Dissenting Voices Shutdown in Nicaragua

By: Mark Burroughs

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – In October and December of 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the seizing and occupation of property belonging to various government oppositional organizations. The recent events stem from anti-social security reform protests that began in April 2018. After three months of protests, Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, initiated “Operation for the Peace” also known as “Operation Clean Up” with the goal of stopping the protests.

One of the properties that belonged to Confidencial confiscated by the government, now a health facility. Photo Courtesy of the Havana Times.

In December, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) and the IACHR launched an investigation to examine the consequences of the crackdown. Since the 2018 protests, the government has arrested journalists, shutdown news organizations, and seized the assets of human rights organizations. 

The IACHR released the contents of the investigation earlier this year, and it details various incidents of human rights abuse by the Nicaraguan government. The report documents 328 deaths, approximately 100 people still incarcerated, 150 students expelled from university, and around 100,000 people that were forced to leave the country.

In 2020 Nicaragua’s National Assembly, which is mostly controlled by Ortega’s political party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front passed various laws intending to shut down dissenting speech. One of the bills passed is the Foreign Agents Regulation Law. The government claims it passed this bill to stop foreign influence in Nicaragua. One section of the law that Amnesty International highlights is article 14. This part of the bill prohibits Nicaraguans and foreign nationals from intervening in external and internal political issues. The bill also bans Nicaraguans from being a member of or financing any organization that is implanting political activities in Nicaragua.

The Ortega government also passed a bill called the “Special Cyber Crimes Law.” This law has been condemned by various human rights organizations, including the IACHR. This bill established a prison term of two to four years for people who “promote or distribute false or misleading information that causes alarm, terror, or unease in the public.” The government is responsible for determining the appropriate term. Sandinista politician, José Zepeda praises the bill saying, “it helps protect the integrity of the family.” Azucena Castillo, a politician from Nicaragua’s Liberal Constitutionalist Party, condemned the bill as an attack on free speech.

Another bill that the IACHR has condemned is the “Act to Defend the Rights of People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination.” The IACHR has specifically condemned article 1 of this bill. This bill will ban Nicaraguans from running for elected office if they have “promoted terrorist acts, incited foreign interference in internal affairs, organized and implemented acts of terrorism and destabilization with financing from foreign powers, or welcomed and applauded sanctions against the State of Nicaragua and its citizens.” 

One consequence of the various bills passed is the seizing of properties owned by Confidencial, a news organization in Nicaragua. The government began confiscating property owned by Confidencial and other news and political organizations in December 2018. Since that time, the police have occupied the buildings. Other organizations targeted by the government were the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and Institute for Democracy and Development. This year, the government transferred ownership of the properties seized to the Nicaraguan Health Ministry, also known as MINSA, without officially giving notice to Confidencial. On February 23, 2021, the government transferred the last of the buildings they occupied to MINSA.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – Silence at any Cost: State Tactics to deepen Repression in Nicaragua – 22 Mar. 2021

Havana Times – Nicaragua: A Monument to Crimes against Press Freedom – 26 Feb. 2021

Havana Times – Ortega’s Final Act of Confiscation against Confidencial – 23 Feb. 2021

Havana Times – IDB & World Bank Silent on Nicaragua Confiscations – 15 Feb. 2021

Havana Times – Amnesty International: “Ortega Wants to Suffocate Dissent” – 17 Feb. 2021

IACHR – IACHR Condemns Destruction of Civilian Organizations’ Property in Nicaragua – 8 Feb. 2021


Vaccine Equity: Member States at the World Trade Organization Debate Global Vaccine Access And Human Rights Commitments

By: Rishav Shah

 Impunity Watch Staff Writer

WASHINGTON D.C., United States – As governments around the globe scale up vaccination efforts amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the international community is grappling with the convergence of “vaccine nationalism” or “hoarding” and intellectual property rights resulting in gross disparities in access to vaccine supply between upper and lower-income countries.

New Director-General of the World Trade Organization Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Photo Courtesy of Reuters.

On February 5th, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that three-quarters of the current vaccine supply has been secured and administered by 10 countries that account for 60 percent of global economic growth, while 130 countries- home to 2.5 billion people- had not received a single dose.

The potential emergence of a “vaccine apartheid” has prompted member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to debate the means by which to boost global vaccine access.

On October 2nd, 2020, South Africa and India submitted a proposal to suspend the WTO’s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the duration of the pandemic. The effect of the proposal would be a temporary intellectual property waiver on technology, drugs, and vaccines related to the pandemic. By temporarily waiving intellectual property rights with respect to COVID-19 specific equipment, drugs, and vaccines, the proposal seeks to facilitate the transfer of technology and scientific knowledge to developing countries with the goal of ramping up global production of vaccines and increasing access beyond just the wealthiest nations.

At issue before the WTO is the larger question of whether vaccines should be treated as market commodities, or public goods.

Since October, support for the proposal has gained momentum, with all 57 members of the African Union at the World Trade Organization signing on as co-sponsors. In addition, 31 U.S. lawmakers have expressed support for the waiver, along with 115 members of the European Parliament. Notably, in February 2021, more than 400 organizations in the United States called on President Biden to endorse the waiver.

A number of high-income countries in which large pharmaceutical companies exert substantial political influence, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Japan, and Brazil, have argued against the waiver. This opposition is based on the argument that any waiver of patents would deter private investment, thus hampering scientific innovation. In addition, these countries contend that existing WTO regulations like the Doha Declaration of 2001 allow pharmaceutical companies to negotiate bilateral agreements with generic manufactures in order to tackle public health emergencies.

Supporters of the proposal disagree with the notion that the waiver would hamper scientific development, noting that large pharmaceutical companies received close to 10 billion USD in public funds and non-profit funding for their vaccine candidates. Their position is that the waiver will give governments of the global south an opportunity to pursue mass vaccine manufacturing by tapping into unused or under-used factories and facilities in their respective countries or anywhere in the world, instead of being priced out of vaccine purchase agreements with pharmaceutical companies

The Director-General of the WTO, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has come out strongly against vaccine nationalism but is yet to endorse the proposal set forth by India and South Africa. She has articulated a “third-way” approach whereby large pharmaceuticals license manufacturing to countries in order to increase vaccine supply without compromising intellectual property rights. This approach would leave control over production limits with large pharmaceutical companies.

Some of the countries in opposition to the waiver-Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Japan, and others- have pledged to donate financial resources and surplus vaccines to the UN-backed COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX).  COVAX is a program designed to boost the distribution of vaccines to low-income countries. While donations to COVAX will improve vaccine access, COVAX aims to vaccinate only 20% of every participating country’s population. This is far from what is needed to achieve herd immunities in lower-income countries that are relying heavily on COVAX as their primary vaccine distributor.

In the months since the impasse at the WTO, another 2.65 million people have succumbed to the virus globally. The wealthy countries in opposition to a temporary suspension of the TRIPS agreement have made their case in favor of private enterprise, but are yet to outline an approach that would remedy the issue of vaccine hoarding and curb the spread of COVID-19 in countries with limited access to the vaccine. The decision to treat a vaccine that has been largely subsidized by taxpayer money and public funds as a private market commodity– rather than a public good– will have unconscionable human rights implications. Without the temporary suspension of the WTO TRIPS agreement allowing poorer nations to produce the vaccines widely, the vast majority of the global vaccine supply will remain disproportionately concentrated in the world’s wealthiest countries, leaving lower-income countries to be ravaged by mass fatalities from the virus.

For further information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Patently Unfair: Can Waivers Help Solve Vaccine Inequality? – 1 Mar. 2021

Euronews – Rich countries must stop ‘vaccine apartheid’ – 11 Mar. 2021

Foreign Policy – Rich vs. Poor (Again) at WTO – 10 Mar.2021

Reuters – Incoming WTO head warns ‘vaccine nationalism’ could slow pandemic recovery – 15 Feb. 2021

World Health Organization – WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 5 Feb. 2021

Disappearance of Ugandan Opposition Party Members Plague the Nation After Recent Presidential Election

By: Alexandra Casey Douglass

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Managing Editor of the Journal

KAMPALA, Uganda – Following Uganda’s Presidential election on January 14, 2021, President Yoweri Museveni was announced as the official victor, earning fifty-eight percent of the vote. Museveni took power by force in 1986 and has since been elected six times. Museveni’s opposition Bobi Wine, leader of the National Unity Platform, has challenged the vote as fraudulent and filed a petition with Uganda’s highest court contesting Museveni’s victory.

Bobi Wine addressing the media in Kampala, Ugananda. Photo Courtesy of VOA News.

On February 15, 2021, Wine released a list of over 300 members of the National Unity Platform who have allegedly been abducted by State agents in Uganda. These individuals disappeared before the January election and majority remain missing. National Unity Party members have also reported illegal detentions during and after the election. President Yoweri Museveni has called the abduction reports false and claims that his forces conducted lawful arrests and only “killed a few” people he described as terrorists during the election. Local Ugandan newspapers are dominated with accounts of armed security personnel in unlicensed vans grabbing victims from the streets.

Wine suggested that Museveni was responsible for the abductions Tweeting, “Like all tyrants, he pushed the narrative that all is well, with hundreds of mothers, fathers and siblings in tears over missing loved ones.” United States Ambassador, Natalie E. Brown, cited “deep and continuing concern about the extrajudicial detention of opposition political party members, the reported disappearance of several opposition supporters and continued restrictions” on the work of the National Unity Party.

The National Unity Party petitioned the U.N. Human Rights Office to address these alleged human rights violations and state-inspired abductions. While Wine was in the U.N. Rights office in Kampala presenting his petition against the abduction of his supporters, members of the Ugandan army attacked and beat four journalists who were waiting outside. One reporter said, “We were standing outside the UN offices waiting for Bobi Wine to come out and address us when policemen and soldiers started beating everyone they came across. They beat me several times as I fled.”

In late February, the United Nations called for an investigation into Wine’s allegations as well as an investigation into the Ugandan military’s use of excessive force against journalists covering Wine. The Ugandan military has since sentenced seven soldiers to 90 days in jail for their actions in that attack. That said, little has been done to address the mass abductions of National Unity Party members leaving hundreds of Ugandan families reeling.

For further information, please see:

ABC News – Uganda’s Bobi Wine arrested while protesting in the capital – 15 Mar. 2021

Anadolu Agency – Uganda: Police clobber 4 journalists, 3 lawmakers – 17 Feb. 2021

New York Times – The West’s Patience With Uganda’s Strongman Wanes After a Bloody Election – 4 Feb. 2021

Reuters – Uganda military sentences soldiers up to three months in jail over journalist assault – 18 Feb. 2021

U.S. News – Allegations of Abductions Grip Uganda After Tense Elections – 15 Feb. 2021

U.S. News – UN Urges Uganda to Probe Reporters’ Beating at Rights Office – 17 Feb. 2021

VOA news – Uganda Opposition Part Petitions UN Human Rights Office Over Violations – 17 Feb. 2021

Universal Jurisdiction: Germany’s Conviction of Syrian Officer for Crimes Against Humanity

By: Lauren Della Stua

Impunity Watch Staff Writer 

KOBLENZ, Germany – On February 24, 2021, in the first case of its kind, a German court sentenced a Syrian intelligence officer to four and a half years imprisonment for aiding crimes against humanity.

Defendant Eyad al-Gharib covering his face during sentencing. Photo Courtesy of New York Times.

Gharib was a former low-ranking member of Syria’s intelligence service, serving under President Bashar Assad’s regime. During an uprising in 2011, Gharib was ordered to arrest protestors and bring them to al-Khatib, a prison in Damascus. Gharib has been accused of detaining over 30 prisoners who were tortured.

While Gharib was eligible for a sentence of more than 10 years, the court considered mitigating factors. His attorney argued “necessity as defense”, in that Gharib feared for his life and his family’s lives if he did not follow orders.

The primary defendant Anwar Raslan, Gharib’s ranking supervisor, has also been charged with overseeing the torture but has not yet been sentenced. He is accused of supervising the torture of over 4,000 people, resulting in at least 58 deaths. 

So, how did the German court become involved?

After leaving Syria in 2013, both defendants sought asylum in Germany in 2019. Raslan approached German Police claiming that the Syrian Secret Service was after him. Following an investigation of his claims, the German Police discovered he was accused of torture. A Syrian refugee also came forward after recognizing Raslan on the street. Gharib was originally a witness in the case against Raslan but became a suspect in torture accusations.

Germany is not only home to over 800,000 Syrian refugees, but also has adopted a policy of universal jurisdiction. The policy allows the German courts to prosecute crimes against humanity that occurred anywhere in the world, regardless of whether the plaintiffs or defendants are German citizens.

But there are international implications that have arisen out of the universal jurisdiction policy, including this landmark case decision. Russia and China have blocked attempts by the United Nations Security Council to prosecute Syrian war crimes in the International Criminal Court. Mohammad Al-Abdallah, the director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center, claimed that the decision will “deter anyone else from defecting or joining the opposition or supplying information to human rights groups.”

Conversely, many believe that the ruling of aiding crimes against humanity will set an international precedent and facilitate more convictions of crimes against humanity.

For further information, please see:

Associated Press News – Conviction in Landmark Case over Syrian Government Torture – 24 Feb. 2021

Deutsche Welle – Defense calls for acquittal of Syrian on trial for torture – 24 Feb. 2021

NPR – Landmark Verdict in Germany Sentences Syrian Official for Crime Against Humanity – 24 Feb. 2021

The New York Times – An Old Legal Doctrine that puts War Criminals in Reach of Justice – 28 Feb. 2021

IACHR Condemns Argentina for Investigation of the 1994 Terrorist Attack

By: Lauren Della Stua 

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C – Nearly 27 years after the terrorist attack at the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) places responsibility on Argentina.

Rescue workers search the rubble of the 1994 Bombing. Photo Courtesy of CNN News.

On July 18, 1994, Iranian backed Hezballah terrorists bombed the AMIA, killing 85 people and injuring over 300 people. The attack was followed by numerous warnings, as well as the 1992 suicide bombers attack on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina.  Despite the attack taking place in Argentina, the bombing has been associated with accusations of Argentinian cover-ups. In 2004, suspects of the cover-up were found not guilty.  Shortly after the federal judge overseeing the case, Juan Jose Galeano was removed from his position for his grave mishandling of the case.

In 2006, a new prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was appointed to investigate the bombing and accused members of the Iranian Government and Hezbollah. Nisman also formally accused Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, former President of Argentina, of covering up Iran’s involvement in the attack. In 2015, hours before Nisman was going to testify against the President, he was murdered. Despite the lead prosecutor’s untimely murder, Kirchner is facing trial for treason based on her involvement in the cover-up.

In February 2019, the federal judge, Galeano, 2 prosecutors, a police commissioner, and several intelligence agency members were found guilty of covering up evidence and paying off witnesses in order to delay the case.

IACHR decided to investigate the alleged cover-up and divided its investigation into three parts: (1) Argentina’s investigation under the Federal Criminal and Correctional Court No. 9 from 1994-2005, (2) AMIA Attack Investigation Prosecution Unit (UFI AMIA) from 2005 to present, and (3) judicial cover-ups.

On March 25, 2021, following their investigation, the IACHR issued a Report on the Merits discussing Argentina’s responsibility and possible reparations. As to responsibility, IACHR noted that Argentina had a responsibility to adopt safety measures after they had knowledge of such a real threat. Furthermore, Argentina, although not necessarily willfully, declined to take protective measures of the Jewish community, and therefore violated of the right to equality and non-discrimination.

As to the Federal Criminal Court, IACHR concluded that the mishandling of evidence, forced hypothesis, and irregularities culminated to a cover-up. The second investigation, led by Nisman, uncovered more flaws of the Federal Criminal Court. For example, undue delays, improper handling of evidence, lack of expert testimony, and uncorroborated evidence. Furthermore, the State violated the right of the families to access information pertinent to the case by claiming it is classified. Lastly, the IACHR also found the State violated the right to psychological and moral integrity of the victims’ families by delaying and covering up the investigation.

The Merit Report gave 6 recommendations for the State. The recommendations included completing the investigation and punishing those responsible, paying reparations to the victim’s and their families, creating policies to manage the budget of the intelligence agencies, creating educational programs related to fighting terrorism, granting access to all information related to the case and investigation, and creating measures to prevent future attacks based on discrimination. 

To this day, the terrorist attacks have not been fully investigated nor have the accused all been brought to justice. However, the Merit Report will hopefully shed light on the corruption and prevent future attacks on the minority communities.

For further information, please see:

ABC News – 8 found guilty in cover-up of deadly 1994 bombing of Jewish center in Argentina – 28 Feb. 2019

AJC Global Voice – 25 Years since the AMIA Bombing: Hezbollah and Antisemitism – 17 July 2019

BBC News – Argentina prosecutor Alberto Nisman was killed, judge rules – 27 Dec. 2017

BBC News – Argentina Marks 1994 Bomb Attack – 18 July 2006

CNN News – Prosecutor in 1994 Buenos Aires Bombing Found Dead – 27 Dec. 2017

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – IACHR refers case on Argentina to the Inter-American Court – 26 Mar. 2021