Press Release

REDESCA of the IACHR expresses profound concern about discrimination for political reasons in the exercise of the rights to work and health in Nicaragua

August 21, 2019

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Washington, D.C.- The Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has received, with concern, reports that state that there is a pattern of discrimination and threats of retaliation by the authorities of the State of Nicaragua with implications on the rights to work and health of the people who are opponents to or critical of the government.

In this sense, the REDESCA learned that on April 10, in a meeting with State workers, departmental representatives of the Frente Nacional de Trabajadores and the Ministry of Health in Carazo, allegedly warned that State workers who disagree with the recommendations of the government would be fired. At the same time, they allegedly indicated that only people possessing the membership card of the official political party would be hired, in addition to checking that current public officials are in possession of the same. Also, they allegedly instructed that, in the case of new social protests, they should not provide medical assistance to anyone related to these protests, and they also warned that they should not have contact or dialogue with persons associated with the opposition movements. Instructions of the same type were allegedly repeated, during July 2019, in other cities such as Jinotepe, León and Somoto. In this last city, leaders of the Federación de Trabajadores de la Salud (Fetsalud) allegedly threatened to dismiss employees that they considered to be “traitors” of the ruling party for, among other reasons, having attended to protesters who were injured during the protests.

In general, the IACHR, through the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), and its REDESCA have been constantly aware of complaints from public hospital health personnel for receiving instructions to not attend to injured protesters under threat of dismissal or detention. They have also expressed concern about subsequent persecution and acts of intimidation that these professionals have allegedly received for having disobeyed such instructions, which, in many situations, caused them to leave the country.

The above has been a matter of public pronouncement by the IACHR and its REDESCA on multiple occasions. For example, in statement dated September 10, 2018, the Commission and its Special Rapporteurship regretted that the State of Nicaragua had not yet responded to a letter requesting information about the current situation of the dismissed health professionals. Previously, in statements dated August 2 and 24, 2018, the IACHR urged the State to cease its stigmatization of these individuals, and the REDESCA affirmed that the protection of the right to work implies refraining from adopting any labor reprisal for exercising the right to freedom of expression or for fulfilling their duties in order to ensure the right to health in the context of the current crisis in the country. Likewise, on December 19, 2018, the IACHR strongly condemned the deterioration of the human rights situation and the rule of law in Nicaragua, in which, among several serious consequences, it identified the dismissal of health professionals for exercising their work or for having critical views of the government. More recently, the Unidad Médica Nicaragüense indicated that the number of dismissals has reached, approximately, 410 health workers.

Furthermore, REDESCA is aware of a complaint which states that, at the beginning of 2019, the Cultural Coordinator of the Ministry of Education allegedly warned public officials of said Ministry not to speak out against the government, at the risk of being fired. “This is an institutional instruction, here those who boycott the project will be dismissed automatically, without any appeal”, declared the civil servant of the official political party. Moreover, the workers of said Ministry have denounced that they have been put under surveillance, having been followed to their homes after work.

In the same way, in Madriz and Esteli, public officials of the Ministry of Health, Education and the judicial branch, complained on April 2019, that some trade unionists aligned with the government were allegedly forcing them to display their cellphones every day when entering and leaving work in order to check their  contacts, conversations and messages on social networks, instant messaging services and their personal emails, as well as surveilling workers’ homes. On the other hand, the Partido Indígena Yátama  publically condemned that public employees were allegedly threatened, requiring the presentation of lists of their family members under the threat of being fired, as a means of forcing them to vote for the ruling party in the elections of March, 2019.

The REDESCA views with concern that the representatives of the State are limiting the exercise of the right to health and the right to work of people who are expressing opinions that differ with those of the government in power.  In this sense, the Special Rapporteurship reminds that it is an immediate obligation of the State to respect and guarantee the right to equality and non-discrimination for the enjoyment of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.

For REDESCA, the requirement to support the government in power or to obtain an official political party membership card as a condition to access or maintain  employment, or the limitation on access to health services for participating in protests or demonstrations against the government constitute discriminatory actions for political reasons that affect the basic content of such rights. That is to say that the existence of conditions related to the affiliation, militancy or political opinions, which are allegedly being required by the State of Nicaragua, are contrary to the principles of equality and non-discrimination in relation to the rights to work and health.

Furthermore, it is recalled that the IACHR, in Chapter IV.B of its 2018 Annual Report, concluded that the restrictions on these rights were framed in a pattern of systemic repression. Specifically, the IACHR emphasized that “in order to uphold a state structure of absolute control by the Executive Branch of government, it was possible to confirm that basic services (such as emergency medical care) are taken away on the basis of the affected person’s political affiliation. Likewise, health professionals are not allowed to freely exercise their profession, as a result of which their work is being constrained for political reasons”. In this sense, the Special Rapporteur on ESCER, Soledad Garcia Muñoz, has emphasized that “the persistence to date of the aforementioned practices are troubling evidence of a generalized and systematic discriminatory pattern that seriously affects the validity of the right to health and the right to work in Nicaragua”.

According to the above, the REDESCA makes an urgent appeal to the State of Nicaragua to cease immediately such discriminatory practices that affect the exercise of the rights to work and health, that generate a chilling effect over workers for possible reprisals, and severely weakens the efforts to contribute to overcoming the current human rights crisis that the country is experiencing.

The Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights is an office created by the IACHR to guide, develop and deepen its work to promote and protect economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in the Americas, taking into account the interdependent and indivisible nature of all human rights.

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. 208/19