Press Release

President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Visits Nicaragua

November 16, 2018

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Managua/Washington, DC—As part of the work of the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), IACHR president Margarette May Macaulay made a working visit to Nicaragua on October 25–27, 2018. Commissioner Macaulay is also the rapporteur on the rights of women, and the rapporteur on the rights of persons of African descent and against racial discrimination. The purpose of the visit was to analyze the human rights situation in Nicaragua, especially for women human rights defenders, women who are deprived of their freedom, and people of African descent.

As part of the visit, the IACHR reiterated the requests made to the State of Nicaragua to facilitate meetings between Ms. Macaulay and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office, the National Penitentiary System, the National Police Force, the Office of the Ombudsman for the Defense of Human Rights, and other bodies that are responsible for public policies on the rights of women and people of African descent. The IACHR regrets the state’s failure to respond to these requests.

During her visit, Ms. Macaulay met with civil society organizations, human rights defenders, members of the diplomatic corps who are working in Nicaragua, and representatives of the Catholic Church. She also met with the relatives of people who have died or been deprived of their liberty in connection with the protests that began on April 18.

President Macaulay was informed of the climate of threats, harassment, and intimidation against human rights defenders, especially women, because of their work defending the rights of women and people of African descent. The reports she received included allegations that female human rights defenders are under constant monitoring and surveillance in their private homes. They also claimed that this harassment is affecting their families as they have often been photographed and followed by unknown people when they are out with their children. In her capacity as rapporteur on women’s rights, Commissioner Macaulay that the risks faced by women human rights defenders that are inherent to their work are compounded by the prevailing context of gender discrimination. In this regard, the state should adopt special protection measures that are appropriate for the specific risk factors that women human rights defenders face.

Commissioner Macaulay expresses particular concern about the conditions in which women who are deprived of their freedom in connection with the recent protests are being held. These entail cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in the form of unsanitary conditions, inadequate medical care, the obstruction of visits, the use of maximum security regimes without objective criteria for applying these, and violations of their privacy and intimacy. According to information received by the rapporteurship and MESENI, women with critical health conditions are not receiving timely, adequate medical care, among others, the IACHR was informed about the case of Brenda Muñoz Martínez. In the case of trans women, they are being deprived of their liberty at a penitentiary for men. Ms. Macaulay emphasized the state’s obligation to ensure that all people in state custody are treated with dignity and urged that all available legal means be used to initiate an immediate ex officio investigation to identify, prosecute, and punish those responsible for torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Following this visit, the IACHR learned of severe acts of aggression that were perpetrated on October 26 against several women being held at La Esperanza prison, allegedly by agents of the state. According to the reports the IACHR has received, the events allegedly took place on the night of Friday, October 26. After shutting off the prison power supply, a group of allegedly masked guards entered the cellblock and beat a group of women who were protesting against the transfer of another prisoner. At least 16 women were injured as a result of these attacks. The IACHR urges the Nicaraguan authorities to look into these acts of violence and apply the appropriate legal and administrative sanctions. Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, the rapporteur for Nicaragua, reminded the state that “it is obliged to watch over the personal integrity and health of all people who are deprived of their liberty” and lamented the fact that “state authorities did not allow MESENI to visit the prison to check on detainees’ state of health.” The IACHR therefore wishes to request once again that Nicaragua allow MESENI access to detention centers.

At her meeting with members of organizations from Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast, Ms. Macaulay learned of issues affecting people of African descent, who have experienced specific patterns of repression in connection with the social protests that began in April 2018. According to these reports, there political persecution, harassment, and threats continue in this part of the country in retaliation for antigovernment demonstrations. The IACHR wishes to remind the state that it must take all effective measures needed to respect and safeguard the rights of people and communities of African descent, especially the right to live free from all types of violence and discrimination. The IACHR also notes that as well as repressing acts of protest, state authorities allegedly prevented the right to freedom of assembly when they stopped a public event to mark the death of journalist Ángel Gahona which had been going to take place in the vicinity of the Bluefields mayor’s office.

President Macaulay expressed her consternation regarding the testimonies from the mothers of people that died in connection with these events, who argued that they are the ones pushing for investigations and providing evidence during proceedings. They also stated that the support they have received from MESENI has been fundamental. The IACHR stresses that the state of Nicaragua is obliged to adopt measures to expeditiously investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for all acts of violence committed during the protests.

“As president of the IACHR, I wish to state once more that we are open to dialogue with the Government of Nicaragua. We are willing to engage in dialogue whenever Nicaraguan authorities so wish,” said President Macaulay at the press conference at the end of her visit.

The IACHR is also concerned over Nicaragua’s refusal to authorize the entry into the country of members of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) who had been going to take part in a meeting with MESENI on October 26, as part of Ms. Macaulay’s visit. Openness to international scrutiny helps safeguard democracy and the rule of law in society. The IACHR wishes to remind Nicaragua of the recommendation it put forward in the report on its working visit to the country, namely that it remain open to international scrutiny. It urges the state to facilitates visits to the country by members of the international community who are working to promote and protect human rights, especially those who perform the important function of assisting victims of human rights violations.

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. 245/18