Inter-American Rights Watch

Nicaragua Releases Hundreds of Political Prisoners, IACHR Condemns Treatment by Government and Deprivation of Citizenship

By: Sydney Krause

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

Managua, Nicaragua – On February 9, 2023, Nicaraguan authorities released hundreds of political prisoners to the United States, declaring them traitors and stripping them of their citizenship. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“IACHR”) condemned the prisoners’ treatment during their detention and the “arbitrary deprivation of nationality,” calling for Nicaragua to repeal recent legislation permitting the revocation of citizenship.

Activists await arrival of political prisoners at Washington Dulles International Airport (Photo Courtesy of the Independent, Jose Luis Magana/AP)

The 222 prisoners were met in Washington D.C. by a small group of relatives and supporters. They were deported per an order issued by the First Chamber of the Managua Court of Appeals, citing national security concerns related to terrorism and economic destabilization. The U.S. Department of State said the transfer was made “unilaterally” by Nicaragua, but that the United States organized transport of the political prisoners who would be admitted to the United States for “humanitarian reasons” for up to two years.

Many of the releasees – including students, political opponents, journalists, and priests – were detained during President Daniel Ortega’s crackdown on political dissidents beginning in 2018. Mr. Ortega described the prisoner release as part of a drive to expel criminal provocateurs and traitors from the country. Shortly after their release, the National Assembly voted to strip them of their Nicaraguan citizenship.

The Special Reform Law amends Article 21 of the Political Constitution, the basis for determining Nicaraguan citizenship. The change states that “the acquisition, loss, and recovery of nationality will be regulated by law. [And] traitors to the homeland lose the quality of Nicaraguan nationality.” The change also builds on Law 1055, known as the “sovereignty law,” which establishes that citizens who “harm the supreme interests of the nation” are “traitors to the homeland.” Under the amended Article 21, those sentenced under Law 1055 will lose their citizenship.

International law strictly prohibits the deprivation of nationality and rendering a person stateless. “Stateless” persons face immense legal concerns such as the loss of social security benefits, restriction of free travel, including to visit family, and the possibility of detention and prosecution by local authorities.

Nicaragua’s unprecedented action has garnered criticism from states and agencies worldwide, including the United Nations refugee agency, the IACHR, and the U.S. State Department. The IACHR condemned Nicaragua’s actions in its February 9 press release, citing international law and noting that Nicaragua has been a party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons since 2013.

Since the mass release, the Nicaraguan government has revoked the citizenship of at least an additional ninety-four people.


For further information, please see:

Associated Press – Nicaragua’s vote to strip opponents of citizenship – 14 Feb. 2023

Constitution Net – In Nicaragua, constitutional amendment revoking citizenship for crimes against state expedited, pending approval in subsequent legislature – 10 Feb. 2023

Department of State – Press Statement: Release of Political Prisoners from Nicaragua – 9, Feb. 2023

Independent – Why has Nicaragua suddenly released more than 200 political prisoners? – 10 Feb. 2023

New York Times – Nicaragua Strips Citizenship from Hundreds Days After Prisoner Release – 17 Feb. 2023

New York Times – Nicaragua Frees Hundreds of Political Prisoners to the United States – 9 Feb. 2023

NPR – Nicaragua has freed 222 political prisoners and sent them to the U.S. – 9 Feb. 2023

OAS, IACHR – IACHR Welcomes Release of Political Prisoners in Nicaragua but Rejects Arbitrary Deprivation of Nationality – 13 Feb 2023

Prensa Latina – Law in Nicaragua withdraws nationality from traitors to the homeland – 9 Feb. 2023

Reuters – Defiant Ortega frees political prisoners in Nicaragua, expels them to U.S. – 9, Feb. 2023

Court Determines Ecuador Responsible for Violation of Right to Life of Two Individuals

By: Sallie Moppert
Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – A recent judgment handed down by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, IACHER, determined that Ecuador was responsible for the violation of the right to life of two individuals who died following a traffic stop and subsequent police chase in 1997. In addition to the violation of the right to life, the Court also found several other violations, including the right to humane treatment, right to a fair trial, and right to judicial protection of their next of kin.

A member of the Ecuadorian Traffic Commission performs a traffic stop.
Photo courtesy of MSN News 360.

Walter Huaćon Baidal and Mercedes Salazar Cuevos were leaving a family reunion on the afternoon of March 31, 1997. While driving, the pair encountered a traffic checkpoint, where Baidal realized he had forgotten his driver’s license and vehicle documents. Baidal turned the car around, driving on the wrong side of the road, to drive to his house to obtain his missing documents. Members of the Traffic Commission, which had been conducting the traffic checkpoint, witnessed Baidal making an illegal turn and driving on the wrong side of the road, leading to two members of the Traffic Commission and four police officers giving chase.

The officers eventually caught up to Baidal and Cuevos and pulled the vehicle over. Baidal and Cuevos were removed from the vehicle and were fatally shot and killed by the officers. Administrative and judicial proceedings were brought against the officers involved in the incident. Five officers were dismissed and, while charges were brought against the sixth officer, he did not appear at the trial. As a result, the proceedings were suspended and the case was eventually declared beyond the statute of limitations on October 11, 2012.

The Court found that the lethal force used by the police force was unjustified and disproportionate, and amounted to nothing more than extrajudicial executions, thus violating the right to life of Baidal and Cuevos. In addition, the officers’ treatment of Baidal and Cuevos during the traffic stop violated their right to humane treatment. The IACHER also determined that Ecuador’s investigation and review of the facts of the case in the police criminal court as opposed to being held in a court with an impartial authority, violated their right to an effective judicial remedy. In addition, Ecuador did not carry out the investigative process with due diligence or within a reasonable period of time. Finally, the Court noted that the families of Baidal and Cuevos had not been able to obtain the truth of the situation and the determination of who was responsible for the incident in the ordinary criminal justice system.

Based on its findings, the IACHER ordered Ecuador to make full reparations for the human rights violations declared in the report, provide the necessary physical and mental health care measures for the family members of Baidal and Cueva, conduct a full and effective investigation of the human rights violations stated in the report, develop and introduce ongoing training programs for police agents, as well as the establishment of protocols on the use of force, introduce measures to ensure effective accountability in the criminal, disciplinary or administrative courts, and introduce measures to strengthen investigative capacity, with due diligence and in accordance with relevant international standards, on possible extrajudicial executions in the context of the use of lethal force by police officers, so that effective protocols are in place to carry out such investigations.

For further information, please see:

Inter-American Court of Human Rights – Ecuador is Responsible for the Extrajudicial Execution of Two Persons and for Failing to Adequately Investigate the Facts – Nov. 21, 2022

Organization of American States – IACHR refers case on Ecuador to the Inter-American Court – July 14, 2021

Citizenship Not Promised: Denial of Citizenship in South America’s Most Welcoming Country

By: Alessa Rodriguez

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

ARGENTINA – The country with the quickest naturalization process, with only 2 major requirements: being over the age of 18 and residency in Argentina for 2 years, is not as simple as it sounds.

Spanish and Argentinian passports. Photo courtesy of Geraldine Mercado on Pinterest.

Raghda Habbal, a Spanish citizen, moved with her daughters to Argentina in 1991 where she then remarried and had a son, applying for her citizenship in 1992. She did not meet the two years requirement by 3 months, supplementing it with a provision where she acquired property. It was determined that Habbal did not live in the domicile she claimed she did. The judge denied granting Habbal citizenship. Director of Population and Migration declared Habbal’s filings null and void, her presence in Argentina illegal, and ordered her expulsion back to Spain. The expulsion would include her three children, as they were only residents of Argentina.

A federal judge canceled her citizenship application because they believed fraud was involved. Cancelation is allowed if they can prove that the person obtaining citizenship did not meet the conditions. Habbal appealed multiple times, however, a Federal Court of Appeals denyed the appeal as they did not consider it a federal case. She would continue to travel into and out of Argentina from 1994-1996 where Argentina recognized her as a Syrian, Spanish, and Argentine citizen. ˙

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) reviewed the case and determined that administrative sanctions should only be exercised to the extent strictly necessary to protect fundamental rights from what may harm and endanger them. However, since Argentina revoked the Resolution in 2020 against Habbal, it is not up to the IACHR to decide. When a state ceases human rights violations and repairs the victims, the court cannot declare international responsibility regarding the violations. As Habbal could not allege a specific violation of rights, the court considers revocation of the Resolution an adequate reparation and thus Argentina isn’t internationally responsible.

According to the IACHR, the Argentinian courts were within their right to deny Habbal’s citizenship due to the issue of validity of the property she claimed. Therefore, Argentina has not violated the right to judicial protection.  


For further information, please see:

IACHR – Cases at the Merits Stage – Judgements – Habbal et al. v. Argentina – 31 Aug. 2022.

Lawyers Argentina – Immigrate to Argentina – 3 Sept. 2022

Where Can I Live – How to Get Argentina Citizenship – 10 Nov. 2020

Court Investigates Ecuadorian State’s Responsibility in Massacres of Uncontacted Indigenous Peoples

By: Alexa Connaughton

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Before the Inter American Court of Human Rights is Tagaeri & Taromenane Indigenous People v. the Ecuadorian State, a case on the responsibility of the Ecuadorian state in three massacres, 2003, 2006, and 2013 of uncontacted indigenous peoples. This case is the first time the Court has tried a case involving uncontacted indigenous peoples.

Alicia Cahuiya, a coordinator on women and families at the National Indigenous Confederation, watches the trial from the audience. Photo Courtesy of Mongabay News.

Uncontacted indigenous peoples live in voluntary isolation, without contact with most of the population. The plaintiffs allege the state failed to protect the uncontacted indigenous peoples and encouraged industry in their allotted land. They argue that these actions put pressure on the rainforest and increased conflict between the local communities leading to these three massacres.

The Tagaeri and Taromenane people live in the northern Amazon of Ecuador. This area is rich in oil and as a result has attracted illegal logging and mining for many years. As companies began to move in, it restricted the indigenous peoples’ ability to move freely. In 1999, the government sectioned off territory for these people, about 3,149 square miles, called the “intangible zone”. Since then, some oil blocks surrounding the zone have begun to encroach, with three posing an immediate risk. The existence of these oil blocks causes strain on the local communities and has been a cause in the three attacks. These indigenous people have a strict dependence on their ecological environment and follow a pattern of seasonal mobility. Thus, any change to their natural habitat poses a great harm to their survival.

In the 2003 attack the Waorani, a neighboring group, entered the intangible zone and attacked the Tagaeri and Taromenane. This attack is alleged to be revenge for a previous attack; however, it was not investigated because the victims did not have national identity cards. Even less is known about the 2006 attack due to the same lack of investigation. After the 2006 attack the regional commission requested Ecuador take precautionary measures to protect the Tagaeri and Taromenane people, but they failed to do so, resulting in the 2013 attack. In this attack another group of Waorani entered the Tagaeri and Taromenane area, killing 25 people and kidnapping two girls who have been living with their captors ever since.

In the present case, the plaintiffs say Ecuador has maintained the disastrous policy of putting oil interests ahead of the rights of local communities and has refused to see the connections and properly investigate the massacres. In bringing this case plaintiffs demand, recognition of the failure of the Ecuadorian state to protect the Tagaeri and Taromenane people and demand the rights of these communities be protected going forward.

In a press release, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights determined that the Ecuadorian state failed to protect and uphold the rights of uncontacted indigenous peoples. However, a decision by the court on this case likely won’t be reached for a few more months but it is important to note that the court’s decision in this case will become jurisprudence for other cases in the future.


For further information, please see:

IACHR – Resolución de La Corte – Caso Pueblos Indígenas Tagaeri y Taromenane vs. Ecuador – 18 Aug. 2022

IACHR – Resolución del Presidente – Caso Pueblos Indígenas Tagaeri y Taromenane vs. Ecuador – 19 July 2022

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, OAS – IACHR refers case on Ecuador to the Inter-American Court – 5 Oct. 2020

Mongabay News – First-ever regional court case involving rights of uncontacted peoples awaits verdict – 13 Oct. 2022


Court Determines Mexico Responsible for Failures in Investigation into Death of Human Rights Defender

By: Sallie Moppert

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — In a judgment handed down by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, IACHR, Mexico was deemed to be internationally responsible for the failures of the investigation into the death of human rights activist Digna Ochoa y Plácido in October of 2001. The court determined that the “serious shortcomings” of the investigation into Ochoa’s death constituted a violation of the obligation to guarantee to the right of life for Ochoa in addition to a violation of the right to the truth on behalf of Ochoa’s family.

A woman leaves a tribute at a memorial set up for Digna Ochoa
after her assassination in 2001. Photo courtesy of Reforma.

Ochoa was a human rights lawyer and activist in Mexico. Prior to her death, she endured many threats and attacks against her in response to her human rights defense work. With the continued threats to her safety, Ochoa, with support and accompanied by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and la Red de Organismos Civiles de Derechos Humanos, came before the IACHR in 1999 to obtain preventative measures and later provisional measures to combat the continued threats and attacks. The protective measures were granted and in place for two years before IACHR terminated the provisional measures in 2001. Ochoa was assassinated two months after the protective measures were lifted.

The IACHR ruled that the investigation into Ochoa’s death was biased and corrupted from its inception. Although her body was found to have multiple gunshot wounds, Mexican officials determined that Ochoa’s death was a suicide, so the investigation was halted and the case deemed to be closed. In addition, the IACHR found that there was little equal protection under the law for Ochoa and females in general, as gender stereotypes were relied upon and intimate and personal aspects of Ochoa’s life were used against her to question her credibility. “[A]s a result of the deficient investigation and the discourse of state agents aimed at insulting her public image, the defender’s right to honor and dignity was also prejudiced,” the court found. The court also found that Mexican officials had failures in its handling of the crime scene, its documentation and the forensic autopsy, along with not investigating the facts within a reasonable time frame.

Along with its judgment, the IACHR ordered Mexico to take several measures of reparation, with the main order being to continue the necessary investigations to determine the circumstances surrounding Ochoa’s death. Other reparations included: making a public act of acknowledgment of international responsibility, creating an award for the defense of human rights that is to be named after Ochoa, and creating and then implementing a specific and specialized protocol for the investigation into attacks of human rights activists at a federal level, among others.

For further information, please see:

Center for Justice and International Law – Cejil 30 Years: Digna Ochoa

Inter-American Court of Human Rights – Judgment of the Inter-American Court in the Case of Digna Ochoa and relatives v. Mexico: The State is responsible for the serious failures in the investigation of the death of human rights defender Digna Ochoa – Jan. 19, 2022

Reforma – Llevan a Corte IDH caso de Digna Ochoa – Feb. 18, 2020