A. Background Information on the On-Site Observation Carried Out by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
COMPLAINTS RECEIVED BY THE IACHR IN RECENT YEARS
In light of a large body of complaints, communications and other data alleging grave and repeated violations of human rights in Nicaragua, the Commission decided during its 44th session, held in June, 1978, to prepare a report on the situation of human rights in that country. One of the most serious complaints received by the Commission concerned 338 peasants captured by the National Guard between 1975 and 1977. Credible sources declared that out of this group of campesinos, seventeen were finally released after having been imprisoned without trial for 18 months; the remaining 321 were never seen again and are presumed dead. These sources also declared that the farms of these persons presumed dead were appropriated by members of the National Guard, that the wives of many peasants were raped by members of the Guard, and that the Guard committed many other serious crimes against the campesino population of the surrounding rural area.
THE ASSASSINATION OF DR. PEDRO JOAQUÍN CHAMORRO AND THE EVENTS OF JANUARY 1978
Subsequent to the denunciation of these actions against the campesinos, there occurred on January 10, 1978, the assassination of the well-known journalist and political figure, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, under circumstances that have yet to be clarified, an event that catalyzed a series of grave acts.
A crowd of approximately 50,000 persons escorted the body of Dr. Chamorro from the Hospital Oriental to his residence; the next day serious disturbances occurred, and numerous demonstrators threw rocks and set fires to several business belonging to people linked to the Government. National Guard troops opened fire on the demonstrators, leaving several wounded, and shot tear gas into the offices of the La Prensa newspaper, where the body of Dr. Chamorro, the former Managing Editor, was lying in state.
In support of the demand for a complete and impartial investigation of the assassination, the Unión Democrática de Liberación (UDEL)1 and a vast sector of private enterprise and workers' organizations called for a general strike which started on January 23 and paralyzed all business and transportation activities in the principal cities of the country until de second week of February. During this period there were daily demonstrations against the Government, which were harshly suppressed by members of the National Guard.
There are no accurate statistics about the casualties resulting from these events; however, according to reports from witnesses, there were many wounded, and it is known that during the demonstrations of the 30th and 31st in the city of Matagalpa there were seven deaths and dozens wounded.
During the strike there were new calls to investigate the disappearance of peasants and for the public appearance of political prisoners. Relatives of these people took over the Office of Program Development of the United Nations, and on January 30, a peaceful demonstration by women there was dispersed with tear gas. Several of these women were seriously wounded. The National Guard also dispersed another demonstration on behalf of prisoners and missing persons by throwing tear gas from helicopters among university students who had organized this demonstration. Some of these students were seriously injured when tear gas canisters landed on their heads.
On January 28, the Government convened the National Committee for Emergencies in order to implement the Emergency Act. According to information received by the Commission, this Act was used to control the dissemination of news and to justify arbitrary searches of private homes.
THE COMMISSION EXPRESSES ITS CONCERN AND REQUESTS INFORMATION ABOUT THESE EVENTS
In view of this situation, and complaints received about alleged violations of human rights in Nicaragua, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, meeting in its 43rd session in Caracas, decided to request prompt information from the Government with regard to the present status of human rights in Nicaragua.
The Chairman of the Commission sent the following cablegram, dated February 3, 1978, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua:
As Your Excellency knows, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has received the mandate from the member countries of the Organization of American States to promote respect for and keep vigilance over the observance of the rights set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Charter of the OAS, Art. 150, and Statute of the IACHR, Art. 1).
In the exercise of its powers, the Commission has received various complaints of alleged violations of these rights in Nicaragua. They are being processed as special cases, and at the proper time the ensuing resolutions will be forwarded.
The Commission is now meeting in plenary in its 43rd regular session, and has been advised, through reports disseminated by the media, of the special circumstances prevailing in your country.
Since such circumstances could have serious consequences for the enforcement of human rights, the Commission has decided to avail itself of the authorization conferred on it by Article 9, paragraph d) of its Statute, to request that your Government provide us, as soon as possible, with a report on the present status of human rights in Nicaragua.
I take this opportunity to express to Your Excellency my highest and most distinguished consideration.
Andrés Aguilar M.
By cablegram dated February 11, 1978, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua, Dr. Julio C. Quintana, replied in the following terms:
Honorable Andrés Aguilar
By means of a note from the Director of the Office of the General Secretariat of the OAS in Managua, Nicaragua, Dr. Mario Carmona Rivera, delivered by the Minister of Defense, General Heriberto Sánchez, on the 4th inst., I received a message addressed to my distinguished predecessor, Dr. Alejandro Montiel Argüello, that advised me of the mandate of the IACHR to promote respect for and keep vigilance over the observance of the rights set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
Furthermore, at its 43rd session held in Caracas, the Commission became aware through media reports of the special circumstances prevailing in this country, stating that these circumstances could result in serious consequences for the enforcement of human rights. Therefore, the Commission decided to avail itself of the authorization conferred on it by Art. 9, paragraph d) of its Statute, to request that the Government of Nicaragua provide, as soon as possible, a report on the present status of the aforementioned human rights in our country.
Upon receipt of your message, I replied both to Caracas, from whence it originated, as well as to the headquarters of the Commission in Washington, D.C., offering to submit the requested information.
In compliance with this offer, I am pleased to state to you that the Nicaraguan people enjoy full freedom and the exercise of the rights guaranteed by our Constitution and other law of the Republic, which incorporate and enforce human rights as part of our juridical tradition, in accordance with the Nicaraguan political reality based on a representative democracy. These guarantees and rights have not been suspended, in spite of violent events and subversive actions of extremist groups which threaten the peace of the Republic. In exercising these rights, last Sunday the citizenry freely cast their votes to elect municipal authorities throughout the Republic with the participation of the Nationalist Liberal Party and the Conservative Party of Nicaragua, through which the powers of the state are organized constitutionally, the latter party being the second political party of the nation.
The Government of Nicaragua has always replied to the communications sent to it by the Commission regarding complaints about alleged violations of human rights, and has received no new complains as of this date. According to your message, these are being processed as special cases, and we await information about them in order to proceed opportunely with a careful consideration of their bases.
The present situation which exists in my country, and which has been distorted by foreign forces for political purposes and disseminated abroad in order to damage the reputation of the country and the legally constituted government, could never bring about serious consequences for the enforcement of human rights which my government respects and promotes.
The zeal of the Inter-American Commission is praiseworthy, both in keeping vigilance over and promoting the full enforcement of human rights, and I agree with such a healthy attitude, yet taking the liberty of calling your impartial attention to the existence of an organized propaganda campaign of extremist inspiration to discredit the constitutional government of Nicaragua, attempting to create a false situation contrary to the socio-political reality of the country, I feel that it is advisable to state to the Commission that subversive elements in infamous alliance with minority parties and a small number of business groups of great economic power, are involved in an incomprehensible alliance and propaganda campaign which in an incomprehensible alliance and propaganda campaign which wishes to overthrow the government and damage state institutions.
In spite of the terrorism and violence of those who try to alter the established constitutional order and which are not unknown in most other countries of the world, freedom, security and the democratic constitutional order reign in Nicaragua by the will of the people and the consensus of the citizens who have repudiated the acts of vandalism which have occurred recently.
I take advantage of this opportunity to reiterate the firmness of the juridical principles upon which the Government of Nicaragua is based, and its determination to comply with the rights set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which are observed not only as part of an international instrument, but as natural, humane and civilized principles which sustain my government.
I take this opportunity to renew my highest esteem for you.
Julio C. Quintana
Minister of Foreign Affairs
THE COMMISSION DECIDES TO DRAFT A REPORT ON THE STATUS OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN NICARAGUA
Although the general strike had ended in early February, the climate of tension was still apparent between the Government and most of the citizenry. The period between February and June was characterized by several confrontations between the National Guard and civilian groups, which resulted in numerous casualties.
At the end of February, anti-government demonstrations in Diriamba, León, Boaco and Chinandega resulted in several deaths and casualties as well as numerous arrests and detentions. In the Subtiava district of León, alone, there were 20 deaths and 30 people wounded. The city of Masaya, which had risen en masse on February 27, surrendered after a week of fighting, leaving one hundred people dead and numerous wounded and missing persons. Seventeen persons died in several incidents occurring in the districts of Monimbó and Santa Rosa. There were similar events, on a smaller scale—demonstrations, arrests and casualties—in all of the principal cities of the country, creating a climate of hardship and uncertainty among the majority of the population.
During this period, the Commission began to receive numerous new complaints of alleged violations of human rights occurring in Nicaragua and documented information of a serious nature.
Considering the magnitude of these occurrences, the IACHR, at its 44th session in June, in Washington, decided to draft a report reflecting the status of the observance of human rights in Nicaragua.
THE GOVERNMENT OF NICARAGUA DECIDES TO INVITE THE IACHR TO CARRY AN ON-SITE OBSERVATION
The decision to write this report was communicated by the Chairman of the IACHR to the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Nicaragua to the Organization of American States, Dr. Guillermo Sevilla Sacasa, who was also informed that the purpose of the report was to depict faithfully the actual conditions of human rights in Nicaragua and that the Commission was confident that the Nicaraguan Government would invite it to carry out an on-site observation in that country, according to the Regulations of the IACHR for conducting such visits.
In a note dated June 20, 1978, Ambassador Sevilla Sacasa, in the name of his government, invited the Commission to conduct an on-site observation in Nicaragua. The communication of the Nicaraguan Ambassador, addressed to the Chairman of the IACHR, Dr. Andrés Aguilar, reads as follows:
June 20, 1978
I have the honor of informing you that my Government, upon being advised that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is to draft a report on the status of human rights in Nicaragua, is pleased to invite it to visit our country, in order to effect an on-site observation in Nicaragua, which would prove very useful for your report. This invitation is an act of courtesy which attests to the respect that my Government holds for the Commission over which you preside as well as for its distinguished members.
The Commission shall be well received. The arrival date in Nicaragua shall de determined by common agreement.
I take this opportunity to renew my highest and most distinguished consideration for you.
Guillermo Sevilla Sacasa
Ambassador of Nicaragua
At its 44th session, the IACHR, in order to carry out this on-site observation, appointed a Special Commission composed of its Chairman, Dr. Andrés Aguilar, its Vice Chairman, Dr. Carlos A. Dunshee de Abranches, and members Drs. Carlos García Bauer, Tom J. Farer, Fernando Volio and Marco Gerardo Monroy Cabra.
At a later date, Ambassador Sevilla Sacasa and the Executive Secretary of the IACHR, Dr. Edmundo Vargas Carreño, duly instructed by the Commission, agreed, in principle, on the month of November as the best date in which to conduct the on-site observation in Nicaragua.
THE SITUATION WORSENS
Violence continued during the month of July due to demonstrations related to the situation of political prisoners, the closing of a radio station belonging to the opposition, and the arrival in Nicaragua of the “Group of Twelve”.2 At least 18 civilians died when demonstrations were dissolved in Jinotepe, Masaya and San Marcos. A general strike set for July 19 as a protest against repressive measures resulted in the closing of 75 percent of the business establishments and initiated a confrontation between the National Guard and citizens who supported the strike. Guerrilla activity increased with sporadic, but intensive, confrontations near the Costa Rican border, and on July 20, a rocket attack was launched from the Intercontinental Hotel in Managua against adjacent military installations.
Relative peace prevailed during the first half of August, but the violence was renewed on August 22 when guerrilla forces of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista Liberation Front) (FSLN)3 captured the National Palace, taking as hostages, members of Congress, important government officials and hundreds of persons who happened to be there. The hostages were exchanged for a number of political prisoners, money, and the necessary facilities so that the guerrilla fighters could abandon the country.
On August 25, the Frente Amplio de Oposición (Opposition Front) (FAO)4 organized a strike seeking the resignation of President Somoza. This gave rise to a new wave of violence during the last week of August and the first part of September; the cities of Jinotepe, Managua, Estelí, Diriamba and Matagalpa were most affected. In this last city there was a general uprising against the Government, which was suppressed after several days of fighting with the aid of attack airplanes and which resulted in a high cost of human lives. During the early days of September, the Government also arrested hundreds of members of the opposition as a result of these incidents.
THE COMMISSION ADVANCES THE DATE OF ITS VISIT TO NICARAGUA
In view of the serious events occurring in Nicaragua, and in answer to the request made to the IACHR by groups representative of the Nicaraguan community interested in the full enforcement of human rights in their country, the Commission decided to advance its visit to October 5, which was accepted by the Government of Nicaragua.
THE ASSAULTS OF SEPTEMBER
The violence reached its peak on September 9, when the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional attacked the National Guard detachment in the principal cities of the country in a coordinated and synchronized fashion. The FSLN was joined by many civilians, especially young people who dug ditches and set up barricades in the streets; the rebel forces fought with units of the National Guard in Managua, León, Chinandega, Estelí, Matagalpa, Masaya, Diriamba, Jinotepe and Rivas, and dominated the situation for a while in some of these places.
The Government suspended all constitutional guarantees, imposed martial law, and started to retake the cities, one by one. In those where resistance was heaviest, the population was bombarded and machine-gunned with heavy artillery, airplanes and helicopters, without distinction between combatants and the civilian population. In particular there was intense and indiscriminate bombardment of León, Masaya, Chinandega, and Estelí.
The Government succeeded in suppressing the insurrection after eleven days of fighting, Estelí being the last city in the hands of the insurgents to return to government control. Casualties were high among the civilians; according to early estimates by the Red Cross, at least 500 persons died in León and Estelí alone. Once the Government had reestablished control, numerous reports were received of atrocities committed by the National Guard, including mass murders of minors, and summary executions of civilians during the house-to-house searches carried out by the National Guard.
THE XVII MEETING OF CONSULTATION OF MINISTERS OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
As a consequence of the events occurring in Nicaragua, the Government of Venezuela, on September 2, proposed the convening of a Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in order to consider the internal situation of that country and its international implications. This proposal acquired greater urgency when the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica informed the Permanent Council of the OAS on September 15, of events occurring at the border of his country with Nicaragua, which, in his view, constituted a violation of Costa Rican sovereignty and territory.
In view of the request made by the Government of Venezuela, and observing with profound concern the occurrences in Central America, “whose seriousness affects peace in the region and creates a situation of urgent nature, and of common interest to the member States”, the Permanent Council, by resolution dated September 18, with 23 affirmative votes, convened the XVII Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, in accordance with part one of Article 59 of the Charter of the Organization of American States, to begin on September 21, in order to consider the “serious events in the Central American region.”
The XVII Meeting of Consultation adopted, on September 23, a resolution containing various introductory and operative paragraphs with regard to Nicaragua and the events occurring in Central America. With regard to the IACHR, paragraph 4 of said resolution reads as follows:
To take note that, having accepted the invitation of the Government of Nicaragua, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will visit that country, and to express the hope that the Commission may, in agreement with the government concerned, expedite its visit to Nicaragua, if possible.
THE COMMISSION DECIDES TO START ITS VISIT ON OCTOBER 3
The Commission, as expressed earlier, had decided to advance the date of its trip to October 5, but in view of the recommendations of the XVII Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the date of October 3 was established as the first day of its visit, which was accepted by the Government of Nicaragua.
On September 28, personnel of the Secretariat of the IACHR traveled to Managua in order to make preparations for the on-site observation, which, by invitation of the Government and in consideration of the resolution of the Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the Commission had decided to carry out in Nicaragua.
B. Activities carried out by the Special Commission in Nicaragua
THE VISIT BEGINS
On October 3, 1978, the Special Commission of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights initiated its activities in Nicaragua, with the presence of its Chairman, Dr. Andrés Aguilar M., and its members Drs. Carlos García Bauer, Tom Farer, Fernando Volio Jiménez and Marco Gerardo Monroy Cabra. Dr. Carlos A. Dunshee de Abranches, Vice Chairman of the Commission, arrived in Managua on the 6th, as previously agreed, and at once participated in the work of the Commission. Dr. Gabino Fraga was unable to take part in the visit for reasons of health.
Dr. Edmundo Vargas Carreño, Executive Secretary of the Commission, acted as Secretary, assisted by Drs. Charles Moyer, Assistant Executive Secretary, Roberto Alvarez and Jorge Suárez Marill, and by staff members Hilda Wicker, Elia Dodd and Marcela Chávez. During the visit, the offices of the Commission were located in the Hotel Camino Real in Managua.
The same day of the 3rd, the Commission met in order to adopt its work schedule. It also approved a press release and took the necessary measures to assure that it would be disseminated as widely as possible.
RECEPTION OF COMPLAINTS
Beginning the first day that the Special Commission set up its offices in the Hotel Camino Real of Managua, a constant parade of persons of all economic and social positions presented testimonies or complaints. The Commission maintained a full-time office at the hotel, with specialized personnel of the Secretariat assisting all people in the processing of complaints, explaining what the Commission could do for victims of violations of human rights, and filing out the necessary forms, since many persons could not read or write.
The Commission also received complaints of acts attributed to members of the FSLN. In view of the fact that such complaints, in light of the Statute and Regulations of the Commission, fall outside its competence, the Commission has not been able to give them the pertinent processing.
The office of the Commission was open ten hours daily until October 17, and everyone who visited it was attended to.
From the very first day in which the Special Commission was installed, leaders of institutions representing the Nicaraguan community requested to be heard.
The Special Commission first received members of the Permanent Commission of Human Rights in Nicaragua (CPDH) who described the dangers that they were facing because of their membership in the Commission, and stated, as an example, that only four days before, one of their members had been murdered and several others had been imprisoned. After an exchange of views on the general situation of human rights in Nicaragua, the Special Commission thanked the members of the Permanent Commission for their collaboration, which, together with information such as that from government sources and opposition sectors, would prove useful for the fulfillment of its mission. Finally, the Chairman told them that the Government of Nicaragua was obligated to respect the people and institutions who supplied information or presented testimonies to the Special Commission during the visit.
On Wednesday, October 4, the Commission received Mr. Adolfo Calero Portocarrero, who stated that he had been imprisoned in the Cuartel Central of Managua from September 4 to 27, without ever being informed of the reason for his arrest or brought to trial. Mr. Calero, the National Coordinator for the Authentic Conservative Party, also gave an account of what had occurred in the country during the present year.
The Commission also received Messrs. Alvaro and Eduardo Chamorro, Vice President and Secretary General, respectively, of the Conservative Party of Nicaragua. Both expressed their opinions on the status of human rights in Nicaragua and in particular on those aspects concerning political rights.
INTERVIEW WITH THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC
At 11:00 a,m. on October 4, the Special Commission went to the Casino Militar, where the President of the Republic, General Anastasio Somoza Debayle, presented them to the members of his Cabinet, the Supreme Court of Justice, the Military Staff (Estado Mayor del Ejército), and other officials.
Immediately thereafter, the President read a speech in which, among other things, he expressed his gratitude for having accepted his invitation to visit Nicaragua adding that as President “I deem it to be my duty to faithfully obey the commitments of my Government within the regional Inter-American system hoping that you, in representation of the Organization which you so well represent, will find within the scope of national sovereignty our observance of human rights, thus fulfilling the resolutions which have the noble objective of assuring dignity and freedom to the people throughout the national territory.”
In another part of his speech, President Somoza recalled the crisis that his country had experienced in September, which, in his opinion, consisted of an attempt to overthrow the constitutional government of the Republic by means of violence and terrorism carried out through communist raids on military and police installations and defenseless cities, with the shedding of blood, pillaging, looting, arson and damage to private property. He concluded that the presence of the Commission “would not only bring peace to the men of the government, but also to those who oppose us.”
At the end of his speech, the President invited the members of the Commission to his private office, where they mainly conversed about the manner in which the Commission would conduct its observation in Nicaragua. General Somoza also reaffirmed the offer of his government to facilitate in any way possible the work of the Commission, and reiterated his commitment that no reprisals would be taken against those persons and institutions who cooperated with it during its stay in Nicaragua.
INTERVIEWS WITH THE POLITICAL COMMISSION OF FAO, THE ARCHBISHOP OF MANAGUA AND THE RED CROSS
In the afternoon of October 4, the Political Commission of the Frente Amplio Opositor (FAO) represented by Messrs. Rafael Córdoba Rivas, Sergio Ramírez Mercado and Alfonso Robelo Callejas, met with the Special Commission. In addition to presenting a general outline of the situation in Nicaragua, the members of the Political Commission of FAO suggested that the Special Commission might have difficulties in fulfilling its mission because most people were unaware of its presence in Nicaragua due to the restrictions on freedom of expression and dissemination of ideas.
The Special Commission then visited the Archbishop of Managua, Msgr. Miguel Obando y Bravo, who was accompanied by the Vicar General, Msgr. Bosco Vivas and other priests of the Archbishop's curia. Archbishop Obando discussed what he called the “complicated situation” existing in the country, which had been aggravated in January of this year by the assassination of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro. Vicar Vives then pointed out several cases of persecution against the Church and Catholic priests by the authorities.
Finally, that same day, the Special Commission received in its office a delegation of the Red Cross, composed of Mr. Ismael Reyes, President of the Red Cross of Nicaragua, Dr. Leopoldo Navarro, Secretary General, Lic. Jaime Morales Carazo and Mr. Raymond Chevalley, Regional Delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross. They immediately made the point that there were no guarantees for the staff of the Red Cross nor respect for its emblem. As an example, they pointed to the case of the two corpsmen who were killed in a convoy taking medicines and food to the city of Chinandega. They also discussed the humanitarian aspects of their work during the conflicts, as well as the assistance they had provided the victims. In view of the curfew and the late hour, it was agreed to meet again at a later date.
VISIT TO LEON
At 7 a.m. on Thursday, October 5, the Special Commission left for León. It held a meeting at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (UNAN) attended by, among others, the President and Vice President of UNAN, Drs. Mariano Fiallos Oyanguren and Santiago Chaves Escoto, respectively, the Bishop of León and President of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, Msgr. Manuel Salazar Espinoza, the President of the Bar Association of León, Dr. Oscar Herdocia Lacayo, the President of the Red Cross of León, Ing. Pedro Bustillo Lacayo, the Director of the El Centroamericano newspaper, Dr. Rodolfo Abaunza Salinas and Dr. Julio C. Terán, of the Medical Society of León.
During the meeting, which was most useful, the Commission listened to presentations of a general nature, delivered by various representatives, which dealt with diverse aspects of national life, from colonial times to the most recent events.
The Commission then divided into four groups and visited the business area of León, the new district of Guadalupe, a place called “La Arrocera”, San Juan barrio (neighborhood) and areas surrounding the Nica movie house, the headquarters of the Central Obrera, San José barrio, next to the Hippodrome, the headquarters of the Red Cross, the San Vicente Hospital-School, the National Institute of Social Security (INSS), the Laborío barrio, the Church of San Nicolás, the School of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, San Pedro Sur de Subtiava and Zaragosa barrios. At these places, the members of the Commission spoke directly to a great number of residents of these neighborhoods. In the Hospital San Vicente, the Commission was told of a doctor who had been arrested in the midst of performing an operation and was obliged to abandon his patient. This was ratified by the director of the Hospital and by the Medical Association. During its visit to the National Institute of Social Security, the Commission was also able to prove that the third and fourth floors were still occupied by the National Guard and that the wounded who were being treated there could not present their testimonies because of the fear caused by the guards who were constantly watching their rooms. A complaint was also received from a woman who stated that members of the Sandinista Front had wounded her husband, leaving him an invalid. While the Special Commission was making these visits, personnel from the Secretariat were interviewing those persons who wished to present complaints of violations of human rights.
At approximately 3 p.m., the Commission visited the Command Post of the National Guard in León, under the command of Col. Simeón González. The interview with this officer dealt with recent events occurring in León, the members of the military staff under his command, as well as questions regarding people detained in the jail of that city. Immediately after this interview, the Commission crossed the street to visit the prisoners in the Cuartel Destacamento of the National Guard, popularly known as “Cárcel La Veintiuno”. There, the Commission proceeded to interrogate the eight prisoners on aspects related to their detention and imprisonment.
VISIT TO ESTELÍ
On Friday, October 6, members of the Special Commission visited the city of Estelí, arriving there at 9 a.m. The Special Commission visited the school, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, where its members had the opportunity to talk to several people who offered their opinions of the general situation of human rights in Nicaragua and of the events that had recently taken place in Estelí. As they had done in León, the Commission broke up into several groups and immediately visited most of the city, interviewing residents at the following places: the business center and surrounding areas (the Bank of America, the National Bank, INFONAC, the Nicaraguan Bank, the Inmobiliaria, etc.), the Cathedral, the barrios of Bohío, Bella Vista, El Rosario, San Antonio, and El Calvario, as well as its church and other areas.
In Estelí the Commission also interviewed the local authorities among them, the Governor, Mayor, President of the Tribunal de Segunda Instancia, authorities in charge of public services and representatives of peasants and workers. These officials reported on what had happened in September and the abuses which, according to them, were committed by members of the Frente Sandinista. The Commission was informed during those interviews and by other reliable sources of the death of a priest by members of the National Guard and the detention before September 9, of a broad range of the inhabitants of Estelí, who had yet to be judged or sentenced. During the afternoon, the Commission visited the Command Post of the National Guard of Estelí, where it interviewed General Armando Fernández, Chief of the Military Staff of the National Guard, Col. Gonzalo Martínez, local commander of the National Guard in Estelí, and Major Arturo Vallejo. General Fernández explained his presence in the city of Estelí and presented a report of the fighting that had taken place there. The members of the Special Commission raised several questions about the vast destruction in Estelí and the reasons for the bombardment and machine-gunning by the Nicaraguan Air Force, which were allegedly carried out indiscriminately against the civilian population; General Fernández, basing his reasoning on military considerations, gave the Special Commission an explanation of the development of the events, denying that there had been any indiscriminate bombing or machine-gunning of the city.
Once the interview had ended, the Commission visited with approximately one dozen prisoners who had been there since September 6 of this year and spoke to them in private and at length about their detention and the conditions under which they were being held.
The Special Commission then traveled to the city of Matagalpa, but due to the late hour, only established a brief contact with a few people in that city. The Commission decided that it would return for another visit, which it did on October 9.
VISITS TO MASAYA, DIRIAMBA, JINOTEPE AND GRANADA
On Saturday, October 7, the Special Commission divided into two groups, one traveling to Masaya and the other to Diriamba, Jinotepe and Granada.
The members of the Special Commission that traveled to Masaya interviewed representatives of the Catholic Church, and business, political, humanitarian and professional groups of that city. They also visited the Santa Teresita school, the market, the Salesian school, and Monimbó barrio where they listened to testimonies from several people. The Commission ascertained that the tower of the church Nuestra Señora de la Asunción was still being occupied by members of the National Guard. While the Commission visited the city, staff from the Secretariat of the IACHR spoke with many persons who came to an office set up in that town to report violations of human rights.
The Commission also visited the Cuartel General of the National Guard under the command of General Fermín Meneses Gallo, who gave an account of what had taken place in Masaya starting on July 3 of this year, when he had assumed command of the post. He denied complaints received by the Commission that troops of the Guard had mistreated several priests on various occasions and added that, on the contrary, weapons had once been found in the Magdalena Church, and on another occasion a religious service was interrupted because a bomb had been thrown at the Cuartel General (barracks and headquarters) of the Guard from the church. He said that the troops had behaved correctly with regard to the clergy and churchgoers. The General also stated that in the attack on Masaya the Sandinistas were armed not only with pistols and 22-caliber rifles, but also with heavy weapons. He further rejected the complaints of participation of “mercenaries” in the fighting, stating that all the members of the Guard are Nicaraguans.
The Commission then privately interviewed the 47 prisoners held in the Masaya jail. During this visit, the presence of a member of the National Guard was detected among the prisoners; upon interrogation by members of the Commission, he replied that he had been ordered to mingle among the prisoners. An energetic protest was made to General Meneses and he ordered the withdrawal of the soldier. After receiving full testimony on the personal situation of several prisoners and of the prison conditions, the Special Commission returned to Managua.
Early in the morning of Saturday, October 7, three other members of the Special Commission visited Diriamba. After visiting parts of the town, where they inspected some buildings that had been affected by the events of last September, such as the Basilica and the Churches of San José and San Caralapio, they separated into two groups.
While one of them, assisted by the Secretariat staff, received complaints from those residents who wished to present them, another group went to the Military Command Post where they inspected the prison cells.
A little before noon, the members of the Special Commission traveled to Jinotepe. There, in the San Pablo house, they listened to testimonies and information provided by various persons who represented the local residents. Members of the Special Commission and Secretariat remained there and received complaints of alleged violations of human rights.
Meanwhile, another member and one lawyer from the Secretariat visited the Command Post of the National Guard where they were received by its Commander, Col. Rafael Lola, from whom they requested information concerning the circumstances under which certain deaths had occurred in the area under his jurisdiction and with regard to the political prisoners who were being held in the prison of the command post.
During the interview, Commander Lola confirmed the death of a 12 year old boy, Manuel Jesús Rivera, known as “the mascot”, who had been machine-gunned to death only two days earlier (October 5), and three days after the fighting, by soldiers of the National Guard who discovered him hiding in the market of Diriamba. Commander Lola alleged that “he was a boy who helped the guerrillas”. Col. Lola agreed to send a written report to the offices of the Commission in Managua explaining the circumstances of the Rivera Boy's death. However, by the date of the departure of the last member of the mission, October 18, it had not been received.
This group also closely inspected the prisons, verifying the deplorable sanitary and crowded conditions. Many of the prisoners stated that they had been tortured.
On Saturday afternoon October 7, members of the Special Commission traveled to Granada where they met in the Alhambra Hotel with a group of lawyers, businessmen, and representatives of the Red Cross and the Permanent Commission of Human Rights in Granada. They informed the Commission that although Granada was the only important city in the coastal Pacific area that had not been affected by the events of last September, it had not escaped the general repression plaguing the entire country. During the meeting, members of the Special Commission also talked with several lawyers regarding certain cases which had previously been submitted to the consideration of the IACHR and which affected residents of Granada.
As had been the case in Diriamba and Jinotepe, the members of the Special Commission then broke up into two groups, one went to the church of the city where numerous complaints of alleged violations of human rights were presented; the second group visited the “La Pólvora” jail, where they spoke in private with several political prisoners, who, in general, stated that they had been well treated by the commander and other officers of the National Guard of Granada, although some of them alleged that they had been tortured before coming to “La Pólvora”.
The Special Commission returned to Managua at 7 p.m.
VISITS TO DISTRICTS OF MANAGUA
On Sunday, October 8, the Commission visited the parishes of the following densely populated district of Managua: Riguero, OPEN Nº 3, las Américas Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4, Colonia “14 de septiembre” and Lerrey-naga. The members of the Commission spoke with residents in all of the districts and received complaints of alleged violations of human rights from several persons who seemed to be afraid of the National Guard, a fear that was noticed everywhere.
That same day the Commission also visited the Tenth Police Precinct, under the command of Sergeant Alberto Gutiérrez. The detention and transfer to that prison of a young 15 year old had been reported to the Commission by relatives, who, however, had not been able to determine the exact place of his detention. A search did not turn up the youth but the Special Commission did speak with some prisoners.
VISITS TO CHINANDEGA AND MATAGALPA
On Monday, October 9, the Special Commission divided into two groups in order to visit Chinandega and Matagalpa.
Shortly after 9 a.m., members of the Special Commission arrived in Chinandega. In order to advise the residents of the presence of the Commission, a brief press release was drafted and broadcast over the two local radio stations. The Commission held an interesting interview with Msgr. Padilla of the Santa Ana Parish.
The Commission then made an extensive trip around town, covering among other places, the Colonia Venerio, El Calvario barrio, the Church of “La Hermita”, the Red Cross and Fire Department. In Chinandega, the Commission was able to verify the indiscriminate bombing of Colonia Venerio and the extensive machine-gunning of the “La Hermita” church with large-caliber weapons. Complaints were received about abuses by the National Guard in appropriating objects during house searches. The Commission inspected the place where young people who had died in combat had been buried and received complaints from the Red Cross that they had not been allowed to carry out their humanitarian mission. Furthermore, the Commission saw that the primary school had been bombed and machine-gunned and noted that there were three graves on the school grounds, which according to some residents, held the remains of nine youths killed by the National Guard.
Meanwhile, the Secretariat staff remained in the parish house of the Calvario Church, receiving people who wished to testify or complain of violations of human rights.
In the afternoon, the Commission went to the Cuartel of the National Guard and after talking at length with Lt. Col. Oscar Gómez Urbina, Deputy Commander of the Chinandega Cuartel, they inspected the prison and met in private with eight political prisoners. The Commission then returned to Managua.
The group began its visit to Matagalpa with a general tour of the city, and immediately thereafter received complaints from various persons of the area in an office set up in the city. The Special Commission visited the Jefatura Política of Matagalpa, where it met with Dr. Carlos Rivas Cerna, who, besides being a District Civil Judge (Juez del Distrito en lo Civil), had that same day been appointed Political Judge (Juez Político). The interview dealt with the duties of the Political Judge and the authority of the Police Judge (Juez de Policía). During the meeting, Mr. Luis Zeledón Beltrán, Police Judge, arrived and spoke at length about his work. This interview, dealing with certain aspects of the Judicial Power, particularly with the procedures pertaining to the Police Regulations, proved to be very useful to the members of the Special Commission. In addition, a visit was made to the District Criminal Judge, Dr. Alberto Napoleón González Cordero; he, too, explained matters related to his work.
The Special Commission next visited Msgr. Julián Barni, Bishop of Matagalpa in the Ecclesiastic Curia. He presented report on the events that had taken place in Matagalpa and gave a complete account of their causes.
At the next meeting, Mr. Eudoro Reyes, President of the Red Cross of Matagalpa, and other members of that group, gave a detailed account to the Special Commission of the work carried out by their institution during the combat.
During the visit, the Commission visited a house where the body of the youth Salvador Argüello was lying. This young man had been arrested on September 30, and freed on October 2. His body had been found, with visible marks of torture, at 6 a.m. that day in a trash bin in the streets of Matagalpa.
Finally, the Special Commission visited the Command Post of Matagalpa and talked to its Commander, Col. Rafael Martínez, who made some general statements on the events, but stated that he had arrived in Matagalpa only three days previously. With regard to the case of Salvador Argüello he stated that he had been found with a package of marijuana and that apparently his death was drug-related; he admitted, however, that this was the first time he had come across a drug-related murder.
VISIT TO THE SUPREME COURT OF JUSTICE
On Tuesday, October 10, at 8:30, the Commission met with members of the Supreme Court of Justice of Nicaragua.
The President of the Court explained the functions of the Supreme Court in particular, and the Judicial Power in general.
The members of the Special Commission stated that they had encountered many problems related to the administration of justice and due process in Nicaragua, especially in cases pertaining to police judges. They also raised questions related to delays in setting up military tribunals, the lack of procedural guarantees provided in these trials, and the slowness with which these procedures are carried out.
A member of the court replied that military tribunals were just being established, and that they are formed by high-ranking officers (generals and colonels). Another magistrate, also belonging to the official Liberal Party, pointed out that in Nicaragua there were many military men who were lawyers and that the organization of the National Guard is not based on Latin but on Saxon law; that it was, specifically, North American. He added that “military men may judge civilians, this is nothing new, but very old; it is not done by ignorant men, but by military men who have studied law; there are more than 25 military lawyers. Civilian lawyers are also called in for consultation”.
One member of the Court, belonging to the Conservative Party, stated that he was not in agreement that military men should judge civilians and stated that the military men themselves felt that they are not qualified to carry out this role, and that therefore very often civilian judges were called in. He stated further that “I am devoted to civil liberty, I do not believe in military courts”.
Finally, in reply to an observation to the effect that the Special Commission, during visits to various cities, had noted the absence of police forces, and that the National Guard, aside from being an army, carried out police duties as well, the President of the Court stated that the National Guard was divided into areas that included a police, as well as a judicial police force. He added that although there was no civilian police force, all had received military training—good training—and that there were also police schools, both traffic and other kinds.
VISIT TO THE NATIONAL CONGRESS
The Commission arrived at the National Palace of Nicaragua shortly after 10:30 a.m., where they were received by the President and Vice President of the National Congress, Dr. Francisco Urcuyo Maliaño and Ing. Luis H. Pallais Debayle, respectively, as well as by other members of that body.
During the interview, the legislators expressed at length their viewpoints regarding the events that had taken place in the country, the visit of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Nicaragua, as well as several other matters.
The members of the Commission explained to the congressmen the nature of the mandate of the Commission, as well as its functions.
VISIT TO THE SUPREME ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL
At noon, the Special Commission visited the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which in Nicaragua represents the Fourth Power of the State, made up of three magistrates belonging to the majority Liberal Party and two others appointed by the minority Conservative Party. The Special Commission was received by its President, Dr. Leonte Valle López, and three other magistrates.
During this interview the magistrates talked to the members of the Commission about the electoral system prevailing in Nicaragua and the role played by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.
One of the difficulties noted during the course of the interview was that the great majority of the population does not possess identity cards, which, in the opinion of the magistrates of the Conservative Party, had been the cause of electoral fraud on several occasions in the past.
According to information provided to the Special Commission at that time, only 70,891 identity cards had been approved up to June 30, 1978, 34,775 had been issued, and 22,030 had actually been distributed; these figures represent a minute percentage of the Nicaraguan population.
OTHER INTERVIEWS HELD BY THE SPECIAL COMMISSION
In the afternoon of Tuesday, October 10, the Commission heard testimony of representatives of various institutions who had requested interviews. At these meetings, the groups presented their viewpoints on the general situation of human rights in Nicaragua, and in particular, focused on the observance of the rights that directly affect them.
The institutions represented at these meetings were: representatives of the political parties of the Frente Amplio Opositor (FAO); the Association of Professors of the Recinto Universitario Rubén Darío, the Permanent Commission of Human Rights in Nicaragua; the President, Vice President and Dean of the School of Law of the Central American University of Nicaragua; and Drs. Gonzalo Solórzano Bell and Francisco Barberene Bendaña, magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal for the Conservative Party.
VISITS TO THE MINISTERS OF GOVERNMENT AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS
On Wednesday, October 11, at 8:30 a.m., the Special Commission met with the Minister of Government (Gobernación), Ing. José Antonio Mora Rostrán.
The Minister made some statements regarding his work and various aspects of the general situation of the country.
During this interview, the matter of the administration of justice by police judges was entered into specifically, as well as the fact that the Special Commission had been able to verify that in many cases the prisoners had served their full sentences before the political judges had decided the appeal. He was also asked about martial law and the composition of the military courts. The Minister explained that these courts were being organized, and that some persons detained in Estelí would be judged by these courts, although their arrests had been made before the enforcement of martial law, stating that “they were the leaders of the movement.”
When he as advised of the cases of torture and mistreatment verified by the Special Commission in the jails of the country, the Minister merely stated that he was opposed to the practice of torture.
In view of the concern of the Commission for the fact that hundreds of minors were being held alongside adults in the detention centers, Minister Mora Rostrán shared the concern of the Commission and stated that the necessary measures would be taken to avoid that this situation continue in the future.
At 10 a.m., the Special Commission interviewed the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Julio César Quintana Villanueva.
Minister Quintana spoke of the interest of the Government of Nicaragua in the visit of the Commission and stated that the government had been mindful of the progress of the Commission's work in the country. He then presented documentation for the consideration of the IACHR.
The Foreign Minister was advised of the situation of people claiming political asylum in several of the Latin American embassies in Managua and he replied that the order had already been given to prepare safe conducts for all but two of these persons.
As to the possibility that the Government might take reprisals against persons or institutions that had collaborated with the Commission, or which had presented complaints to it, he emphatically said “there shall be no reprisals” and added that it would be “dishonorable” for the Government and that, therefore, nobody would be harmed.
Finally, Dr. Quintana informed the Commission that freedom of press and radio would be re-established and that the state of siege would be lifted, but that at this time “the possibility of keeping it in some places where there are still certain pockets of opposition” was being considered.
VISITS TO JAILS
At the end of the interview with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Commission broke into two groups in order to inspect the jail of the Managua Police Station (Central de Policía de Managua), known as the “Aviation Jail”, and the Penal Center for Social Rehabilitation of Tipitapa, popularly known as the Cárcel Modelo.
MANAGUA POLICE STATION
On arriving at that site, the Special Commission first met with the Commander of the station, Col. Nicolás Valle Salinas. Col. Valle provided certain explanations to the members about his functions, as well as information on persons being held there.
The Special Commission then inspected the places of detention and interviewed the prisoners. The Commission found a total of 190 prisoners both men and women, approximately 94 of whom were imprisoned for political reasons. After a thorough visit, where the Commission received extensive testimony and verified the situation of the prisoners both in those cells known as “la Chiquita” (the small one) and “la burguesa” (the bourgeois), as well as in others, they again met with Commander Valle Salinas.
At that time, the Commission expressed some concern regarding the situation of several minors who were there and gave him the names of two members of the Guard who had been mentioned repeatedly to the Commission, by several sources, as persons who treated the prisoners in a cruel and inhuman manner. Commander Valle stated that he had already received complaints about one of them and promised to take immediate disciplinary measures.
PENAL CENTER OF SOCIAL REHABILITATION OF TIPITAPA
At around noontime, members of the Special Commission and lawyers of the Secretariat arrived at the Penal Center for Social Rehabilitation of Tipitapa, known also as “Cárcel Modelo” (Model Jail) where they were received by its Commander, Col. Ricardo Lau Castillo.
Col. Lau Castillo explained the general functions of the jail, pointing out that political prisoners were held separately from common prisoners, and that, of the 370 inmates at the present time, about 80 could be considered political prisoners. He added that all the penal population had in fact been sentenced.
The Special Commission then made a thorough inspection of the various cell blocks, interviewing in private both common and political prisoners. The main complaint, received from several of the former, was that, according to them, they had already served the sentence imposed on them, but had not been set free.
As for the political prisoners, most of them had been recently sentenced after the events of last September. Some of them were minors, 14 and 15 years old.
Among the political prisoners there were about ten belonging to the Sandinista Front, who had already been imprisoned for several years, and who had not been “liberated” after the raid last August of the National Palace. Most of them complained that there was no adequate medical attention.
Finally, the members of the Special Commission again interviewed Col. Lau Castillo and advised him of the principal complaints and concerns of the prisoners, as well as their own impressions regarding conditions in the jail, which, except for some aspects such as those relating to the short time that prisoners were allowed to be out in the open air, were found satisfactory.
CONTINUATION OF THE INTERVIEWS
On the afternoon of Wednesday, October 11, as on the previous day, the Special Commission received those persons and representatives of institutions that had requested hearings, all of whom presented their respective viewpoints regarding the status of human rights in Nicaragua. Those hear on this day included: Newspapermen Union of Nicaragua; representatives of the Nicaraguan Institute for Development (INDE); Capuchine Father of the Department of Zelaya; directors of the La Prensa newspaper; and representatives of the Nicaraguan Red Cross.
It should be noted at this point that the Special Commission, in spite of the intensive schedule of activities in the short period of time available, did not refuse to hear any person or institution which had so requested.
VISIT TO THE SECURITY OFFICE
On Thursday, October 12, the Special Commission visited the National Security Office, located in Managua on the Loma de Tiscapa.
After several attempts to reach the Security Officer, the Commission was received by the Officer of the day, Captain Moisés B. Sediles Méndez, of the Signal Corps, in view of the fact that Col. Bayardo Girón, Chief of the Office, was not present.
Captain Sediles informed the Commission about the authority of the Security Office and conducted them on a tour of its facilities. The Commission could verify that, on the western side of the building, there were three cells, next to a high rocky retaining wall. These cells, approximately 4 meters square, lacked any kind of ventilation, as there were no windows. When asked whether there were any underground cells, Captain Sediles replied that he had heard that they had existed, but that he believed that they had been destroyed during the earthquake of 1973. He stated that it was possible that the prisoners in the Security Office might think that they were in an underground cell, due to the fact that they had been blindfolded when they were taken to the cell, and had to go down a ramp, thereafter going through a very narrow passage, one of the sides of which is the rocky wall.
On the other hand, he stated that the prisoners are not mistreated, but admitted that they were made to do calisthenics so they would become tired and would talk.
As the Commission was getting ready to leave, Col. Girón arrived. He was asked for additional information, as well as a list of the prisoners held since September 1 of this year. He answered the questions and promised to send the list to the office of the Commission. As of this date, it has not been received.
CONCLUSION ON THE ON-SITE OBSERVATION
With the visit to the Security Offices, the on-site observation that had been undertaken by the Special Commission of the IACHR in Nicaragua came to an end.
At the conclusion of their activities, the Special Commission published a press release in which, after reporting on the various activities undertaken, it expressed its thanks to the Government of Nicaragua for the facilities it had granted the Commission to fulfill its mission and expressed its gratitude to all persons and institutions who had cooperated with the Commission so that it could better understand the true situation of Nicaragua in the field of human rights. It added that all those persons and institutions were protected by the repeated assurances of the Government of Nicaragua that it would not take any reprisals against them for having supplied information or testimony of any kind.
On that same day, Thursday, October 12, the last members of the Special Commission remaining in Nicaragua returned to their homes, while the personnel of the Secretariat remained in the country for six more days, in order to fulfill several duties entrusted to them by the Commission, and in order to continue receiving complaints of those persons wishing to present them.
C. Nature and Scope of the Present Report
This report presents a basic narration of the on-site observation undertaken by the Commission. From the information thus obtained as well as that gathered from other sources, the report comments briefly in the following chapters on the legal emergency status that is now in force, and the status of the observance in Nicaragua of the fundamental rights of life, liberty and personal security; freedom of expression and thought; religious freedom and worship; assembly and association; and finally, a list of pertinent conclusions.
The seriousness of the events witnessed by the Commission during its visit to Nicaragua and the urgent need that these be brought to the attention of the competent organs of the OAS, especially the XVII Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, has led the IACHR to adopt this kind of report and to present it promptly to that body.
This serious situation, in the opinion of the Commission, should be brought to the attention of all the American governments and to the general public, as soon as possible.
The aforementioned reasons explain the nature of this report and its remittance to the XVII Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, which has taken note among other considerations of “the human suffering in Nicaragua”, and which, according to paragraph 6 of its Resolution dated September 23, remains open “while the present situation exists.”
This report takes into consideration the pertinent observations and comments made by the Government of Nicaragua in the note of November 15, 1978, signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua, and its appendices.
1 Political movement of the opposition, of which Dr. Chamorro was a leader. It is comprised of the following political parties and trade union confederations: Partido Liberal Independiente, Movimiento Liberal Constitucionalista, Acción Nacional Conservadora, Partido Socialista Nicaragüense, Partido Social Cristiano Nicaragüense, Confederación General del Trabajo Independiente and Central de Trabajadores de Nicaragua. Its current President is Dr. Rafael Córdoba Rivas.
2 Known by this name because it is made up of twelve well-known intellectual, professional and religious personalities who oppose the Government.
3 Revolutionary organizations fighting for the overthrow of the present government. Its name is derived from Gen. Augusto César Sandino, who in the 30's fought the North American intervention. At present, the FSLN is divided into three main factions: the Tercerista which is the most numerous, and which carried out the assault on the National Palace, the Proletaria, and the Guerra Popular Prolongada.
4 Group of political parties and movements of the opposition. Besides UDEL, the parties and trade unions, it also includes the Conservative Party of Nicaragua (Partido Conservador de Nicaragua), the Authentic Conservative Party (Partido Conservador Auténtico), the Group of 12 (Grupo de los Doce), the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (Movimiento Democrático Nicaragüense), and the National Unification Confederation (Confederación de Unificación Nacional).