Press Release

Two Years into Nicaragua’s Human Rights Crisis, the IACHR Stresses its Permanent Commitment to Victims and Confirms the Consolidation of a Fifth Phase of Repression

April 18, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - Two years into the human rights crisis in Nicaragua, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) stresses its permanent commitment to victims of human rights violations and to the Nicaraguan people as a whole. It also confirms that a fifth phase of State repression is consolidating in the country. This consolidation includes more intense surveillance, harassment, and selective repression against individuals who are believed to oppose the government, as well as acts of violence in rural areas and against indigenous communities. The IACHR urges the State to restore the rule of law and respect for human rights.

To date, the State’s violent response to the social protests that started on April 18, 2018—implemented through different forms of repression and in different phases—has led to the deaths of 328 people (including 21 police officers and 24 children and adolescents) and left almost 2,000 injured; caused the arbitrary dismissal of hundreds of healthcare professionals; and involved deprivation of liberty for more than 777 individuals. According to UNHCR data, more than 100,000 people are believed to have been forced to flee from Nicaragua to neighboring countries, while more than 90 journalists and media workers have been forced into exile. These rights violations remain unpunished. The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts launched by the Commission in July 2018 to support investigations into deaths linked to violence in the country concluded that there had been a widespread, systematic attack on civilians that—according to international law—amounts to crimes against humanity, including incarceration and other forms of deprivation of physical liberty, persecution, rape, and torture.

Two years into this human rights crisis, the IACHR observes a persistent violation of the separation of powers and efforts to weaken Nicaragua’s democratic institutions. This involves concentrating power in the executive and hampering the independence of the judiciary and of public prosecutors, along with the perception that the National Assembly is aligned with the government. The evidence further shows concerted efforts by the National Police and groups of government supporters to constantly attack, watch, threaten, and harass anyone who is identified as an opponent of the government.

In this context, the Commission, through its Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI, by its Spanish acronym), has identified since the second half of 2019 patterns of human rights violations that include more intense surveillance and harassment and selective repression of social and political leaders, human rights defenders, journalists and other media workers, and anyone identified with the opposition; systematic attacks against indigenous peoples and communities; and allegations of extrajudicial killings of government opponents and peasants. In this new phase, the Commission is concerned about the prevalence of what amounts to a state of emergency, through a police State that enforces suspensions or severe restrictions of fundamental rights like freedom of expression and association (with no dissent allowed), freedom of assembly, the defense of human rights, social protest, and the right to influence public affairs. This entails a consolidation of the most intense and systematic attack on civil liberties in Nicaragua since the beginning of the crisis.

The IACHR has been informed of the persistence of arbitrary detentions and criminalization targeting opposition activists, some of them imprisoned following arbitrary or illegal proceedings. At least 70 people are currently incarcerated in these circumstances. Detainees are allegedly charged with common crimes including property crimes; bearing, carrying, or trafficking weapons; and drug trafficking. These individuals are held in several prisons around the country, which makes it difficult to keep records and monitor their situation. According to civil society reports, a procedure has been identified during 2020 where the same number of individuals are arrested and released over the same period of time. This not only causes uncertainty among detainees but also seeks to promote uneasiness overall, given the pattern of arbitrary detentions, as a strategy to discourage protests and to deny the existence of political prisoners. The Commission calls on the State to immediately stop using its right to conduct arrests as a tool for repression or intimidation targeting protests and the exercise of other political rights, as well as to promptly release anyone arrested in this context.

Through its MESENI, the IACHR has also been informed of the heightened harassment targeting independent media outlets to hamper their operations, by hindering access to official sources of information, harassing, threatening, and assaulting their workers, and seizing their property and subjecting them to administrative harassment. Beyond the persistent shutdown of the facilities used by the 100% Noticias TV channel and the digital audiovisual media outlet El Confidencial, the Commission was told that basic supplies required for the operations of independent newspapers La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario were held at customs. When those supplies were finally released in February 2020, El Nuevo Diario was no longer in circulation, whether online or in print.

Similarly, the IACHR noted the persistent persecution of associations of human rights defenders, whose property and facilities were often seized and whose offices—when not seized—were subjected to surveillance. The Commission was specifically informed of the failure to restore the legal status of nine civil society organizations who had had their status arbitrarily cancelled and whose legal appeals were ignored. In this context, the IACHR highlights and welcomes the work done by the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH, by its Spanish acronym), who continued to defend human rights in the country and to denounce rights violations. The Commission also salutes the work done by the Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH, by its Spanish acronym), who remains active in Nicaragua though its staff and facilities are constantly being intimidated and watched by the police and even travels to various parts of the country to collect data on the situation of human rights. Both organizations are beneficiaries of temporary measures granted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Further, the Commission rejects the revictimization suffered by victims of human rights violations in Nicaragua and their families in the current context of continued repression, as well as a lack of action to protect the right to truth, access to justice, and reparation. The IACHR values individuals and organizations who—amid the pain caused by the loss of their loved ones and despite facing attacks against their own integrity, as in the case of the group Asociación Madres de Abril (AMA) and others—continue to work tirelessly, even from exile, to record events, testimonies, data, allegations, and actions to build collective memory. This valuable work to collect and verify information—along with the Commission’s own efforts since the beginning of the human rights crisis—lays the groundwork to develop processes to restore truth and justice. The Commission stresses that access to justice, the recognition of events as they truly happened, and fair reparations all demand victim participation, as a requirement to grant legitimacy to any mechanisms aimed at protecting their rights and overcoming the ongoing crisis.

The IACHR notes that, two years into the human rights crisis in Nicaragua, the world is immersed in the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission said on April 8 that it was deeply concerned about the lack of action aimed at ensuring physical or social distancing as a tool to contain the pandemic within the country, in line with the recommendations of expert international organizations. Further, in the context of a serious deterioration of democratic institutions and a lack of public confidence in the country, the IACHR expressed its concern about the failure to take positive action to provide public, reliable, transparent and detailed information about essential aspects in the management of the pandemic and about measures and protocols implemented to protect the rights of individuals who are deprived of liberty. The IACHR calls on the Nicaraguan State to comply with the recommendations made by the Commission’s various mechanisms, particularly in Resolution 01/2020, Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas.

Finally, the Commission stresses that, since April 18, 2018, it has deployed all its conventional mechanisms in response to the serious crisis in Nicaragua. In May 2018, the IACHR launched a Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit (RIRCU) and conducted a working visit to Nicaragua, to observe on site the human rights situation in the country and make its first recommendations to the Nicaraguan State. In June 2018, the IACHR launched the MESENI, followed by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts in July 2018. Since December 2018, when State authorities suspended the MESENI’s presence and IACHR visits in the country, the MESENI has continued to monitor from the IACHR’s headquarters and through visits to other countries in the region both the situation of human rights in Nicaragua and compliance with the recommendations made to the Nicaraguan State. In this context, the Commission stresses that the situation in Nicaragua and the need to support victims and their families in the country will remain a priority.

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. 080/20