IACHR Rejects Passing of Law Restricting Political Rights in Nicaragua

January 6, 2021

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Washington, D.C.- The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) rejected the approval of the Act to Defend the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination for Peace by the National Assembly on December 21, 2020. It also urged the state of Nicaragua to repeal the law in question.

According to article 1, the law will prevent Nicaraguans from running for elected office if they have, in the opinion of the authorities, "led or financed a coup d'état," "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," among others.

According to article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights, all citizens have the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs directly or through freely chosen representatives, to vote and be elected through genuine periodic elections held through equal, universal suffrage and by secret ballot that guarantees that voters can freely express their will; and to be eligible for public office in their country. These rights must also be guaranteed by the State under equal conditions. In this sense, the IACHR is concerned that the law in question would disproportionately limit the political rights enshrined in the American Convention.

The IACHR is particularly concerned that the grounds for depriving people of the right to run for office set out in the initiative include broad descriptions but do not specify the procedures to be followed nor the authorities that are to decide on them. This, combined with the lack of independence of the branches of public power, especially the judiciary and the Supreme Electoral Council (as amply documented by the IACHR in Chapter IV.B of its annual reports in 2018 and 2019), implies that there is a serious risk that the provisions contained in the law are applied in an arbitrary, discretionary fashion, which would, in turn, violate the political rights of people who dissent with the current government.

Likewise, the IACHR noted that the Act to Defend the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination for Peace followed other laws approved this year by the National Assembly, which, in addition to containing provisions that run counter to the American Convention on Human Rights, clearly seek to repress dissident voices in Nicaragua. Examples of such legislation include the Foreign Agents Act and the Special Cybercrime Act. Together, these norms appear to form part of a broader strategy intensifying repression against any individual who opposes the official narrative.

In response, the IACHR urged the State of Nicaragua to repeal this legislation and take urgent measures to reestablish constitutional order and the guarantees of a democratic regime and prevent impunity over the grave human rights violations that have taken place in the country.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 003/21