Five Years into Nicaragua's Human Rights Crisis, the IACHR Calls for the Restoration of Democracy and Stresses Its Solidarity with Victims

April 18, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – On the fifth anniversary of the start of social protests in Nicaragua, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) stresses its solidarity with victims of the serious human rights violations perpetrated in that country since April 18, 2018, as well as with their families. The Commission further calls for the restoration of democracy in Nicaragua, allowing free, participatory, and transparent elections; for the adoption of a system of checks and balances; and for the implementation of procedures aimed at ensuring truth, justice, and redress.

The social protests launched on April 18, 2018, by older adults with the support of university students and other young people in response to proposed reforms of the Social Security Act spontaneously exposed the social discontent that had built up over several years, in the face of institutional processes that had gradually restricted citizen expression, coopted public institutions, and led to a concentration of State power in the hands of the executive. These processes included the effective adoption of a state of emergency, the violation of the principle of the separation of powers, and the lack of access to an independent, fair, and egalitarian justice system.

The State's repressive, violent response to protests and dissent persist to this day. The IACHR has identified different stages and levels of intensity, leading to a political, social, economic, and human rights crisis that continues to deepen. Over the past five years, these human rights violations in Nicaragua have left at least 355 people dead, more than 2,000 injured, 2,090 deprived of liberty, and 322 arbitrarily deprived of their nationality, as well as leading to the cancellation of the formal status of more than 3,000 organizations. By March 31, 2023, 26 individuals remained in arbitrary detention.

The IACHR has recorded more than 400 dismissals of healthcare workers for doing their work or for being critical of the government, even in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. There have also been arbitrary arrests and other acts of retaliation against students and university leaders who took part in social protests. Since 2018, more than 150 students have been expelled from universities, while more than 10 private universities and higher education institutions have been forced to close down with the aim of restricting academic freedom throughout the country.

After Daniel Ortega's inauguration for a fourth presidential mandate in succession, the IACHR noted a radicalization in a renewed stage of repression to suppress civic and democratic platforms in Nicaragua. This new stage involved mass shutdowns of civil society organizations, the dissolution of social movements and media outlets (to restrict freedom of the press and freedom of expression), and the selective persecution of anyone who questioned the government—in any realm of civic and social participation, including religion—and was therefore regarded as a government critic.

In 2023 so far, the IACHR has condemned an escalation of new human rights violations, particularly the release from prison on February 9 of 222 individuals who were arbitrarily deprived of their Nicaraguan nationality after being "deported" to the United States, as a form of punishment. This is not based on Nicaraguan law and violates the principles of legality and non-retroactivity. On February 15, the IACHR rejected the court decision to deprive 94 individuals of their nationality, their political rights, and all their property. Without trial, the court condemned these individuals—identified as political opponents of the current Nicaraguan government—as "fugitives" and "traitors."

In the recent stage of shutdowns and major restrictions, repression of representatives of the Nicaraguan Roman Catholic church who were critical of the government became more intense, as did restrictions of religious freedom. In recent days, more than 20 people have reportedly been arrested in several areas of the country, some of them for failing to comply with the police ban on Roman Catholic events in public spaces. Journalist Víctor Ticay, for instance, was arrested on April 6 for covering a religious procession in the municipality of Nandaime. So far, three priests remain arbitrarily deprived of liberty, including Matagalpa Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who was sentenced to 26 years in jail for "treason" and was also deprived of his nationality and political rights.

Over the course of 2023, the IACHR has also been monitoring a series of attacks against indigenous communities in Nicaragua's Caribbean coast, some of them beneficiaries of protection measures granted by the Inter-American Human Rights System. According to the reports the Commission has had access to, one of the most recent attacks was perpetrated on March 11 by armed settlers against the Wilu community and left at least five people dead, several injured, and some families displaced after being forced to run for their lives. These events have happened in a context of systematic attacks on indigenous communities in Nicaragua's Caribbean coast, which have had a serious impact on the rights to life and personal integrity of members of those communities, as well as affecting these communities' rights to land, territory, and survival.

report drafted by the IACHR in 2018 found that violence focused on discouraging participation in demonstrations and on ending this expression of political dissent. It followed a common pattern, marked by the following factors: (a) the excessive and arbitrary use of police force, including lethal force; (b) the use of parapolice groups and other illegal armed groups with the acquiescence and tolerance of State authorities; (c) obstacles to hinder access to emergency medical assistance for the injured, as a form of retaliation for their involvement in demonstrations; (d) a pattern of arbitrary and unlawful detentions of young people and adolescents who were peacefully taking part in protests; (e) the use of propaganda and stigmatization campaigns, and of direct and indirect forms of censorship; (f) the use of intimidation and threats against social movement leaders; and (g) a lack of due diligence to launch investigations into the murders and injuries that happened in this context.

The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts for Nicaragua (GIEI-Nicaragua) noted that, in the context of systematic attacks against civilians in retaliation for social protests, there were several instances of what international law would define as crimes against humanity.

All the human rights violations that have been documented since 2018 remain fully unpunished, given the lack of independence of the different branches of government, and particularly given the lack of an impartial and independent justice system. This scenario keeps the Nicaraguan people immersed subjected to terror and censorship. Finally, the IACHR notes that the current political, social, and human rights crisis, along with the persistent persecution of anyone who is considered a government critic, continues to force thousands of people to leave Nicaragua. More than 250,000 people have reportedly been forcibly displaced to other countries since 2018.

In this context, five years into the ongoing human rights crisis in Nicaragua, the Commission expresses its solidarity with the victims and with the Nicaraguan people. The IACHR stresses its commitment to continuing to promote and protect human rights in the country with all its conventional tools, particularly its Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI). The IACHR calls on States in the Americas and on the international community as a whole to support the return of democracy and the restoration of the rule of law in Nicaragua.

The IACHR continues to build and update databases and draft reports to support efforts to preserve historical truth and to ensure access to justice for victims of serious human rights violations in a future transition to democracy. In this context, the Commission publishes historical records of individuals who were deprived of liberty for political reasons in Nicaragua over the period April 18, 2018–February 10, 2023. These records are available in the IACHR website.

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. 067/23

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