Vilma Núñez de Escorcia, 77, still not ready to stop fighting against torture in Nicaragua

December 7, 2015

In the series Human Rights Defenders against Torture, OMCT published on 7 December “Nicaragua: Meet Vilma: Still not ready to stop fighting against torture in Nicaragua”.  Vilma Núñez de Escorcia , 77, has been heading the Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH) for the past quarter of a century, assisting civil society’s underprivileged populations and building the capacity to protect and promote human rights.  The first female magistrate in Nicaragua appointed Vice-President of the Supreme Court from 1979 to 1987, Vilma pegs her commitment to fighting for justice to the fact that she was born outside marriage ­- a terrible thing at that time, which meant that she was barred from the best religious secondary school and could not inherit as much as each of her “legitimate” siblings. She is now thankful for what she then considered as a “misfortune” as it made her realize how the legal system treated people differently. This realization made her want to train as a lawyer specializing in human rights and penal law. “I didn’t’ want anyone else to suffer discrimination so I chose to become a lawyer, to understand and stop it,” she explains.

She remembers her first encounter with torture when she was seven or eight years old. A man from her village, one Rito Jiménez Prado, was reported disappeared. A year later, in 1947, his body was found in a lime pit in the La Libertad open-pit gold mine. She never forgot the image of that body all covered in lime, like a white mummy, she says. At university she later learned of the many methods of torture when visiting two professors of hers who had been arrested. She saw professor Alonso Castellon had had all his front teeth filed during his detention.

Vilma herself was tortured when arrested in 1979, being considered a political opponent under Somoza as a lawyer defending Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional rebels. She spent five days without any news of her being sent to her family, just five months before the Sandinistas came to power.

Vilma and her organization initially thought that torture was no longer systematically used in the country from 1990-96, with the change of Government, after Daniel Ortega (elected president from 1985-1990). But from 2007, when Ortega was re-elected, torture was again institutionalized as a way to punish, bend and terrify people, and human rights defenders are not allowed into prisons. As crime has increased in recent years, especially in the countryside, people have been tortured for being considered supporters or accomplices of politically motivated armed groups when in fact these peasants were forced to feed guerilleros, Vilma explains.

Vilma, who has held leading positions in international or regional human rights NGOs including OMCT, admits that it is hard to say that thanks to her work torture has diminished.  On the contrary, there seems to be more torture in Nicaragua today. But at least people now know they have the right not to be torture. “For us our greatest success is that people have now understood the concept, and that it is a human rights violation,” she says. “To work in human rights you really have to believe in them. It’s all uphill and results are slow in coming,” she says.  “You need to have a personal motivation to keep going.

by Lori Brumat in Geneva

Source: Nicaragua: Meet Vilma: Still not ready to stop fighting against torture in Nicaragua / December 7, 2015 / Links / Human rights defenders / OMCT

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