IACHR Press Office
Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has published a report on Closure of civic space in Nicaragua. This report presents an analysis of Closure of civic space carried out mainly by forcibly dissolving thousands of civil society organizations in the wake of the human rights crisis that started in the country in April 2018, or by revoking the legal status of such organizations. The report examines the implementation of a repressive State strategy to effectively suspend fundamental rights and liberties involved in civic space, allegedly with the aim of consolidating the concentration of power in the hands of the executive. The success of this strategy allegedly relies on the enforcement of a police state that the IACHR has repeatedly denounced.
This report addresses for the first time the concept of civic space in the context of Nicaragua's serious ongoing human rights crisis. It also discusses the inter-American system standards linked to the conditions and safeguards necessary for individuals and civil society organizations to be able to freely engage in democratic life. This is one of the most serious cases of its kind in the Americas, amid State measures aimed at preventing individuals and groups from freely expressing their opinions and taking part in decision-making.
To draft this report, the IACHR's Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) developed a database identifying 3,390 civil society organizations that had had their legal status cancelled over the period April 18, 2018 – August 31, 2023, out of a total of 7,227 organizations that were legally registered in the country in 2018. This database is available on the IACHR's website.
The report stresses that opening and shutting down civic space depend on the legal conditions and factual circumstances that favor or restrict the exercise of the rights that are identified for individuals and groups to be able to play a significant role in society and to contribute to decision-making. The IACHR finds that the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association and the right to be involved in establishing the direction of public affairs are all fundamental principles of democracy, as well as essential elements of civic space.
The report documents the shutdown of civic space in Nicaragua through the gradual but sustained implementation of a repressive State strategy. This strategy features a series of patterns, including the criminalization of individuals who are identified as government critics, the arbitrary deprivation of nationality, a ban on social protests and demonstrations, measures to dissolve social movements and media outlets, and the selective persecution of individuals who question the government in civic, social, and even religious participation platforms.
The Commission and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression also stress the lack of safeguards for the exercise of freedom of expression and for civic participation in matters of public interest in Nicaragua and describe the various censorship mechanisms used in the context of a strategy to persecute and silence all voices who question the government. These mechanisms include unwarranted control and interference with media outlets, an abuse of punitive power against journalists, arbitrary arrests, surveillance of the press, passing and implementing restrictive legislation to allow sending people to jail for expressing dissent in matters of public interest, adopting regulatory powers to block access to the Internet, and the use by State authorities of stigmatizing discourse against journalists.
Closure of civic space in Nicaragua have included restrictions of freedom of religion, including the persecution of the Roman Catholic Church, a criminalization of religious services, the confiscation of bank accounts and other property, the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of members of the Roman Catholic Church, and other acts of repression and retaliation targeting members of the Roman Catholic Church, due to their mediating role in national talks in 2018 and due to their critical stance and denunciation of human rights violations.
In its report, the Commission warns about the implementation of State policies and measures to destroy or resignify—from the perspective of the ruling party—sites that became icons of the protests of April 2018. The IACHR also notes the dismantling of facilities belonging to media outlets and other organizations who have had their legal status revoked and their use by the ruling party for other purposes, in a context of widespread impunity.
The report makes recommendations to the Nicaraguan State, including the need to revoke decrees and other measures adopted by the authorities to revoke the legal status of various civil society organizations, as well as the need to return the facilities and all other property that have been confiscated.
Finally, the Commission calls on the international community to demand that the Nicaraguan State end human rights violations in the country and take any action necessary to restore democratic institutions and to fully enforce the rule of law and fundamental liberties, in keeping with the recommendations made in this and other relevant reports.
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.
* This is a corrected version of the press release originally issued. The correction was made on Nov 20, 2023.