Victims Say Nicaragua Police Torture Prisoners

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Police in Nicaragua are engaging in serious human rights abuses, according to testimony collected by a human rights organization, highlighting that even in the most exemplary of police forces, abuse of authority is a major concern.  

Prisoners told a human rights group that the police made them play “Russian roulette” — when a revolver is loaded with one bullet and the cylinder spun at random before shooting, leaving the prisoner’s fate to chance — almost strangled one prisoner with a condom, and nearly buried alive another prisoner, according to the first of a two part series in the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa.

The report adds that more “typical” abuses also occur, including hits and kicks to the face, and other parts of the body. And, in a separate report on La Prensa’s site, a victims says the police poured acid on his feet after corralling him and others during a street demonstration, demanding to know if the money for their political activities came from “the right, the Americans.”

An official from the non-governmental organization known as the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), which chronicled the abuses that occur during investigations, interrogations and mass arrests, reported that 600 allegations of police abuse were filed in 2012, and a similar number in 2011. 

Police have so far not responded to the allegations.

InSight Crime Analysis

Though Nicaragua’s police force is upheld as a model for regional security (see InSight Crime’s interview with Nicaragua’s police chief), reports of prisoner abuses shed light on cracks in a body described a year earlier by Police Chief Aminta Granera as “preventive, proactive and deeply connected to the community.”

According to security analyst Robert Orozco, Nicaraguan police abuse their authority with prisoners because they believe they are “above the law,” and because they lack supervision from a higher authority.

The reported torture of Nicaraguan prisoners is just one example of a phenomenon seen across the region. A May 2012 report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) highlighted a similar trend toward the use of torture as a means to gain information from prisoners in Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay. In Brazil, a video of police abusing prisoners was blamed for sparking a series of arson attacks in February.

Another major regional problem in the treatment of prisoners is prison overcrowding, which contributes to a lack of control by authorities, and allows for the emergence of violent black market economies and “micro-states” run by inmate bosses in prisons in Honduras and Venezuela. In one El Salvador prison that is four times over capacity, the Barrio 18 gang controls daily life and runs extortion operations (see InSight Crime’s video report on the prison).

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