The creation of a mechanism of independent experts of the United Nations Human Rights Council - which will investigate human rights violations in Nicaragua for one year and, if possible, identify the perpetrators - also opens the possibility of exploring a channel of communication with the regime of Daniel Ortega, in order to establish a minimum agenda on human rights.
The former executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Paulo Abrāo, values that this mechanism of the Human Rights Council “has teeth”, because is based on “an evaluation” that reflects that the Government of Nicaragua refused to cooperate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and values that the situation in the country “has aggravated”.
For that reason, Abrāo values that the success of the group of experts that will investigate the situation in Nicaragua will depend largely on them being people who are knowledgeable about what has happened in the country in the last four years, because “one has to consider the progression” of the facts, and therefore the systematization of records and documentation that perhaps have been generated in the Inter-American System or in local organizations.
The creation of this mechanism comes almost four years after the beginning of the massive protests of 2018, at a time when the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo has intensified the persecution against opposition leaders and victims who demand justice without impunity.
“My expectation is that that group, based on the profile of its members, has the conditions to present something new” Abrāo expressed during an interview on the program Esta Semana, broadcast Sunday, April 3, on Facebook and YouTube due to the regime's censorship. “I insist on that mandate, which was not foreseen for the other (previous) mechanisms, in which the UN says that the group should seek relevant dialogues with relevant actors, including decision-makers, including the Government of Nicaragua” he emphasized.
For Abrāo, the search for a channel of communication with the Government is aimed at resolving crucial human rights issues, such as the possibility of opening a humanitarian channel for the return of exiled people, the release of the more than 170 political prisoners, attention and immediate reparations to the families of the victims of the repression since April 2018, “a minimum agenda of attention to human rights,” he commented.
In addition, from the content of the reports that are generated and the collaboration that the Ortega regime has or does not have with that group of experts, “paths could be opened to activate sanctions of the universal system, beyond those sanctions generated by the Inter-American system, especially the political bodies” Abrāo valued.
Continuing the work done
The senior researcher of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, Juan Pappier, was also consulted for this Sunday's Esta Semana program and warned that it is very possible that Daniel Ortega’s regime is not willing to cooperate with this UN mechanism, as it has not done with other human rights bodies, but noted that this group of experts has a lot of work to do “with or without the cooperation of the Government of Nicaragua”.
The experts “can conduct interviews with tens of thousands of Nicaraguans who have had to leave the country” in exile, have access to criminal files “through the representation of victims or defendants in cases of criminal prosecution and political prisoners,” Pappier said. “They can do their work without needing the cooperation of the Nicaraguan government, I think the only one who loses by not cooperating with this group of experts is the Nicaraguan government,” he added.
According to the Human Rights Council resolution, the experts shall collect, preserve and analyze information and potential evidence; and - where possible - identify those responsible for such violations in order to promote accountability.
They shall also issue recommendations to improve the human rights situation in the country, and provide guidance on access to justice and accountability, in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner, the State of Nicaragua, international human rights organizations, relevant UN agencies, and civil society.
The mandate of the group of experts “is broad”, said Pappier, but they only have one year to work, so they should prioritize the issues “that contribute to future accountability” and start from what has already been investigated by organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The creation of this mechanism “is very good news because it gives a glimmer of hope that at some point there will be justice for these abuses, but unfortunately, the creation of this group of experts alone is not enough for us to free the political prisoners” warned Pappier. “We have to continue working to achieve international, multilateral, and concerted pressure that will force Ortega to release these political prisoners, starting with those who are in the worst health situations,” he stressed.
Daniel Ortega's regime has ignored all human rights resolutions but is becoming increasingly isolated internationally. Proof of this is that this follow-up mechanism for Nicaragua was created with the support of 20 countries, 20 abstained, and only its political allies opposed: Bolivia, Cuba, China, Venezuela, and the Russian Federation; in addition, Eritrea, an African country; and Honduras, which pointed out a day later that it was “a communication error”.
The Honduran vote
In Pappier's opinion, the vote in the Human Rights Council was “overwhelming” and sent “a clear message” that the international community will not remain silent in the face of the “very serious and systematic” abuses of the Daniel Ortega regime in Nicaragua.
“The big disappointment for everyone in Honduras, which starts its work in the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, with the wrong foot, by voting together with Cuba and Venezuela, against not condemning the abuses of Daniel Ortega's regime. It is really an inexplicable vote”, commented Pappier, before learning that this country requested to rectify its vote.
Regarding the Honduran vote, the former secretary-general of the IACHR considered that it represents “ a very important challenge” for human rights organizations since they must pressure and send messages to the government of Xiomara Castro to adopt a consistent position in defense of human rights.
Abrāo also celebrated that countries such as Argentina and Mexico have supported the creation of this mechanism of the Human Rights Council since in previous years and in other international forums they had refrained from condemning the Ortega regime.
On the other hand, both human rights defenders pointed out that most of the countries that abstained from voting are of African origin, whose criteria for voting is to prevent the implementation of this type of mechanism in their territories and not because they support the Nicaraguan regime.
This vote “shows that Nicaragua is also isolated in the universal system”, Abrāo commented. “Now the mechanism is going to have the great challenge of helping to consolidate that vision and activate the strongest mechanisms of the universal system on Nicaragua,” he added.
The appointment of the experts
The appointment of the three international experts who will investigate human rights violations in Nicaragua depends on the president of the Human Rights Council, but Pappier estimates that it could happen within 15 to 20 days, due to the urgency of the issue. “The priority now must be to appoint the experts as soon as possible, allocate the funds and operationalize this group of experts with their teams so that they can start operating in a month and a half at the most,” he said.
The UN has activated such mechanisms for other very serious situations such as Syria or Venezuela. “Then it must be understood in these terms and give an opportunity to the work of that group so that it can also assume that dimension, to identify responsibilities..., but also push for a change in reality because the people of Nicaragua can no longer stand living in an environment of intimidation, absence of freedoms and systematic violation of their rights,” concluded Abrāo.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Cofidencial and translated by Havana Times