On August 2, the European Union announced it had imposed asset freezes and travel bans on eight Nicaraguans “responsible for serious human rights violations in Nicaragua and/or whose actions undermined democracy or the rule of law.”
Those sanctioned include Rosario Murillo, vice president and first lady of the Republic of Nicaragua, her son Juan Carlos, who is director of the state news outlet Canal 8, and other high-ranking state and police officials.
Six other senior Nicaraguan officials were sanctioned in May 2020 on similar grounds in response to the deteriorating political and social situation in the country, fueled by the state-backed repression of anti-government protesters, the government’s political opposition, independent media and civil society organizations.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza condemned the latest sanctions against Nicaragua as unlawful.
“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela categorically rejects the new aggression directed from the European Union against the Government and democratic institutions of Nicaragua, by seeking to impose unilateral coercive measures on [high level Nicaraguan state officials],” he said in a statement.
“With this decision, the European Union once again places itself outside of international law and all international norms of peaceful coexistence, respect for sovereignty and self-determination of the peoples and again aligns itself with the practice of following the politics of intervention of the United States.”
However, to characterize the sanctions as an attack on Nicaragua’s democratic institutions or a violation of international law is false. President Daniel Ortega’s autocratic government has engaged in a deepening assault on Nicaragua’s democratic institutions. The EU measures in response are legal.
The United States has sanctioned Nicaraguan officials and the Nicaraguan national police for “serious human rights abuses” and “serious corruption.”
The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-People’s Trade Treaty (ALBA), a 10-member bloc of countries that is dominated by Venezuela and includes Nicaragua, released a similar condemnation.
A day after the new sanctions, Berenice Quezada, who is running for vice president in Nicaragua’s November 7 elections, became the eighth candidate to be arrested since May.
The U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper reported that she was charged with “justifying terrorism” after criticizing Ortega.
A U.S. State Department account tweeted that Ortega-Murillo had “sunk to new depths of desperation” with the arrest and electoral exclusion of Quezada.
Ortega, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term as president, launched a massive crackdown on anti-government demonstrators in April 2018. Security forces and pro-government paramilitaries reportedly killed at least 309 demonstrators over a 75-day period. Thousands more were injured.
The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts for Nicaragua, set up by the Organization of American States, investigated and found that Ortega and his security forces had engaged in crimes against humanity.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said it had documented "disproportionate use of force by the police, sometimes resulting in extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearances; torture and sexual violence, as well as widespread arbitrary or unlawful detentions, occasionally by pro-government armed elements with the acquiescence of authorities.”
On May 28, the OHCHR spokesperson said the possibility of holding “free and genuine elections” in November had been diminished because of actions taken by authorities against civil society, the media and political opposition.
The spokesperson said electoral reforms passed by the Ortega-aligned National Assembly did not ensure the impartiality of election authorities and contained “provisions that do not comply with human rights norms and standards, including restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, assembly, and political participation.”
The reforms were used to dissolve two political parties “using arguments that are contrary to international norms and standards, and without due process,” the OHCHR spokesperson said.
On June 22, 59 United Nations members, including the United States, signed a joint declaration on Nicaragua condemning the human rights situation since April 2018. New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Ortega of “dismantl[ing] nearly all institutional checks on presidential power” since taking office in 2007, while intensifying suppression of opposition parties and lawmakers.
HRW further accused the Supreme Court of Justice of Nicaragua of helping Ortega to circumvent a constitutional prohibition on re-election.
Supreme Court of Justice President Alba Luz Ramos was among those hit in the latest round of EU sanctions. The EU accused her of “instrumentalization of the judiciary in favor of the interests of the Ortega regime, through the selective criminalization of opposition activities, perpetuating the pattern of violations of rights of due process, arbitrary arrests, and the disqualification of political parties and opposition candidates.”
In July 2019, HRW called on the United States to sanction Ortega and other top officials for the brutal treatment of protesters.
On August 2, U.K.-based Amnesty International reported that “[t]he run-up to the Nicaraguan elections has been characterized by human rights violations, including the right to freedom of expression and association.” Tenant farmer representatives, student leaders, political activists and other public political figures have been arrested alongside protesters and presidential candidates.
Amnesty said human rights defenders and journalists subjected to state-sponsored harassment were among the 100,000 people forced to flee the country “to protect their lives.”
As for the sanctions, the EU said that the measures specifically target “individuals” and are specifically designed “not to harm the Nicaraguan population or the Nicaraguan economy.” The 14 sanctioned individuals are “subject to an asset freeze,” while EU citizens and entities “are forbidden from making funds available to them.”
The sanctioned individuals also cannot enter or transit through EU territories.
Ian Hurd, director of the Weinberg College Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern University previously told Polygraph.info that such sanctions imposed by the European Union or European countries are governed by their respective laws, in line with their own regulations, and are specific to their own territories.
Hurd noted they are administrative measures rather than criminal and/or international legal cases and as such do not require that a crime be proven in court.
These measures, including freezes on assets and bank accounts, as well as travel bans, do not extend beyond the operations of individuals or organizations in the EU. Therefore they “do not amount to the extra-territorial application of EU law,” he said.