IACHR, OHCHR Condemn Criminalization, Harsh Conditions of Detention, and Failure to Enforce Due Process for Individuals Who are Perceived to Be Government Critics in Nicaragua

September 10, 2021

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Washington, D.C./Panama City – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for Central America and the Dominican Republic condemn the criminalization of individuals who are perceived to be government critics in Nicaragua. Some examples include the recent arrest warrant issued against former Nicaraguan vice president Sergio Ramírez, the raid on his property, and the charges pressed against him, as well as the harsh conditions of detention faced by opposition activists who have been deprived of liberty.

In recent months, the IACHR and the OHCHR have both expressed their concern about the State measures that have made it impossible for the opposition to take part in the upcoming election in Nicaragua, set to take place on November 7, which affects the right of the affected individuals to be involved in public affairs. In particular, the IACHR and the OHCHR have condemned the arbitrary arrests of more than 30 individuals since late May, including the leaders of social movements, journalists, women who are human rights defenders, and presidential candidates. The available information shows that, in most of these cases, the State has failed to officially confirm detainee whereabouts and has also prevented these individuals from keeping in touch with their families for as much as 80 days, as well as from having access to a lawyer of their choice.

The IACHR and the OHCHR reject the inappropriate use of criminal charges against opposition activists, to restrict their right to be involved in public affairs and their right to freedom of association by alleging they have engaged in serious crimes including money laundering (allegedly linked to aid funds) or "conspiracy to damage national integrity". According to the reports the IACHR and the OHCHR have had access to, the charges have failed to respect procedural guarantees or the right to a fair trial, since in several cases they have been formalized in private and secret preliminary hearings, away from courts of law, in the early hours of the day, and often without the presence of the legal representatives designated by the defendants themselves. None of the judicial decisions concerning habeas corpus appeals or procedural exceptions filed by defense lawyers have been settled in favor of the defendants, according to the available reports.

The IACHR and the OHCHR have both received reports of harsh conditions of detention faced by these detainees, particularly women, including constant interrogation, isolation, 24/7 exposure to artificial lighting, lack of appropriate medical care, and insufficient access to food and water. These conditions may have included ill-treatment.

Allegations of psychological torture against female detainees during interrogations are particularly worrying. These are allegedly being perpetrated in retaliation for these women's role as social or political leaders or as human rights defenders.

The Commission and the OHCHR ask the relevant authorities to ensure dignified treatment for individuals in State custody, along with appropriate access to these individuals by national and international human rights organizations, among others. This includes enabling adequate medical care, sufficient nutritious food, healthy conditions of detention, and regular visits. In particular, the IACHR and the OHCHR urge the Nicaraguan State to adopt all measures necessary to effectively protect and enforce women's rights, so women suffer no discrimination and are protected from all forms of violence that might be based on their gender. The IACHR and the OHCHR further call for an investigation into the alleged ill-treatment of detainees and for comprehensive reparations for victims.

The Commission and the OHCHR also call on Nicaraguan authorities to ensure due process and, in particular, to enable an appropriate defense that grants defendants regular contact with their legal representatives and allows them to be involved in preparations for their own hearings. It is therefore essential for detainees' legal representatives to have unlimited access to their clients.

Finally, the IACHR and the OHCHR call on the State to release all individuals who have been arbitrarily detained in recent months, including the 130 individuals who have been deprived of liberty since the crisis started in April 2018, to protect the integrity and the safety of these detainees, and to immediately end arbitrary and illegal detentions of individuals believed to be government critics, as well as to restore guarantees for the full enjoyment of civil and political rights.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is the main UN body in the field of human rights. The General Assembly entrusted the High Commissioner and her Office with the mission of promoting and protecting the human rights of all people. At States' request, the OHCHR provides technical assistance to support the enforcement of international human rights standards, in order to protect human rights and to ensure their effective enjoyment. The OHCHR helps governments—who are responsible for protecting human rights—to comply with their international obligations and supports individuals so they may stand up for their own rights. It also objectively flags human rights violations.

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. 238/21

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