THE RIGHT TO PERSONAL INTEGRITY1
A. Constitutional regulations and general background
Article 52 of the Constitution of Nicaragua prohibits “every act of cruelty or torture against persons detained, awaiting, or in the course of being tried or serving a sentence. The violation of this guarantee constitutes a crime”. Article 197 establishes that “In no case may the decree of suspension or restriction affect (the following guarantees) ... the prohibition against acts of cruelty or torture and infamous punishment.”
In early August, shortly before the armed struggle had begun, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Nicaragua published a document calling for peace and reconciliation. In this letter the Nicaraguan bishops pointed out, among other things, that:
The number of wounded, imprisoned, tortured, and disappeared persons is endless and is increasing daily.
The Special Commission has since received overwhelming testimony that, as the Conference of Bishops suggested, such guarantees are not fulfilled in practice.
B. The situation seen by the Special Commission
As is mentioned in another part of this report, the Commission visited twelve detention sites located in Managua and in the interior of the country. These visits allowed the Special Commission to enter into direct contact with a large number of prisoners, interview them privately, take photographs of them, as well as receive their testimony.
During the conversations with the prisoners, the Special Commission repeatedly received charges of physical and psychological torture. The great majority of the prisoners alleged that while under detention they had been severely beaten by rifle butts, pistol-whipped, beaten with fists and kicked. On several occasions, the prisoners, very frightened that they might be seen by the guards, showed scars on their heads and other parts of their bodies, black and blue marks, and broken ribs and bones. The Commission also took note of the easily visible scars on the wrists of many prisoners in different locales of the country who stated that they had been hung by their arms. The Special Commission's attention was drawn to the similarity of the scars.
The Commission also received claims related to the application of electrical shocks through the use of electric prongs or cables connected to generators, batteries or “jumper cables”. The places where the claimants alleged that electric shock was most used as a means of torture were the National Guard Command Posts in Masaya and Jinotepe and the National Security Office of Managua.
Many prisoners informed the Commission that at the moment of arrest they were blindfolded, and upon arrival at the National Security Office, hoods were placed over their heads which was not removed for a long period of time. This claim was confirmed by a Captain from the Security Office who admitted that the prisoners often arrived blindfolded with their own shirts and that afterwards they were hooded for the interrogation process.
The Commission received claims that various prisoners had been hooded and held incommunicado for prolonged periods of time, often passing days without water or food. Other prisoners said that during the period in which they were held incommunicado they were striped naked and kept in a room in which the air conditioning was set for the coldest temperature.
Many of the prisoners complained that not only were they frequently threatened with death but also their relatives. In some cases they alleged that these threats were carried out by guards while they were held at gunpoint.
In various instances the Commission could attest to the fact that some prisoners had bullet wounds and that they were in a precarious state of health. A fourteen year old youth in the prison in Masaya had a bullet lodged in his leg and he had not seen a doctor since entering jail. In the same prison, as well as in the Police Jail in Managua, among the common and political prisoners there were two persons who appeared from their behavior to be mentally deranged. In all the jails visited, the prisoners alleged that they rarely saw a doctor, but that when they did see one he was giving instructions as to the voltage of electricity to be applied during the torture, or examining the tortured persons to see if they could resist any more shocks.
Time and again the Commission could see that hundreds of persons were detained in places that were clearly inadequate, and jeopardized their health and welfare. The Commission observed that scores of people were being held in cells with inadequate ventilation and unacceptable conditions of hygiene. One cell in the Police Jail in Managua contained no sanitary facilities and the prisoners had to use a bucket for their physical necessities. Various persons informed the Commission that this cell, known as “the tiny one,” had been filled with so many prisoners that they could scarcely move. The Special Commission observed a similar situation in Jinotepe.
The following is an account of what one Nicaraguan experienced in the jails in his country. This case has been selected from among the numerous complaints received because it vividly illustrates the various methods of torture which were described:
I was captured on Saturday, the 17th of June of this year, at 8:30 a.m. at my workplace without a warrant from a duly constituted authority and brutally beaten. I was taken from my workplace along with the office equipment and my automobile which was undergoing repairs, as well as two cars belonging to clients. I was taken to the Security Offices where they began to torture me physically and psychologically, beating me with clubs and fists, kicking me in the spinal column and subjecting me to intensive interrogations about things I knew nothing about. They also forced me to do physical exercise to the point of exhaustion, and when my stamina completely gave out, I was savagely beaten and they forced me by means of kicks and lows to continue the exercises. During the day they kept me in a cold cell and at night in a room with the air conditioning turned to the coldest temperature. For ten days I was kept without food and they did not give me water. Because of the torture I spent ten days urinating blood and without being able to have a bowel movement. I asked on a Friday that I be taken to the bathroom which they did not allow until Sunday. I urinated only with difficulty and could only defecate in a bucket when they wanted to pass it to me. I still have wounds from the blows and acts of torture on my genitals—I was made to lie mouth down, naked, and then someone stood on my buttocks forcing my genitals against the floor. The psychological torture consisted of being taken out and told that I was going to be shot Friday night. During thirteen days I was kept handcuffed and beaten, kicked and forced to do exercises, all this while I was not being interrogated. Then during each of the interrogation sessions, which were long and tiring, I was again beaten and humiliated.
I remained in the basement of the jail three days. After having been there a week, I was made to wash the shirt which they had used as a blindfold, and then it was replaced, soaking wet, so that after three days with it over my eyes, my face was peeling because the soap they had provided was a detergent. Afterward I had difficulties in urinating and defecating, passing blood in both cases.
I was obliged to sign a declaration without knowing what it contained. I was then taken on the 30th of June to the Police Judge where, under coercion, with false witnesses favorable to the Government, who were inebriated, a declaration was drawn up with which they sent me before the judge. The same day, the 30th, I was transferred to the Central Police prison where I was taken to a common cell where I was again stripped and beaten by the guards who had been put in charge of the cell by the penal authorities.
Once they had stripped me of what I was wearing, I was taken to a cell known as “the tiny one”, which does not haven even the minimal conditions of hygiene nor the most basic services. I was kept in the cell from the 30th of June until the 28th of September when I was transferred to the “Model Jail”. During this time I was subjected to threats, psychological tortures, and direct death threats; was deprived of family visits, medical attention, and services of hygiene, such as potable water; was forced to urinate in a common can also used by 10 or 11 other persons, taken to the lavatory when the guard wanted to take me and not when it was necessary, and forced to put up with the need to defecate for up to two hours, and the often unhealthy conditions of the can used for urinating.
Throughout all this time I was without drinkable water, without any circulation of air, without any sun, and with water leaking into the cell since it was located between two bathrooms.
During this entire period I never ate the prison food because it was totally unhealthy and of the worst quality, based on rice and beans, and sometimes noodles, all in a decomposed state and wadded into a single mass.
Whenever there was some activity in the street they kept me from going to the bathroom, and they placed guards in the doorway of the cell aiming their weapons at us, loaded and with the safety catch released, ready at any moment to fire, having previously threatened to do so, because they told us that they had orders to fire upon whatever movement or shots they heard. Often while I was in the Central Police Jail I was deprived of visits from my family.
My family was also threatened by the head guard of our prison section; furthermore, my entire family was subjected to a check, as were their houses, which resulted in a complete search by large bands of armed personnel three months later.
I was also under pressure from the constant watch set up at my business, my clients were frightened, and companies with which I was working were under a lot of pressure to fire me. The workers were threatened and I was forced to close the business, thus leaving my family completely without support. Finally, due to the constant pressure, they were forced to leave their homes.
In addition, legal steps involving the right to protection and legal guarantees were presented with no effect during the thirteen days of my unjust and arbitrary detention in the Security Center; the searching of my workplace; the actions against my own physical security; the taking of private goods such as three automobiles and office equipment; putting a wire-tap on the telephone; and the most serious abuse, being subjected to violent torture over a period of thirteen days. I was kept from sleeping, without food, without the elementary means of hygiene, without medical attention, and under sub-human conditions.
Furthermore, the delay in the functioning of justice due to judicial laws, because justice delayed is not justice. I am enduring the consequences of prison even now since my family has been thrown out of the house and I have been thrown out of work.
During all the time that I was handcuffed to the wall, and thrown onto the ground, someone stood on my stomach, chest, arms and legs pressing al their weight against me. Thirty days after leaving the Security Center my spinal column and my head still ache, and I still get fevers and headaches, at times not being able to exercise since my spinal column bothers me.
Finally, the Commission would like to state that it informed some of the Commandants of the prisons of the names of the persons who were pointed out as the torturers, receiving assurances from the Commandants that measures would be taken accordingly; but to date, the Commission has not been informed of any charges against any member of the National Guard responsible for torture or any other unacceptable abuses.
1 Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man states that: “Every human being has the right to life, liberty and the security of his person.” The third paragraph of Article XXV of this Declaration points out that every individual has the “right to humane treatment during the time he is in custody.”