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Title:  Nicaragua Human Rights Practices, 1995   
Author:  U.S. Department of State    
Date:  March 1996    
 
 
 
 
                                 NICARAGUA 
 
 
Nicaragua is a constitutional democracy, with a directly elected 
President, Vice President, and a 92-member unicameral National Assembly.  
President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro was elected in a free and fair 
election in 1990, defeating the incumbent Sandinista National Liberation 
Front (FSLN) candidate, Daniel Ortega.  She delegated significant 
executive authority to her son-in-law, Antonio Lacayo, who served as 
Minister of the Presidency for 5 years until he resigned in September.  
The executive branch coexists with an increasingly activist National 
Assembly, whose powers were augmented as a result of reforms to the 1987 
Constitution which were enacted in July.  These reforms followed 9 
months of political and institutional struggle between the executive and 
legislative branches, which contributed to paralysis of the Supreme 
Court and interrupted the work of the Supreme Electoral Council (the two 
other coequal branches of government).  The stalemate was overcome only 
after Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo was brought in as a 
guarantor for the negotiated settlement. 
 
The President is commander-in-chief of the army and nominal Minister of 
Defense; there is no Defense Ministry.  On February 21, General Humberto 
Ortega stepped down after 16 years as head of the army, and President 
Chamorro named General Joaquin Cuadra as his successor for a 5-year term 
of office in accordance with the 1994 Military Code.  In a 
constitutional reform symbolic of strengthened civilian control and 
depoliticization of the military, the Sandinista Popular Army was 
officially renamed the Army of Nicaragua.  The Ministry of Government 
oversees the National Police, which are formally in charge of internal 
security; however, they share this responsibility on a de facto basis 
with the army in rural areas.  Members of the security forces committed 
human rights abuses. 
 
Nicaragua is an extremely poor country.  The economy is predominantly 
agricultural, dependent on sugar, beef, coffee, and seafood exports, 
with some light manufacturing.  The economy grew for the second year 
(after 10 years of negative growth) at a rate of 4 percent.  Despite 
significant foreign debt relief negotiated during the year, the country 
continued to have a precarious balance of payments position and remained 
heavily dependent on foreign assistance.  Although investment increased, 
the slow and complicated resolution of confiscated property claims and 
uncertainty over the political succession in 1996 continued to dampen 
the investment climate.  The estimated rate of unemployment was 18 
percent, while total unemployment and underemployment may have exceeded 
50 percent.  Inflation, which reached hyperinflation levels in the late-
1980's through 1990, was 11 percent in 1995.  The  estimated per capita 
annual income is $458. 
 
The security forces continued to commit human rights abuses, although 
fewer than in previous years.  Murders, extrajudicial killings, reports 
of torture and widespread mistreatment of detainees by police, and 
violence by criminal bands in rural areas of northern Nicaragua were 
common.  A January 6 incident near the northern town of La Maranosa 
resulted in the deaths of 13 members of a criminal band and 2 army 
personnel.  Local human rights groups pointed to credible evidence that 
the army ambushed the band, while the army claimed that it only acted in 
self-defense.  In May a civilian judge absolved army personnel of all 
wrongdoing. 
 
Since President Chamorro assumed office, the focus of international 
attention has been on safeguarding the human rights of former members of 
the Nicaraguan Resistance (RN) since most human rights observers, 
including the Sandinista-led Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights 
(CENIDH), acknowledge that more ex-RN than FSLN members have been 
homicide victims.  The Organization of American States International 
Support and Verification Commission (OAS/CIAV) recorded 370 ex-RN 
members killed from June 1990 through August 1995, with 71 of these 
deaths occurring during 1995.  The number and percentage of these deaths 
attributed to the security forces continued to decline from previous 
years.  The conviction rate among the killers, particularly but not 
exclusively of the ex-RN, was so low that a state of impunity could 
still be said to exist. 
 
The security forces continued to resist implementing recommendations 
issued by the Tripartite Commission composed of the Government, the 
Catholic Church, and OAS/CIAV.  In September the Commission submitted a 
fourth report to President Chamorro, covering an additional 33 cases, 
which showed that only 14 of 120 recommendations contained in the three 
previous commission reports had been complied with.  Of the 111 members 
of the security forces named in the report, only 4 were found guilty of 
homicide and 3 of negligence--none of whom served a full sentence.  In 
response to requests from the army and the Ministry of Government, 
President Chamorro asked the Supreme Court to review cases involving 
army and police officials whom the military court system had either 
found not guilty or failed to prosecute.  The Supreme Court agreed to 
this request, and a three-judge panel was named to review the cases.  By 
year's end, however, the panel had not ruled on a single case. 
 
A weak judiciary continued to hamper prosecution of human rights 
abusers.  Arbitrary arrest and detention, the slow pace of justice, and 
poor prison conditions also remained problems.  On December 13, the 
National Assembly passed legislation creating an independent Attorney 
General for Human Rights, to be staffed in 1996.  Violence against 
women, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem, 
but public officials took little effective action to counter it. 
 
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 
 
Section 1   Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 
from: 
 
   a.   Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 
 
The civil war formally concluded in June 1990 with the demobilization of 
the Nicaraguan Resistance; however, Nicaraguan society continued to be 
politically polarized and heavily armed.  In particular, the rule of law 
and basic infrastructure did not extend to rural areas.  Reflecting 
these sources of instability, the level of violence primarily criminal 
in nature has increased over previous years in the traditionally 
conflictive, poverty-stricken northern and north-central zones.  At the 
same time, OAS/CIAV reported that deaths of demobilized RN combatants 
attributed to police and army officials continued to fall, both in 
number and as a percentage of total homicides, from a monthly average of 
6.1 in 1990 to 1.1 in 1995.  The latter represents a 72 percent decrease 
from 1994.  A total of 71 deaths in 1995 brought to 370 the number of 
demobilized RN members who died under violent circumstances since the 
beginning of the Chamorro administration.  Of the 71 dead, according to 
OAS/CIAV, the security forces killed 13, and unknown other assailants 
killed 25.  OAS/CIAV attributed the remainder--33 deaths--to fellow ex-
RN members or to Recontras (rearmed resistance members). 
 
To address the issue of ex-RN deaths, President Chamorro established the 
Tripartite Commission in September 1992.  The Commission, composed of 
the civilian Government, the Catholic Church, and OAS/CIAV, issued three 
reports during 1993, covering investigations of 88 deaths and including 
120 recommendations for followup action by the Government and security 
forces, ranging from arrest of known perpetrators to investigations of 
probable obstruction of justice.  In September the Tripartite Commission 
submitted to President Chamorro a fourth report, covering an additional 
33 cases plus an evaluation of the compliance level of all 
recommendations contained in the three reports issued in 1993.  The 
Commission verified that only 14 of the 120 recommendations contained in 
the first three reports had been fully implemented.  Of 73 members of 
the police named in the three reports, 36 were tried on criminal charges 
and 5 were convicted.  Of 38 military officials named, 20 were tried and 
2 were convicted.  According to OAS/CIAV, none of those convicted served 
a complete sentence. 
 
Senior army and police officials had long impeded the work of the 
Tripartite Commission by refusing to implement its recommendations or 
respond to its requests for information.  However, on June 6 army 
commander General Joaquin Cuadra asked President Chamorro to have the 
Supreme Court review cases involving military personnel.  The Minister 
of Government submitted a similar request on July 11 for review of cases 
involving the police.  The Supreme Court president agreed to form a 
three-judge panel of court members to review the cases (10 from the army 
and 9 from the police) but had produced no rulings by year's end. 
 
Armed bandit groups blocked highways, burned vehicles, and engaged in 
robbery, kidnaping for ransom, and murder in the conflictive northern 
and north-central zones.  Clashes between these bands and security 
forces resulted in numerous deaths on both sides and heightened tensions 
in the area.  In response, the Government initiated "plan cafe" (also 
known as "plan norte") in November 1994.  During the succeeding 6 
months, the Government deployed increased numbers of army and police to 
guard coffee transport routes and to protect farmers from extortion or 
kidnaping.  Local human rights groups reported very few cases of human 
rights abuses by the security forces deployed in the plan, and producers 
gave the army and police high marks for responsiveness to public 
security needs. 
 
On the night of January 6, 11 members of the Meza family criminal band--
a group with a well-documented history of extortion, arson, and murder--
as well as 2 other civilians associated with the Mezas and 2 army 
enlisted men were killed under questionable circumstances near La 
Maranosa, in the northern department of Jinotega.  OAS/CIAV records 
listed two of the deceased (including one of the soldiers) as 
demobilized former RN members; up to three others may have also been 
associated with the RN.  The army contended that the 13 civilians, who 
were being transported in an army vehicle to a disarmament site but who 
had not yet been disarmed, attacked their military escorts, killing 2 
soldiers, and were themselves killed in an ensuing firefight with 
military personnel in a trailing vehicle.  Although a police 
investigation corroborated the army's version, local human rights 
groups, OAS/CIAV, and the National Assembly's Human Rights Commission 
issued reports to the contrary.  They cited forensic evidence, the 
volume of spent bullet cartridges and military supplies found in the 
vicinity, and eyewitnesses who claimed that the civilians had already 
been disarmed and that a squad of soldiers had deployed hours earlier at 
the site of the incident.  These organizations concluded that the army 
had carried out a premeditated ambush, even a massacre.  A civilian 
judge absolved the army of wrongdoing (see Section 1.e.). 
 
On July 14, police lieutenant Marvin Torres shot and killed Camilo 
Sanchez while interrogating him in a police detention cell.  Torres 
claimed that he shot Sanchez in anger after the latter confessed to 
sexually molesting a minor.  With full police cooperation, the Attorney 
General's office pressed charges against Torres.  Despite initial 
support for Torres from a public frustrated with the lack of successful 
prosecutions in child abuse cases, no evidence of Sanchez's confession 
existed except for Torres' testimony.  The judge charged Torres with 
murder and denied him bail.  Torres' trial was still pending at year's 
end. 
 
On the night of September 24, off-duty army Major Ivan Gutierrez was at 
a local amusement park with his family when some men made disparaging 
remarks about his daughter.  Gutierrez removed his family and returned 
to kill Carlos Jose Salinas.  According to eyewitnesses, Salinas was not 
even involved in the incident.  Gutierrez was charged on October 6 with 
homicide and imprisoned pending trial which had not begun by year's end. 
 
Many other incidents of political and extrajudicial killings dating as 
far back as 1990 remained unresolved by year's end.  In November 1991, a 
special Presidential Commission charged with investigating the February 
1991 assassination of former RN commander Enrique Bermudez was dissolved 
after it claimed that there was a lack of evidence.  The authorities 
took no action to reopen the case in 1995. 
 
On January 27, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights formally 
accepted the case of 16-year-old Jean Paul Genie for review on the 
charge of obstruction of justice.  Genie was slain in October 1990 in an 
incident involving the motorcade of then army commander General Humberto 
Ortega.  The Court rejected the Government's argument that it lacked 
authority in the case due to the fact that Nicaragua had not yet 
accepted the Court's jurisdiction at the time of the incident.  On 
December 9, the Court formally issued summonses for General Ortega, 
current army commander General Joaquin Cuadra, and four other government 
and army officials involved in the case to testify on September 6, 1996.  
While those involved claimed that the Inter-American Court had no 
jurisdiction in Nicaragua, the then vice Foreign Minister, Jose Pallais, 
called on all Nicaraguans to cooperate with the Court and to honor 
obligations to the international community, although he claimed that the 
witnesses were called before the Court as private citizens.  In June 
1994, a military court had declared General Ortega and his bodyguards 
innocent of the killing.  The Genie family appealed this decision to the 
Supreme Court, but by year's end the court had not ruled in the matter. 
 
On July 14, the Attorney General's office petitioned the Supreme 
Court to order the immediate arrest of former army Lieutenant Colonel 
Frank Ibarra.  Ibarra was sentenced in 1993 to 20 years' 
imprisonment for the November 1992 murder of Dr. Arges Sequeira Mangas, 
director of the Association of Nicaraguan Confiscated Property Owners.  
A Leon appellate court upheld the sentence in March 1994.  The Supreme 
Court has not ruled on the Attorney General's petition nor on an appeal 
filed by Ibarra's lawyer to overturn the appellate court ruling on the 
grounds that a presidential amnesty covered Ibarra's crime.  Ibarra has 
remained at large since Sequeira's death. 
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
While there were no reports of politically motivated disappearances in 
1995, there was no progress in resolving the case of Mario Benjamin 
Mendez.  He was last seen being led by three soldiers and a policeman 
into the mountains outside the northern town of Juigalpa on October 27, 
1994.  Mendez had been prominently involved in a local land dispute.  
Witnesses to the incident, one of whom police threatened and severely 
beat, identified the policeman and two of the soldiers.  The army 
subsequently reported that the two soldiers had deserted, and no action 
was ever taken against the policeman. 
 
   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
There were no confirmed reports of torture by the authorities during 
1995.  However, there were credible reports that police frequently beat 
and otherwise physically mistreated detainees, often to obtain 
confessions.  Human rights groups attributed these abuses in part to the 
prevailing state of impunity, as well as to a lack of training in 
sophisticated investigative techniques that would enable the police to 
avoid resorting to crude, often brutal methods.  CENIDH and other 
observers argued that the lack of adequate budget support for 
professional training, salaries and benefits, and proper equipment and 
supplies hampered efforts to improve police performance.  In addition, 
the physical remoteness of judicial centers prevents prisoners' 
relatives from personally monitoring the status of ongoing cases, which 
detracts from police responsiveness to the public. 
 
The Office of Civil Inspection for Professional Responsibility of the 
Ministry of Government also is responsible for monitoring allegations of 
illegal detention and police abuse.  Through October the office formally 
received 194 complaints.  However, the office concluded that only 33 of 
these were human rights cases; these figures represent a decline from 
the same period in 1994--341 and 47, respectively.  Civil inspection 
officials credit this drop in part to the public's willingness to 
present complaints directly to the police.  Because no internal 
mechanism exists, the office is unable to verify if those suspected of 
abuses are ever formally punished.  According to the office, the 
authorities did not punish any police official for any of the abuses 
recorded.  The unit's small budget and staff hamper the investigation of 
complaints, and no internal mechanism exists to pressure the Ministry of 
Government to take corrective action once the unit submits a complaint.  
Members of the unit consider its location in the Ministry building--
which during the Sandinista era was the site of the feared Interior 
Ministry--to be an intimidating factor for those seeking to lodge 
complaints of police or prison abuse. 
 
The prison system in Nicaragua remained overcrowded and underfunded, 
with medical attention virtually nonexistent and malnutrition a constant 
problem.  According to government statistics, prisons had an inmate 
population of 3,299, an average of 60 percent overcapacity, as of mid-
December.  The prisons of Esteli, Chinandega, and Juigalpa housed more 
than double their intended capacity.  The 1995 prison budget was 
actually less than the 1994 budget, although the inmate population 
increased by 12 percent.  Prison officials calculated that the daily 
expenditure on prisoners fell from $3.67 per prisoner in 1992 to $3.06 
in 1995.  Press reports at the end of the year announced the deaths of 
two inmates for lack of medical attention. 
 
An estimated 10 percent of the prison population was between the ages of 
15 and 18.  A lack of separate juvenile detention centers required 
youths to be housed in the same prisons as adults.  Although prison 
officials often tried to separate youths and adults in different wings 
of the institution, crowded conditions generally made it impossible to 
prevent juveniles' contact with older prisoners.  While only Managua has 
a separate prison for women, there have been no reports of problems 
ensuing from mixed facilities. 
 
Police station holding cells (where suspects can legally be detained for 
48 hours before evidence must be presented to a judge) were equally 
overcrowded.  Officials claimed that suspects were often left in these 
cells during their trials, as budgetary shortfalls often restricted the 
use of scarce fuel for the frequent transfers from prison to distant 
courtrooms.  As a result of overcrowding in both the cells and in 
prisons, police and penitentiary officials issued urgent calls for 
increased budgets to build more facilities and increase food purchases.  
Government officials claimed that their budget, already stretched thin, 
could not meet these demands. 
 
On September 18, university student Cardo Jiron was killed in cross fire 
between police and a gang which was in the process of assaulting Jiron.  
The criminals fled after initiating fire on the police.  Police detained 
and severely beat several students who were with Jiron, believing them 
to be part of the gang even though they had no weapons.  Three of the 
police were charged in the case. 
 
On December 13, a demonstration by university students and others 
outside the National Assembly left 2 protesters dead, 66 demonstrators 
wounded (10 by gunfire according to police officials), and 8 police 
officers wounded.  (That demonstration followed a December 12 incident 
in which the students had "invaded" and temporarily shut down the 
national airport and forcibly occupied two government ministries.)  
Police officials denied issuing an order to open fire and claimed that 
individual officers were forced to fire in self-defense when attacked by 
demonstrators hurling rocks and firing homemade projectiles.  Some human 
rights groups contended that the demonstrators turned violent only after 
the police fired tear gas and acted with excessive force against 
peaceful demonstrators.  The police were not adequately prepared to 
control the violence, and on December 14, suspended 14 officers 
suspected of being involved in the incident, pending further 
investigation.  A commission composed of the police, the civil 
inspection unit, and the attorney general's office reported that the 
demonstration had not been authorized, cited the students for initiating 
the violence, accused some police officials of "unauthorized and 
unnecessary use of firearms," and called for the outfitting of riot 
police with nonlethal equipment.  A trial of police officers suspected 
of firing on the crowd is scheduled for the spring of 1996. 
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
Arbitrary arrest and detention by the police were common.  The Police 
Functions Law requires police to obtain a warrant prior to detaining a 
suspect and to notify family members within 24 hours of the detainee's 
whereabouts.  However, the police rarely comply with this law.  
Detainees do not have the right to an attorney until they have been 
formally charged with a crime.  Local human rights groups criticized the 
law for providing inadequate judicial oversight of police arrests. 
 
The constitutional reforms instituted in July reduced from 72 to 48 
hours the time police may legally hold a suspect before 
they must bring him before a judge for initial sentencing.  The judge 
must either then order the accused released or transferred to prison.  
Human rights groups complained that the police often held detainees 
illegally beyond the 48-hour deadline, as they had when the 72-hour rule 
was in effect, only to release them without formally charging them of 
any crime. 
 
In July police officials issued a public warning that delays in the 
transfer of detainees from police station detention cells to prison were 
creating dangerous levels of overcrowding of more than 30 percent beyond 
the designed capacity of the detention cells.  This was rapidly 
depleting the annual food budget. 
 
The Reform Law of Criminal Procedures provides for bail for certain 
crimes.  The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) recorded 
171 complaints of illegal or arbitrary detention by the National Police, 
out of 377 police-related complaints received through November.  CENIDH 
charged that 60 percent of all complaints it received from January to 
August were filed against the police. 
 
Local human rights groups conducted a series of human rights seminars 
with members of the police, for both active officers at their regional 
headquarters and new recruits as part of their initial training. 
 
Exile is not practiced.  There were no reports of political violence 
against any citizens returning from self-imposed exile overseas as a 
consequence of the civil war of the past decade. 
 
   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The judicial system comprises both civil and military courts.  The 12-
member Supreme Court of Justice is the system's highest court and is 
also responsible for nominating all appellate and lower court judges.  A 
political crisis from mid-1994 until the enactment of constitutional 
reforms in July created internal political divisions within the court.  
A frequent lack of a quorum of seven judges often prevented the issuance 
of binding legal decisions.  The reforms expanded the court's 
composition from a maximum of 9 to 12 magistrates, extended their term 
of office from 6 to 7 years, and mandated the court's division into 
specialized chambers on administrative, criminal, and civil matters.  
The reforms also permitted the National Assembly and the executive 
branch to submit lists of candidates to fill court vacancies.  The 
National Assembly elected 1 new justice on May 3 and 5 additional 
justices on July 21 to bring the court up to its new complement of 12. 
 
In April the Supreme Court dismissed a local magistrate in Bluefields 
for administrative incompetence after he authorized the provisional 
release of several boat crewmen charged with transporting cocaine.  In 
contrast, Supreme Court officials maintained they had no authority to 
intervene with a Sandinista judge in Managua who was alleged to have 
failed to meet legal deadlines during 1995 for issuing an arrest warrant 
against a former high-level Sandinista official who had repeatedly 
refused to appear for questioning in the investigation of a May 1993 
explosion of a terrorist arms cache in the Santa Rosa neighborhood of 
Managua.  The judge resigned on December 8.  Human rights and legal 
groups complained about the delay of justice caused by judicial 
inaction, sometimes for years, as with the Jean Paul Genie case before 
the Supreme Court (see Section 1.a.). 
 
The 1994 Military Code allows the civilian court system to try members 
of the military charged with common crimes, and by the end of November, 
137 cases (10 involving the army and 127 involving the police) were 
being processed by the civil system.  As a result, a civilian judge in 
Jinotega heard the "La Maranosa" case (see Section 1.a.) and on May 24 
dismissed all charges against 21 army officials involved in the 
incident.  Local human rights groups decried the Attorney General's 
report to the court for failing to take fully into account the reports 
on the incident by the human rights groups and the National Assembly's 
Human Rights Commission.  They also criticized the judge's failure to 
summon eyewitnesses and family members to testify or to consider 
forensic evidence relevant to the case.  Some observers alleged that the 
army had pressured the judge directly to obtain acquittals in the case 
and reported that relatives of the Meza family did not appeal the local 
judge's verdict for fear of army reprisals.  The army denied interfering 
in the judicial process. 
 
In all criminal cases, the accused has the right to legal counsel, and 
defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.  The presiding 
judge appoints attorneys from a standard list to represent indigent 
defendants, but because they are not paid by the State, many attorneys 
pay the $1.50 fine rather than represent a client without receiving any 
compensation.  This contributed greatly to the slow pace of justice, as 
many prisoners spent more than a year in jail without a trial.  The 
Permanent Commission for Human Rights (CPDH) has estimated that nearly 
half of all those incarcerated in the prison system have been awaiting 
trial for between 6 months and 2 years. 
 
There were no known political prisoners. 
 
   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
The Constitution provides that all persons have the right to privacy of 
their family and to the inviolability of their home, correspondence, and 
communications.  It also requires warrants for searches of private homes 
and excludes from legal proceedings illegally seized letters, documents, 
and private papers.  The Government respects these rights in practice, 
and there were no credible reports of official interference with the 
right of privacy. 
 
Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and a free press, and 
the Government respects these rights in practice.  The privately owned 
print media, the broadcast media, and academic circles freely and openly 
discussed diverse viewpoints in public discourse with no interference 
from the Government. 
 
The news medium with the largest audience is radio, but polls show that 
television is the primary source of news, particularly in the cities.  
Listeners receive a wide variety of political viewpoints, especially on 
Managua's 45 radio stations.  There are five television stations, three 
of which carry news programming with partisan political content.  There 
is no official state censorship, nor is self-censorship practiced. 
 
On the night of July 21, in the context of an apparent campaign of 
harassment of Catholic Church-linked institutions by unidentified 
parties (see Section 2.c.), vandals broke into the Church's official 
radio station, Radio Catolica, and stole transmission equipment that 
prevented the station from broadcasting for several hours until the 
parts were replaced.  Station officials described the break-in as a 
"warning" carried out by professional criminals. 
 
Freedom of the press is potentially qualified, however, by several 
constitutional provisions.  The Constitution stipulates that Nicaraguans 
have the right to "accurate information," thereby providing an exception 
by which the freedom to publish information that the Government deems 
inaccurate could be abridged.  Although the right to information cannot 
be subject to censorship, there is retroactive liability established by 
law, defined as a "social responsibility," implying the potential for 
sanctions against irresponsibility by the press.  The Legislature did 
not modify these provisions in the constitutional reforms, but neither 
did the Government invoke these provisions to suppress the media. 
 
   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The Constitution recognizes the right to peaceful assembly without prior 
permission.  It also recognizes the right to public assembly, 
demonstration, and mobilization "in conformity with the law."  The law 
requires demonstrators to obtain permission for a rally or march by 
registering its planned size and location with police.  The authorities 
routinely granted such permission. 
 
The Constitution provides for the right to organize or affiliate with 
political parties, and opposition and independent associations 
functioned freely without government interference or restriction.  
Private associations do not have legal status to conduct private fund 
raising or receive public financial support until they receive this 
authorization from the National Assembly, which it routinely confers.  
Some human rights and political groups criticized the Assembly for 
extending legal recognition in January to the pro-FSLN Revolutionary 
Front of Workers and Peasants (FROC), which in July 1993 had attacked 
the town of Esteli robbing five local banks and killing and wounding 
scores of citizens.  Supporters of the FROC argued that a 1993 
government amnesty had cleared its record and pointed to the Assembly's 
April 1994 legal recognition of the 380-Northern Front, a group of 
formally disarmed Recontras which likewise had been amnestied, as a 
precedent. 
 
   c.   Freedom of Religion 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government 
respects this right in practice. 
 
On May 3, the Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a public statement 
criticizing the impasse between the executive and legislative branches 
on the pending constitutional reforms.  On the night of May 8, a small 
bomb exploded outside the Church of San Felipe in Leon.  Similar small 
nighttime explosions occurred at Catholic churches and offices, 
principally in Managua, Leon, and Masaya, during subsequent months in 
what appeared to be a campaign by anonymous individuals or groups to 
intimidate the Church.  Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo and other church 
officials also received numerous telephone threats during the year; 
Church spokesmen attributed the explosions and threats to an organized 
effort by anti-Church elements to prevent the planned February 1996 
visit of Pope John Paul II.  In early August, the police arrested three 
persons, including an army lieutenant, in connection with supplying the 
bombers with explosives, but the attacks continued.  On August 29, a 
military court convicted Lieutenant Alberto Elvir Quiroz and sentenced 
him to 6 years' imprisonment for misappropriation of military property.  
A civilian court later convicted him and a former soldier of terrorism 
and theft.  Despite these convictions, the small bombings continued 
through the end of the year. 
 
   d.   Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
The Constitution provides for the right to travel and reside anywhere in 
Nicaragua and to enter and exit the country freely.  The law requires 
citizens to obtain an exit visa to leave the country, but immigration 
authorities routinely granted these.  However, the law also allows a 
judge to order immigration officials to deny exit visas to those 
involved in court cases if there is reasonable suspicion that the 
accused will abscond.  Judicial experts agree that the spirit of this 
law was violated when the publisher of the daily newspaper La Tribuna 
was denied an exit visa in October after his paper published excerpts 
from a public report by the Comptroller General's office alleging 
corruption in the property registrar's office.  On November 6, a court 
of appeals overturned the decision. 
 
There are no government restrictions on movement within the country.  
The right of citizens to return to Nicaragua is not established in the 
Constitution, but, in practice, the Government has not restricted 
anyone's return.  The Constitution provides for asylum, and political 
refugees cannot be expelled to the country persecuting them. 
 
In 1993 the Government attempted to strip former Red Brigade terrorist, 
Alessio Cassimirri, of his Nicaraguan citizenship and to deport him.  
Cassimirri has been accused in the 1978 murder of Italian Prime Minister 
Aldo Moro.  At year's end, the Supreme Court was still debating whether 
the annulment of the citizenship which the Sandinista Government granted 
him in 1988 was legal. 
 
Section 3   Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
Citizens exercised their right peacefully to change their government in 
the national elections of February 1990, the first election under the 
1987 Constitution.  The 14-party National Opposition Union (UNO) 
coalition, the FSLN, and several smaller independent parties contested 
the election which international observers declared free and fair. 
 
The 1987 Constitution centers political power in the executive branch, 
headed by the President and a Cabinet appointed by the President.  The 
President is both Head of State and Head of Government, as well as 
commander in chief of the defense and security forces.  The Vice 
President has no constitutionally mandated duties or powers.  Both are 
elected by direct popular vote.  The constitutional reforms enacted in 
July reduced the terms of office of the President and Vice President 
from 6 to 5 years and prohibited the President's reelection, beginning 
with the next national elections in the fall of 1996.  Also prohibited 
from running for election as President are all relatives, by blood or 
marriage, of the incumbent president, an issue which President 
Chamorro's son-in-law (who was Minister of the Presidency until his 
resignation on September 7) publicly questioned as a violation of his 
political rights.  In addition, a group of ministers and vice ministers 
challenged the constitutionality of the new provision requiring them to 
resign their posts 1 year prior to running for high elective office in 
1996.  As of year's end, the court had not ruled on these issues. 
 
A single-chamber National Assembly of 92 members exercises legislative 
power.  Its current members, elected concurrently with the President and 
Vice President in 1990, also serve 6-year terms.  Deputies elected in 
1996 will serve 5-year terms.  The constitutional reforms also 
stipulated that 20 deputies will be elected in 1996 by proportional 
representation from national lists and 70 from lists presented in each 
of the nine departments or regions; defeated presidential candidates, of 
which there currently are two, also receive seats in the assembly, 
provided that they won a certain minimum percentage of votes in the 
previous presidential election. 
 
On July 4, the President accepted 65 amendments to the 202-article 
Constitution of 1987, which had been passed by the National Assembly, 
ending a 9-month dispute between the executive and legislative branches.  
Moderate Sandinista deputies, who had broken away from the FSLN, joined 
with other parties to form the required 60 percent majority to pass 
these reforms.  This gave the legislative branch many new powers that 
traditionally had belonged exclusively to the executive branch, 
including powers over budget and taxation, ratification of international 
financial instruments signed by the Government, and the right to 
nominate members of the Supreme Court and Supreme Electoral Tribunal, 
the Comptroller General, the Attorney General, and the Superintendent of 
Banks. 
 
The Assembly had sought unsuccessfully to enact and implement these 
reforms unilaterally in February after the President refused to do so.  
After the Supreme Court voided the Assembly action in April, political 
negotiations between the two branches, overseen by a support group of 
five friendly governments (Canada, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, and 
Sweden) were held but produced no results.  Eventually, Cardinal Obando 
y Bravo served as a guarantor in talks that produced an agreement called 
the Framework Law or "Ley Marco," which led to President Chamorro's 
promulgation of the reforms. 
 
The Supreme Electoral Council, an independent and coequal branch of 
Government composed of five magistrates, administers elections.  All 
elections are by secret ballot; all citizens age 16 and over have the 
right to vote.  The 1994 Military Code specifies that the Defense 
Intelligence Directorate (DID) is specifically prohibited from 
undertaking "political intelligence activities."  Despite this 
prohibition, proconstitutional reform legislators denounced army colonel 
and former DID Director Lenin Cerna for using military intelligence 
operatives to try to influence--in part through intimidation of key 
deputies--the outcome of elections to the National Assembly's governing 
board in January.  The army denied these accusations; the authorities 
failed to undertake any official investigation. 
 
There are no restrictions in law or practice against women, indigenous 
groups, or other minorities voting or participating in politics.  A 
woman serves as President of the Republic, and a woman was elected in 
October as the new Vice President after the incumbent resigned to run 
for president in 1996.  Women also hold ministerial and vice ministerial 
level posts, other senior positions in government, and legislative seats 
in the National Assembly.  Two members of the National Assembly are 
Miskito Indians; indigenous people are represented in government at both 
the local and national levels. 
 
Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
Human rights groups operated without government interference, with rare 
exceptions.  Major organizations included the Nicaraguan Center for 
Human Rights, the Permanent Commission for Human Rights (CPDH), the 
Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, the Episcopal Center for 
Development, and Cardinal  
 
Miguel Obando y Bravo's Verification Commission.  The OAS's 
International Support and Verification Commission, which was first 
installed in Nicaragua in 1990 to oversee the repatriation, disarmament, 
resettlement, and protection of human rights of the members of the 
Nicaraguan Resistance, continued its mission.  In June 1993, the OAS 
General Assembly expanded the mandate of OAS/CIAV to monitor the human 
rights of and provide assistance to all those affected by the Nicaraguan 
civil war, regardless of political orientation.  On June 9, the 
Government extended the OAS/CIAV mandate through June 1996. 
 
Army and police officials rarely took action to respond to human rights 
groups' accusations of abuses by military or police personnel.  The 
Government took no further action regarding the unsolved March 1993 
murder of CENIDH activist Leonel Gonzalez despite repeated CENIDH 
requests to reopen the case. 
 
In May OAS/CIAV formally complained to the Government after a military 
jeep fired on one of its vehicles three times.  The army claimed that 
the soldiers were firing at "wild animals" and not at the vehicle.  The 
Government called the actions "irresponsible" and said that the army 
would discipline those involved in the incident.  There has been no 
information as to whether any such discipline was imposed. 
 
In June CENIDH filed a complaint with the Inter-American Court of Human 
Rights against the Government after police injured several CENIDH 
officials during police attempts to break up a demonstration of striking 
workers outside a Managua match factory. 
 
Since its establishment in September 1992, the Tripartite Commission has 
been the most effective mechanism for raising human rights allegations 
to an official level and eliciting a response from Government 
authorities.  Recognizing a lack of police training in human rights (see 
Section 1.c.), ANPDH, CENIDH, and CPDH conducted numerous human rights 
workshops both at the police training academy and at various police 
headquarters throughout the country.  OAS/CIAV began implementing an 
indigenous human rights network among isolated rural northern 
communities. 
 
Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of birth, 
nationality, political belief, race, gender, language, religion, 
opinion, national origin, economic condition, or social condition.  In 
practice, however, the Government makes little or no effort to combat 
discrimination.  Few, if any, discrimination suits or formal complaints 
were filed with government officials. 
 
   Women 
 
The police created four "women's commissariats"--two in Managua, one in 
Esteli, and one in Masaya--in response to a growing body of evidence of 
domestic abuse directed against women.  The centers are annexed to local 
police stations and staffed by female police officers.  They provide 
both social and legal help to women and mediate spousal conflicts.  
Despite this effort, however, local human rights groups reported that 
while police sometimes intervened to prevent injury in cases of domestic 
violence, they rarely charged perpetrators because they considered 
domestic violence a "private" crime for which the victim, not the State, 
must press charges.  A victim wishing to prosecute must first have an 
injury examined and registered by a forensic doctor; women's groups 
criticized the scarcity and inaccessibility of female forensic doctors.  
Most domestic violence cases thus went unreported because of the 
difficulty of prosecution and the victims' fears of spousal reprisal.  
Those cases that actually reached the court usually resulted in a not 
guilty verdict due to judicial inexperience with, and lack of legal 
training related to, such violence. 
 
While there is no legal discrimination against women, they continued to 
suffer discrimination in the male-dominated culture prevalent in much of 
society.  Women are underrepresented in management positions in the 
private sector, and they constitute the majority of workers in the 
traditionally low-paid education, textile, and health service sectors. 
 
According to government statistics, women have equal or somewhat better 
access to education than men.  Net enrollment for girls in the primary 
grades is 79 percent, compared to 76 percent for boys.  At the secondary 
level, 33 percent of girls and 26 percent of boys are still enrolled. 
 
   Children 
 
Children 15 years and younger make up 46 percent of Nicaragua's 
population.  The Government expresses its commitment to children's human 
rights and welfare publicly but does not commit adequate funding levels 
for children's programs.  The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) 
estimates 6,000 children have been abandoned by their families, some 
2,000 live in orphanages, and approximately 1,800 are in foster homes.  
Every year the media carry stories of dozens of parents who abandoned or 
killed their children because they were too poor or otherwise unable to 
take care of them.  Because of the economic situation of many families, 
it is common for children to be found working in the fields alongside 
their parents, and UNICEF estimates some 20,000 work in the streets as 
vendors or beggars. 
 
   People With Disabilities 
 
The Government has not legislated or otherwise mandated accessibility 
for the disabled. 
 
   Indigenous People 
 
Comprising about 6 percent of the country's population, the indigenous 
people live primarily in the northern autonomous region (RAAN) and 
southern autonomous region (RAAS), created in 1987 out of the former 
Department of Zelaya, which border the Caribbean Sea and comprise 47 
percent of the national territory.  The Government reported in May that 
four major identifiable tribes are the Miskito (numbering 140,000), the 
Sumu (15,000), the Garifona (1,500), and the Rama (1,000). 
 
The indigenous people of the RAAN (the Miskito and the Sumu) have their 
own political party, the Yatama, with strong representation in regional 
and municipal councils and one deputy in the National Assembly.  
Indigenous people participate in government at both the local and 
national levels.  The 1987 Autonomy Law requires the Government to 
consult the indigenous regarding the exploitation of their areas' 
resources.  The central Government often made decisions without adequate 
departmental or community consultation.  As in previous years, some 
indigenous groups complained that central Government authorities 
excluded the indigenous people of the Atlantic coast from meaningful 
participation in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, 
and the allocation of natural resources.  Critics of government policy 
cited official statistics that unemployment approached 70 percent in the 
RAAS and was nearly 90 percent in the RAAN, far above national averages. 
 
   National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities 
 
Most Nicaraguans are of mixed background, and ethnicity is not a barrier 
to political or economic success.  However, various indigenous groups 
from both the RAAN and the RAAS sometimes linked the Government's 
failure to expend resources in support of the Atlantic coast population 
to the largely ethnic, racial, and religious (principally members of the 
Moravian church) minorities that predominate in that region. 
 
Section 6   Worker Rights 
 
   a.   The Right of Association 
 
The Constitution provides for the right of workers to organize 
voluntarily in unions.  Legally, all public and private sector workers, 
except those in the military and the police, may form and join unions of 
their own choosing, and they exercise this right extensively.  New 
unions must register with the Ministry of Labor and be granted legal 
status before they may engage in collective bargaining.  Some labor 
groups reported occasional delays in obtaining this status and claimed 
that, in some cases, the Labor Ministry deliberately interfered with the 
already lengthy bureaucratic process to make it still longer.  Nearly 
half of the formal sector work force, including agricultural workers, is 
unionized, according to labor leaders. 
 
Nicaragua's unions are independent of the Government.  Affiliation to or 
activity in political parties or associations is grounds for dissolution 
of a trade union under the existing Labor Code; however, the Government 
does not enforce this provision.  Many unions and federations are 
affiliated with political parties, most notably with the FSLN, the 
Nicaraguan Socialist Party, the Christian Democratic Union, and, until 
1992, the Nicaraguan Communist Party. 
 
The Constitution recognizes the right to strike.  The Labor Code 
requires a 60 percent majority vote of all the workers in an enterprise 
to call a strike.  It also restricts strikes in rural occupations where 
production may be damaged.  Workers may strike legally only after they 
have exhausted other methods of dispute resolution, including mediation 
by the Ministry of Labor and compulsory arbitration.  Unions generally 
regard these lengthy procedures as too expensive and time consuming and 
frequently ignore them when initiating a strike, a practice which 
continued in 1995, resulting in a majority of strikes being declared 
illegal.  The Labor Code prohibits retribution against strikers and 
union leaders for legal strikes.  However, this protection may be 
withdrawn in the case of an illegal strike. 
 
Both a brief strike by electrical workers in January and a 7 week 
teachers' strike in the spring ended peacefully and with minimal 
violence.  However, on May 17 a demonstration organized by the violence-
prone Sandinista Transport Cooperative "Parrales Vallejos" resulted in a 
clash with police that left two demonstrators and one police officer 
dead.  CENIDH officials and the pro-Sandinista media claimed that the 
officer died as a result of "friendly fire," but an investigation by the 
Ministry of Government's civil inspection unit agreed with the 
Government's account that gunfire originating from the striking union's 
compound killed the officer and that the two demonstrators were killed 
when police returned fire. 
 
On January 18, President Chamorro partially vetoed a reform of the 
country's 50-year old Labor Code which the National Assembly had passed 
in late 1994.  Because it was otherwise occupied with the constitutional 
reform debate and other priority legislative matters, the National 
Assembly had not taken action on the veto by year's end and agreed to 
work out differences with the executive as part of the constitutional 
reforms compromise reached in June. 
 
Unions freely form or join federations or confederations and affiliate 
with and participate in international bodies. 
 
   b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
The Constitution provides for the right to bargain collectively.  The 
Chamorro Government generally sought to foster resolution of pressing 
labor conflicts, usually in the public sector, through informal 
negotiations rather than through formal administrative or judicial 
processes.  Despite unfavorable economic conditions and unfamiliarity 
with the practice during a decade of central government planning and 
political direction under the Sandinistas, collective bargaining is 
becoming more common in the private sector. 
 
Seventeen firms, employing some 7,000 workers, operated in the single 
export processing zone (EPZ); a second zone is in the process of 
opening.  In June the Minister of Labor reminded employers in the zone 
that while they receive tax concessions, the law does not exempt them 
from compliance with any of its labor provisions.  Managua-based 
representatives of the American Institute for Free Labor Development 
(AIFLD) contend that the Labor Ministry has thus far failed to enforce 
its call for compliance with the Labor Code.  Of the 17 enterprises, 
only 1 (a state-owned firm) has a union.  Labor leaders and employers 
have provided conflicting accounts as to why unions do not represent 
workers in other firms.  Local labor leaders told the AIFLD 
representative that employers threatened workers with dismissal if they 
join a union.  EPZ officials maintained that no union has received 
sufficient support from the workers to allow one to form and that the 
workers receive better wages and benefits than the average worker. 
 
   c.   Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there is no 
evidence that it is practiced. 
 
   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
The Constitution prohibits child labor that can affect normal childhood 
development or interfere with the obligatory school year.  The current 
Labor Code allows children between the ages of 12 to 16 to work but only 
with parental permission.  The law limits the work day for such children 
to 6 hours and prohibits night work.  Children under age 14 are 
prohibited from working in factories but can be used in agricultural 
work if the work does not interfere with their schooling.  While the law 
requires school attendance through the sixth grade, it is not enforced.  
Moreover, because of the economic needs of many families and little 
government initiative, child labor rules were rarely enforced except in 
the small, modern sector of the economy. 
 
A recent UNICEF study, citing 1993 statistics, estimated that some 
108,000 children under the age of 15 are involved in some sort of labor 
in the formal and informal sectors of the economy.  The same report 
estimated that 72,000 children under the age of 15 help with planting 
and harvesting crops.  Children age 10 or older often worked for less 
than $1.00 per day on the same banana plantations and coffee plantations 
as their parents.  Many small children work in the busy streets of 
Managua hawking merchandise, cleaning automobile windows, or begging. 
 
   e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
Over the objections of the trade union representatives, a commission 
made up of representatives from the Government, labor, and the private 
sector set sectoral minimum wages in mid-1991.  The labor groups argued 
that the monthly minimum wage rates were inadequate given the high cost 
of living.  Adjusted periodically, the minimum wage in November ranged 
from $30 (236.70 cordobas) in the agricultural sector, through $39 
(307.71 cordobas) for central government employees, to $65 (512.85 
cordobas) in the banking sector.  According to a 1991 estimate by the 
Government's National Commission on the Standard of Living, the minimum 
wage did not provide a family of four with the income to meet its basic 
needs.  Enforcement of the minimum wage is lax, and some employers 
reportedly paid their workers less, particularly in the agricultural 
sector.  However, recent Ministry of Labor surveys indicate that some 86 
percent of urban area workers earned more than the minimum wage. 
 
The Constitution provides for an 8-hour workday with weekly rest and 
establishes the right to a safe and healthy workplace.  The standard 
legal workweek is a maximum of 48 hours, with 1 day of rest weekly. 
 
The Ministry of Labor's Office of Hygiene and Occupational Security is 
responsible for verifying compliance with health and safety standards.  
The office lacks adequate staff to enforce these extensive standards.  
Workers have no specific right to remove themselves from dangerous work 
situations without jeopardy to continued employment. 
 
In 1995 the International Labor Organization's Committee of Experts 
(COE) cited Nicaragua for its failure to enact changes in the Labor Code 
that would grant workers in small agricultural enterprises equal rights 
to workers' compensation as those granted to other wage-earners.  The 
COE also noted that the Government had taken no steps to ban night work 
by women.  However, the COE did note that women's organizations and 
female deputies in the National Assembly disagreed with any attempts to 
restrict female integration into the work force and called for 
legislation that would regulate maternity protection instead. 
 
(###)


[end of document]

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