Press Release

Two Years After the Creation of MESENI, IACHR Recalls Nicaragua’s Pending Human Rights Obligations

June 23, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - In response to the human rights crisis that began in Nicaragua on April 18, 2018, and two years after the creation of the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reminded the state of Nicaragua of its obligations to end the ongoing human rights crisis in the country.

On June 24, 2018, the IACHR created MESENI at the invitation of the state of Nicaragua to monitor the human rights situation in the country and follow up on the recommendations made by the IACHR in the Preliminary Observations from its visit and the report entitled “Gross Human Rights Violations in the Context of Social Protests in Nicaragua.” MESENI is also monitoring the recommendations that were issued subsequently in the final report of the Nicaragua GIEI (2018), the IACHR’s annual reports for 2018 and 2019, and in the report entitled “Forced Migration of Nicaraguans to Costa Rica” (2019), and as part of the process of complying with the precautionary measures authorized by the IACHR to people whose life or physical integrity are at serious risk due to the current context in the country. To date, the state of Nicaragua has not complied with any of the recommendations contained in the above reports or the precautionary measures, nor has the IACHR observed any steps toward doing so.

On December 19, 2018, after MESENI had been operating for six months in the field, the state of Nicaragua decided to “temporarily suspend” the its presence in the country. Since then, MESENI (which has now been in place for two years) has continued its work monitoring and following up on the recommendations made to the state from IACHR headquarters in Washington, DC. To achieve this, it has kept in daily contact with civil society organizations in Nicaragua, organizations in exile, and victims and their families.

The IACHR noted once again that openness to international scrutiny helps safeguard democracy and the rule of law. It urged the state to facilitate visits from the IACHR and MESENI and other international bodies, such as the OHCHR.
Outstanding Human Rights Obligations

According to the data compiled by MESENI, the state’s violent response to the social protests that began on April 18, 2018, have taken a variety of forms and entailed different stages of repression, and have resulted in the deaths of 328 people, including 21 police officers and 24 children and adolescents; nearly 2000 injuries; more than 770 people being deprived of their freedom; and hundreds of arbitrary dismissals of health professionals who have not yet been reinstated. According to data recorded by the UNHCR, more than 100,000 people have been forced to flee Nicaragua to neighboring countries and more than 90 journalists and media workers have been forced into exile. Since April 2018, the IACHR has requested that the government of Nicaragua adopt 85 precautionary measures to protect more than 200 people and their immediate families from the imminent risk of suffering irreparable damage to their lives and integrity. Likewise, the IACHR is currently analyzing 152 petitions that allege human rights violations on the part of the state of Nicaragua since this crisis began, 33 of which are at the admissibility stage.

The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), which the IACHR established in July 2018 to assist with investigations into the deaths that have occurred during the current wave of violence, concluded that the events that have taken place in Nicaragua—which include imprisonment and other forms of deprivation of physical freedom, persecution, rape, and torture—are part of a widespread, systematic attack on the civilian population and should be deemed crimes against humanity, in accordance with international law.

In recent months, the IACHR has reported that state repression in the country has entered the fifth stage (PR 80/2020), which has entailed an intensification of acts of surveillance, harassment, and selective repression against people who are thought to be dissidents, as well as acts of violence in rural areas and against communities of indigenous peoples. In connection with this, the IACHR also warned that the principle of the separation of powers continues to be violated and that democratic institutions in Nicaragua are being weakened due to the concentration of power in the executive branch and the lack of independence of the judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, among other things.

Through MESENI, the IACHR has spoken out against the prolongation of the de facto state of emergency in the country, which has suspended or placed severe limitations on rights such as freedom of expression, the right of assembly and association, the right to defend human rights, and the right to participate in public affairs. In particular, since 2018 the state has been pursuing a strategy to prevent and limit any antigovernment demonstrations. In addition, arrests for the purposes of intimidation and the pressing of arbitrary criminal charges against political dissidents remain common practice, and more than 80 people are currently deprived of their freedom in these circumstances.

In response to the current human rights crisis, the IACHR has expressed its concern over the lack of independence between the legislative and executive branches of government, as was observed in the approval of the forced dissolution orders concerning nine human rights organizations in retaliation for their work reporting on the gravity of the situation in Nicaragua. To date, the nine civil society organizations whose legal status has been revoked since December 2018 have yet to have this reinstated, and nor have their assets, archives, and files documenting human rights violations been returned to them, which constitutes a latent threat to other organizations and victims’ groups that are continuing to work in the country.

The IACHR reiterated its concern over the impunity that surrounds the serious human rights violations that have been committed since April 18, 2018, particularly in connection with the lack of judicial independence and the adoption of a set of laws that run counter to international law, including the Amnesty Act. This is compounded by the official narrative denying the fact that there is an ongoing human rights crisis in the country, which highlights the state’s unwillingness to guarantee access to justice, truth, and adequate reparation.

With regard to the reparation plans that the government of Nicaragua has allegedly implemented, the IACHR has documented that the Comprehensive Care for Victims Act and the Reconciliation, Justice, and Peace commissions have yet to provide coverage for victims of state repression. Furthermore, MESENI has reported acts of persecution against organizations of victims’ relatives in the form of surveillance and persecution, as well as other acts of violence such as the desecration by progovernment groups of the graves of people who have been murdered.

With regard to repression of and violence against the media, the IACHR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression have expressed concern over the escalation of attacks on the press and signs of systematic repression of the media, including journalists being silenced, attacked, and sent death threats. According to the information received, the offices of the 100% News channel, the online media outlet Confidencial, and the television programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche are still being illegally occupied. On September 27, 2019, paper and other essential newspaper supplies resulted in the closure of El Nuevo Diario.

The IACHR noted that in parallel with the unfolding of the human rights crisis and the different stages in state repression, there have been reports of a resurgence in the selective execution of campesinos, especially in the north of Nicaragua, and attacks on indigenous communities in the country’s autonomous regions, which have resulted in deaths and the seizing of these communities’ territories and property. Although human rights organizations and the victims themselves have reported that state agents were either involved in these attacks or allowed them to happen, no timely, impartial processes have been implemented to investigate these events and ascertain who was responsible for them, despite the IACHR’s recommendations to this end.

According to information published by the UNHCR, to date, more than 100,000 people have been displaced from Nicaragua since the start of the human rights crisis sparked by the current repression, mainly to Costa Rica and other countries in the region. Although state authorities have publicized a supposedly safe return plan, there is no evidence that safe conditions for the return of those who have been displaced have actually been facilitated. MESENI has reported on the situation of some 500 Nicaraguans, mostly from the country’s Caribbean coast, who are working on various islands in the Caribbean or for cruise companies and who wish to return to the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic but have not been allowed to do so by the Nicaraguan authorities.

In the context of the pandemic, the IACHR has expressed its concern over the situation of people who are deprived of their freedom in Nicaragua due to the risk of infection that they are facing and the lack of information on measures and protocols to contain and prevent the spread of the virus on the part of the state within detention centers. In response, the IACHR called once more on the states to guarantee the prompt release of people who are being arbitrarily detained in retaliation for involvement in social protests or because they have been identified as dissidents. It also urged the state to comply with the recommendations made in IACHR Resolution 01/2020, Pandemics and Human Rights in the Americas, in order to protect this group’s human rights.

MESENI’s Achievements

In the two years it has been in operation, MESENI has collected more than 1621 testimonies from victims of repression in Nicaragua. These testimonies will contribute to the construction and recording of the historical memory of events, which will be essential to moving ahead with the processes of truth, justice, and reparation that the Nicaraguan population are demanding.

To this end, MESENI has been working with different countries in the region, including Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and the United States to meet with victims and human rights organizations that have fled Nicaragua. The information and testimonies gathered by MESENI have helped attract the international community’s attention to the serious situations that certain groups are in. For example, on September 20, 2019, the IACHR published the report entitled “Forced Migration of Nicaraguans to Costa Rica,” which documents the situation of the thousands of Nicaraguans who have become victims of forced migration. Similarly, the IACHR is currently finalizing a thematic report on the situation of people who are deprived of their freedom in Nicaragua, which will be published in the coming months.

In the two years that MESENI has been operating, based on its work monitoring and following up on recommendations, the IACHR has published 81 press releases and has included a report on the situation in Nicaragua in Chapter IV.B of its 2018 and 2019 annual reports, in accordance with its Rules of Procedure, which stipulate that countries experiencing severe, widespread human rights violations and deterioration of democratic institutions should be included in the report. It has also held 13 thematic hearings during its sessions, only one of which was attended by the state.

Similarly, through MESENI, the IACHR has requested information from the state of Nicaragua regarding the situation of victims of human rights violations during the crisis. To date, the state has only made selective responses to these: it has presented observations and information regarding thematic reports and public hearings but has failed to respond to the IACHR’s express requests on specific issues or situations. Given that the information provided by the authorities to date is limited and insufficient, the IACHR called on the state of Nicaragua to collaborate more extensively on this matter.

Since April 2018, the IACHR has requested that the government of Nicaragua adopt 85 precautionary measures to protect more than 200 people and their immediate families from the imminent risk of suffering irreparable damage to their lives and integrity. Due to the extremely serious, urgent situations in which some of the beneficiaries found themselves, in 2019, the IACHR presented three requests for provisional measures to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, all of which were granted and two of which remain in force. The latter include the provisional measures granted in favor of the members of CENIDH and CPDH and the provisional measures expanding protection in favor of the inhabitants of the Santa Clara Community on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Likewise, the IACHR is currently analyzing 152 petitions that allege human rights violations on the part of the state of Nicaragua since this crisis began, 33 of which are at the admissibility stage.

The IACHR has also developed an extensive program of in-person and online training sessions on IASHR protection measures and intra-American standards on memory, truth, and justice. These are aimed at groups of victims of human rights violations and their families, lawyers, and human rights defenders both in Nicaragua and living in exile. The IACHR has held a total of 31 training sessions since April 18, 2018, which have had a direct impact on more than 640 people.

Finally, the IACHR highlighted the enormous role that Nicaraguan civil society has played in the IACHR’s ability to exercise its mandates of protection and promotion. The rigor and commitment of organizations and individuals in Nicaragua have enabled exhaustive monitoring and follow-up on the human rights situation in the country and the deployment of protection mechanisms. Two years since MESENI was established, the IACHR draws attention to this historic contribution on the part of the people of Nicaragua, without which it would not have been possible to exercise the mandate entrusted to it by the inter-American instruments.

The IACHR acknowledged that, in the context of the serious human rights crisis and profound deterioration of the rule of law in Nicaragua, the COVID-19 pandemic may have even more serious impacts on the population’s rights. In view of this, it once more expressed its commitment to continuing monitoring and following up on the recommendations made to the state and protective actions through the tools deployed and articulated by MESENI, such as gathering information daily, publishing and raising awareness, holding public hearings, creating monthly newsletters, gathering testimonies, and running training sessions and other activities to strengthen civil society.

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. 146/20