IACHR Press Office
Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has published the report "Concentration of Power and Weakened Rule of Law in Nicaragua". The report addresses the serious political, social, and human rights crisis in Nicaragua, in a context where the rule of law has been completely defused, where human rights have been profoundly attacked, and where a general election is set to be held on November 7.
Concentrating power in the hands of the Executive has made it easier for Nicaragua to become a police State where the Executive is suppressing all liberties, through citizen control and surveillance and through the use of State law enforcement agencies and para-State groups with the acquiescence of the remaining branches of government and oversight institutions. There are no checks and balances in place in Nicaragua, since all institutions are subjected to the Executive's decisions.
Earlier this year, the IACHR noted that repression has been intensified through the criminalization and arbitrary arrests of more than 30 individuals on unwarranted charges and without adequate judicial guarantees. This includes seven presidential candidates who remain deprived of liberty, several of them beneficiaries of temporary measures granted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. During 2021, the IACHR has issued 32 resolutions to grant precautionary measures were already in place. Beneficiaries have mostly been human rights defenders, opinion leaders, and government critics including leaders of social movements, journalists, women who are human rights defenders, and presidential candidates.
The IACHR has also cancelled the legal status of three political parties this year, while civil society and human rights organizations have been permanently harassed as democratic platforms and independent media were shut down. With these actions, the Nicaraguan government seeks to retain power in elections that do not ensure the required safeguards concerning freedom, access to information, transparency, and plurality, in a context marked by structural impunity and moves to shut down democratic platforms.
In its report, the Commission examines how the current situation has been in the making for more than two decades. The so-called Alemán-Ortega Pact of 1999— which remains in place to this day—created a two-party system in Nicaragua in order to facilitate the cooptation of the highest positions in public administration. The process to concentrate power in the hands of the Executive was stepped up in 2007, when President Daniel Ortega started his second term as Nicaraguan President, and became definitively consolidated with the human rights crisis that started in April 2018.
This process was enabled by the collaboration of several State institutions, including the National Assembly, components of the Judiciary like the Supreme Court of Justice, and the Supreme Electoral Council, as well as by the lack of adequate independent and impartial oversight mechanisms. Several reforms have also implemented in election rules, which work together to restrict electoral competition and the exercise of political rights.
This is why, although reelection violated the constitution, a Supreme Court of Justice decision of 2010 allowed President Daniel Ortega to run for the presidency again in the elections of November 2011. Later, through constitutional reform, the National Assembly enabled indefinite presidential reelection. In its recent advisory opinion OC-28-21, Presidential Reelection without Term Limits in the Context of the Inter-American Human Rights System, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights stated that enabling indefinite presidential reelection violates the principles of representative democracy and therefore the obligations held in the American Convention and in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
For the IACHR (as it has repeatedly noted in reports and press releases), the Nicaraguan Judiciary lacks independence and impartiality, due among other factors to its bipartisan composition and to the legal reforms adopted since 2010 that have enabled appointment and confirmation processes that violate the principle of judicial independence. These factors are joined by the fact that judicial careers do not necessarily require impartiality. The appointment at the public prosecutor's office of individuals who are aligned with specific parties and with the Executive has led to a gradual loss of independence and autonomy within this institution and subjected it to government interests, as is clearly evident in the events that have taken place this year.
This whole situation would not have been possible without the support of State law enforcement agencies, including the National Police and the Army, and without the creation of citizen control and surveillance mechanisms like Citizen Power Councils (CPCs, by their Spanish acronym). This has been evident in State repression of the social protests that started in 2018, as repeatedly noted by the IACHR in several reports and press releases in recent years.
The latest Commission report stresses the role played by all these institutions both in the process to concentrate political power and in different forms of repression that have been denounced by the IACHR. The report focuses, in particular, on the different stages and forms of repression and on how they have led to the complete breakdown of the separation of powers and to the adoption of what is effectively a state of emergency. This was already made clear in the report published on December 20, 2018 by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts for Nicaragua concerning the violence that took place over the period April 18–May 30, 2018. The Commission has identified—among other issues—harassment and repression against individuals believed to be government critics, the arbitrary use of lethal and non-lethal force leading to violations of the rights to life and personal integrity, arbitrary arrests, raids, threats, ill-treatment, criminalization through legal proceedings with unwarranted charges, irregularities concerning judicial guarantees and access to justice, shutdowns of democratic platforms, suspended liberties, and negative effects on freedom of expression. All these forms of wrongdoing have been perpetrated by Police and para-Police groups aligned with the Executive.
In the context of the serious human rights crisis that started on April 18, 2018 and of the profound deterioration of democratic institutions affecting the country, the general election scheduled for November 2021 was meant to give Nicaraguan society an opportunity to launch a transition to restore democracy and the rule of law, as well as to enforce the rights to memory, truth, and access to justice for victims of State violence. However, all the arbitrary measures taken by the Executive, and particularly those adopted this year, mean that the electoral process of the coming weeks does not comply with inter-American standards to ensure free, fair, transparent, and plural elections.
Nicaragua's great challenge now involves restoring the fundamental liberties and safeguards of a democratic State where the rule of law prevails, to enable the restoration of representative, participative democracy and of an effective separation of powers. This requires guaranteeing adequate conditions for free, fair, and transparent elections in compliance with the principles held in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. In this context, the IACHR issues in its report a series of recommendations to the State of Nicaragua and to the international community.
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.