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Antonia Urrejola: “To dismantle the police state, reestablishing liberties is the first step”

IACHR president highlights contribution of journalism, civil society and Mothers of April, to document human rights violations

The report “Concentration of Power and Weakening of the Rule of Law in Nicaragua” conducted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), determined that the concentration of power of the Nicaraguan government, led by the Ortega-Murillo regime in the last 14 years, has facilitated the imposition of a police state in Nicaragua, especially since the beginning of the socio-political crisis in April 2018.  

For Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, president of the IACHR and rapporteur for Nicaragua, the police state that the Ortega regime maintains in the country can be dismantled, but she stressed that it would be a “long” process, which “in the first place” would require the realization of “fair, transparent elections, with guarantees for democratic elections”.

In an interview with the program Esta Semana, broadcast this Sunday at 8:00 p.m. on the Confidencial Youtube and Facebook platforms, the human rights defender explained that the study they published last October 28, includes recommendations which, if implemented, would help to dismantle the police state imposed by the Ortega Murillo regime.

Among the eight recommendations issued by the IACHR to the State of Nicaragua, the call for the reestablishment of democratic institutionality, the full force of the rule of law and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, stand out.

The Inter-American Commission has presented a new report on the concentration of power and the weakening of the rule of law in Nicaragua, which culminates in the annulment of the political right to elect and be elected in the November 7 elections. What does the Commission propose to the foreign ministers and member states of the OAS, who are going to meet in November and will surely deliberate on the crisis in Nicaragua? 

The report makes two very precise recommendations to the OAS member states and the international community: one, that they demand that the Nicaraguan government hold free, transparent and fair elections, which are among the very recommendations made by the international community and, on the other hand, it proposes that they demand that the Nicaraguan State put an immediate end to the repression and arbitrary detentions, as well as the other human rights violations that have been taking place in the country, especially since the serious human rights crisis in 2018.

In March 2019, during the second national dialogue, the Ortega government even signed an agreement with the Civic Alliance, committing to reestablish democratic freedoms; however, not only did it not comply with this agreement, but it also hardened the police state. How can a police state be dismantled when the regime itself is clinging to it and hardening it?

It is a very long process, but there are many actions to be taken, especially in the Nicaraguan situation. The first thing is to reestablish the freedoms that have not existed in Nicaragua for quite some time; secondly, to generate confidence in the institutions, how can this be done? Well, the institutions and their members must be substantially modified, a new Judicial Power must be created, a new Public Ministry, a professional police force must be created, which is not politicized and does not respond to the Government in power,  but is independent and professional. Open the processes of justice and reparation and, above all, punish those responsible, because as long as there is impunity, a police state continues to act; create democratic institutionality, repeal the laws that have been passed in the last year. In general, all the recommendations we make in this report tend precisely to dismantle this police state, but it is a long process that requires first of all fair, transparent elections, with guarantees of democratic elections.

What lessons has the Commission learned from this human rights situation in Nicaragua?  Is there any progress in terms of what you have proposed in your recommendations or are we going backwards?

No, I believe there is no progress. On the contrary, I believe that the concentration of power that we already saw in 2018 is consolidated. The lack of independence of the different powers of the State has been consolidated and the institutional weakness of the democratic institutions, proper of a rule of law, has been consolidated. Structural impunity has been consolidated and I believe that there is no progress. And, as for lessons, the Commission has lessons of its own way of working, first of all. Now, in substantive terms, what lessons? The importance of pluralism, not only political pluralism, but also social pluralism.The importance of a democratic society, the importance of the independence of the Judiciary, the importance of checks and balances, but also the importance human rights defenders, the role that the legislative powers must play in a democracy, are lessons that one already knows, but Nicaragua has somehow demonstrated the importance of checks and balances, of accountability, of access to information, especially with what we have seen in the pandemic. As a lesson, I must also highlight the importance of civil society organizations and independent journalism. The Commission has been able to do its work without being able to visit Nicaragua, and it has been thanks to the constant work of human rights defenders and independent journalism, which have generated the information that has allowed us to carry out this monitoring. 

You are now a candidate for a new term as commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. What is your main proposal if elected?

The first thing is to face the challenges that the pandemic has left us in the region; I think it has been brutal in terms of human rights and has not only affected the most vulnerable groups, but the pandemic has also affected issues of access to economic and social structural rights. I think it is fundamental and it is the main challenge that we have to focus on, generating greater awareness. Also, in recent months, we have seen the importance of checks and balances in the rule of law for the guarantee of human rights, and the importance of judicial independence in different countries in the region, not only in Nicaragua. Another area of work that the Commission must promote more strongly is the importance of judicial independence in a democracy, for the exercise of human rights and to continue working.I am rapporteur on this issue, on the issue of memory, truth and justice, because the region continues to face structural impunity, not only Nicaragua, but the region, and it seems to me that there is a line of work that should be continued.  

When the Commission arrived in Nicaragua in May 2018, its main job was first to document the repression, to meet with the victims, and that is how the first report with recommendations to the State was made. How do you foresee the future of Nicaragua ? Today there is a state of total impunity. Is this demand for truth and justice on the country’s agenda, on the agenda of the OAS? 

I don’t see it on the country’s agenda in terms of the Government, of the State. It is not an agenda, that is to say, we permanently denounce this structural impunity, and I have pointed out that I am impressed by the speed with which, for example, the Judicial Power acted in the detention of more than 35 people of the opposition. It acted very efficiently, and it has not acted with any efficiency in the cases of more than 328 deaths in the context of the protests. Now, I cannot say if it is on the agenda of the OAS, but it is on the agenda of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and on my own agenda, as rapporteur for Memory, Truth and Justice. If I am reelected, I will continue to work on the issue of structural impunity, as a guarantee of non-repetition, and Nicaragua is a very important example. Furthermore, it is an issue that is on the agenda of civil society organizations. I would like to highlight the work they have done, especially looking at a medium and long term process, when democracy returns to Nicaragua, when there is a transitional justice process.

Is there hope for these demands for justice when the foundations of democracy have not been established?

I understand that sometimes one loses hope, but I think we must always have it. Sometimes the processes take time, but they arrive, that is why it is important not only not to lose hope, but to continue working with the perspective that justice will arrive at some point. That is why the importance of the testimonies, of the documentation and to continue working.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff

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