BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A judge in Argentina has launched a criminal investigation into Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario María Murillo to determine whether they are responsible for crimes against humanity.
Federal Judge Ariel Lijo launched the investigation Wednesday at the behest of prosecutor Eduardo Taiano after two lawyers filed a criminal complaint against Nicaragua’s leaders.
Taiano has said Argentina’s judiciary is within its rights to investigate human rights violations that took place in another country because Argentina’s Constitution recognizes the principle of universal jurisdiction.
As the first measure, Lijo sent a request for information to the Nicaraguan judiciary demanding details on whether there are any open cases related to alleged illegal detentions and the disappearance of people, a judicial official with knowledge of the case told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still in a preliminary stage.
This is not the first time Argentina’s judiciary has investigated allegations of human rights abuses in another country using the principle of universal jurisdiction.
A court in Argentina launched an investigation in 2010 into allegations of human rights abuses during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) as well as during Francisco Franco’s regime and the two years between the dictator’s death in 1975 and the first democratic elections. More recently, a court in Argentina gave the green light in 2021 to an investigation into claims of human rights violations against the largely Muslim Rohingya population in Myanmar.
In his request for the investigation to be opened, Taiano specifically targeted Ortega and his wife, who is also the country’s vice president, as well as “those who within the state or semi-official structures” can be responsible for dictating executions and persecutions “on political and/or religious grounds.”
Ortega’s government has intensified the persecution of its political adversaries and uses the courts to accuse their family members of criminal activity, according to human rights organizations.
Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled the country as a result of the persecution that followed the massive protests of April 2018 that led to people being detained and receiving long prison sentences.
Argentina’s judicial action is in response to a complaint filed by two lawyers, Darío Richarte and Diego Pirota, based on a news story regarding the detention of Rolando Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa who is under house arrest. Little is known about his health.
The complaint pointed out that the situation of the bishop’s detention takes place within the context of a systematic attack against the civilian population and mentions investigations pointing to abuses by Ortega’s government. The investigations were carried out by the Inter American Commission of Human Rights, the U.N. Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, the Center for Legal and Social Studies and the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights.
Taiano has said Argentina’s judiciary can launch the investigation into Nicaragua’s government due to international commitments that “establish the duty of domestic tribunals to investigate in the name of the international community.”
The prosecutor also pointed out that the International Criminal Court would not be able to try any alleged crimes because Nicaragua has not ratified the Rome Statute.