IACHR and Its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression Urge Nicaragua to End Repression Against Indigenous Communities in Its Caribbean Coast

October 10, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression are concerned about recent repression and violence against members of the Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Asla Takanka (YATAMA) indigenous party and about constant attacks, criminalization, and harassment against indigenous communities in Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast.

Through its Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), the IACHR has received reports about worsening repression against indigenous communities in Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast. These reports mention arrests of community leaders, the revocation of the legal status of YATAMA (one of the main opposition parties in the region), shutdowns of indigenous radio stations, and constant attacks by armed settlers whose actions to deprive indigenous communities of their land are tolerated by State authorities.

All these events reflect a repressive strategy that is being applied by the Nicaraguan government to consolidate a regime based on the concentration of power and on violations of the democratic system, silencing government critics including indigenous communities (especially ahead of regional elections scheduled for 2024).

Over the period September 29–October 1, the IACHR was told of the arrests of National Assembly legislator and YATAMA party chair Brooklyn Rivera and of YATAMA legal representative and surrogate legislator Nancy Elizabeth Henríquez. So far, no reasons have been provided for these arrests and the legal status and whereabouts of these two YATAMA leaders remain unknown.

On October 4, the Supreme Electoral Council said that the YATAMA party's legal status had been revoked, with the argument that its legal representative and other leaders had publicly engaged in discourse that "misrepresented reality in the country" and therefore violated Act 1055—on the defense of "the people's rights to independence, sovereignty, and self-determination for peace."

In its report Nicaragua: Concentration of power and the undermining of the Rule of Law, the IACHR said that revoking the legal status of opposition parties in application of this legislation, with a view to arbitrarily restricting electoral competition, would violate the exercise of political rights, the rights to freedom of expression and association, and other rights, especially given the Supreme Electoral Council's lack of independence.

Further, the Nicaraguan Mail and Telecommunications Institute (TELCOR) ordered the shutdown of indigenous community radio stations Yapti Tasba Bila Baikra Bilwi and Waspam (both managed by YATAMA) and the confiscation of their facilities. Since they were founded in 2001, these radio stations had been considered essential to advocate, promote, and disseminate the culture of indigenous peoples.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression note with concern the impact that shutting down these radio stations might have on indigenous peoples, since they are an essential tool for participation in public debate and for the constant dissemination of indigenous cultures, rights, and languages, in a context of historical discrimination and exclusion. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship further warn of Nicaragua's growing "silenced areas," with limited or no independent media coverage. The expansion of these "silenced areas" has a serious impact on society's right to receive information of public interest and is a major hurdle for government transparency and accountability.

In 2023 so far, the IACHR has received several reports about the worsening violence faced by indigenous communities in Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast, some of them beneficiaries of precautionary measures issued by the IACHR and of provisional measures issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. These events cause constant uneasiness and fear in these communities and affect their members' rights to life and personal integrity, as well as undermining these communities' rights to land, territory, and survival.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression urge the State of Nicaragua to end repression against indigenous communities and against members of the indigenous party Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Asla Takanka (YATAMA), and to respect and protect fundamental liberties. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression further urge Nicaragua to immediately disclose the whereabouts and health conditions of the individuals who have been arrested; to protect their rights to due process and to an appropriate defense with regular, unrestricted contact with their legal counsel and families; and to release all individuals who have been arbitrarily arrested in the context of the ongoing crisis in Nicaragua.

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. 243/23

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