctant to publicize their charges, it is likely that such abuse is significantly underreported. Local human rights groups report that police sometimes intervene to prevent injury in cases of domestic violence but that the perpetrators are rarely charged or tried for their acts. 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.


The Government is publicly committed to children's human rights and welfare, but funding levels for programs for children are inadequate. There were a number of newspaper reports in 1993 detailing the existence of child prostitution in Managua, Corinto, and Bluefields. Child prostitutes were said to number some 500 in Managua alone. The press attributed the practice to extreme poverty and homelessness. There was no suggestion that such prostitution is organized. Prostitution itself is not penalized under Nicaraguan law. Although the Government created a National Commission for the Protection of Children in 1992, it had no program directed at child prostitution, which, one of its officials observed, "does not exist from a legal point of view."

Indigenous People

The indigenous people of Nicaragua 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). These peoples are considered identifiable tribes by the Government. 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. Two members of the National Assembly are Miskitos. As in previous years, there were complaints that the indigenous peoples of the Atlantic Coast were excluded from meaningful participation in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources. According to some human rights monitors, the central Government has granted business concessions in the autonomous regions without consulting the two relevant regional governments.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Most Nicaraguans are of mixed mestizo background, and skin color does not appear to be a barrier to political or economic success. The Government has been criticized for its failure to expend resources in support of the Atlantic coast population, which is composed largely of 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. Despite the visible presence of many disabled veterans of the civil war, there was no attempt to assist the disabled, nor public calls to do so, in 1993.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution guarantees the right of workers to organize voluntarily in unions "in conformity with the law." Legally, all public and private sector workers, except the military and the police, are entitled to 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 report occasional delays in obtaining this status. Nearly half of Nicaragua's 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 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. In practice, unions regard these lengthy procedures as too expensive and time consuming and frequently ignore them when initiating a strike. There were numerous strikes in 1993, but most were 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. In the last months of 1992 and the first months of 1993, the Education Ministry fired more than 50 teachers who had participated in a series of brief, extralegal strikes organized by the National Association of Nicaraguan Educators (ANDEN), the Sandinista teachers federation; later in the year it refused to recognize the legal status of the ANDEN leadership or to negotiate a new collective bargain with ANDEN. In June the Nicaraguan customs agency fired some 150 members of the Sandinista-affiliated customs workers federation, including the union leadership, during a strike declared illegal by the Labor Ministry. In March the national police violently evicted striking sugar workers occupying the San Antonio sugar mill and arrested 63 persons. One policeman and five workers were injured in the clash, and one worker, Francisco Picado, was found dead in circumstances that were never clarified. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions noted that rural workers were subjected to abductions, intimidations, and detentions in 1992 in connections with land privatization and evictions. In May the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) issued a report critical of the Government for failing adequately to investigate and punish acts of violence allegedly committed by the police against striking workers in 1990 and 1991. In 1993 the CFA also investigated a complaint alleging unfair dismissal of ANDEN leaders, excessive registration procedures, and prohibition of the trade union check-off. The ILO's Committee of Experts (COE) noted that the draft text of the new Labor Code did not remove restrictions on the right to strike of rural workers, grant the right to associate of public servants, nor reduce the number of workers in an enterprise required to call a strike to a simple majority. The draft legislation was not enacted in 1993. 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 1992 the ILO's COE maintained that the labor law provision which subjects collective agreements to the prior approval of the Ministry of Labor before they can come into force violates the Convention on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining ratified by Nicaragua in 1967. The Government took no action to modify this provision in 1993. During 1993 8 firms, employing some 2,000 workers, operated in the 1 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, there was no functioning trade union with a certified collective contract in the export processing zone.

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. Education is compulsory to age 12, and children under the age of 14 legally are not permitted to work. 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. In a form of indentured service, some 13-year-olds work in auto repair shops for little pay in exchange for auto mechanical training. 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 $50 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. In January 1993, the Government devalued the official exchange rate without raising the minimum wage rates. Enforcement of the minimum wage is lax, and some workers are reportedly paid 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 guarantees 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 Hygiene and Occupational Security is responsible for verifying compliance with health and safety standards. Although extensive, these standards are not strictly enforced due to an insufficient number of inspectors. Workers have no specific right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

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