Press Release

SRESCER views with serious concern information about arbitrary dismissals and harassment against medical personnel, university professors and students in Nicaragua

September 10, 2018

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Washington, D.C. – The Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (SRESCER) and the Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have received information of recurring threats and possible violations of social rights as a result of monitoring the serious human rights crisis that have occurred in Nicaragua since April 18th. In particular, during the last weeks there have been reports of arbitrary dismissals and acts of harassment against students and staff in the health and education sectors, as well as negative effects on the health of patients who are not being treated due to a lack of medical specialists.

According to public information, as of July 27, layoffs of health professionals were carried out in different hospitals throughout the country, including the Oscar Danilo Rosales Argüello Hospital in León, the Santiago Regional Hospital in Jinotepe, the Humberto Alvarado Hospital in Masaya, the Monimbó Health Center and the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Estelí. According to reports received, these dismissals were allegedly carried out in retaliation for having treated injured people who were protesting against the government or for having manifested a critical position in that regards, considering the crisis that has been occurring in the country.

In this context, on August 15th, a letter was sent to the Nicaraguan State, in accordance with article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights, by which it requested information about these complaints presented. Mainly, the State was asked to submit, within 10 days, a detailed list of all the dismissed personnel, the length of their employment and the positions which they held. The letter also requested specific and individualized information about the reasons for the dismissals and the guarantees granted to protect their labor rights, if similar situations have been registered in other hospitals or health centers in the country since the beginning of the protests as well as information on the guarantee of the right to health of the population in the absence of the dismissed medical personnel.

The IACHR and its SRESCER regret that, to date, the Nicaraguan State has not given any response to this request, which weakens compliance with the principles of transparency and good faith that must guide the behaviour of the State in regards to its human rights obligations. Access to such information is not only an indispensable conventional guarantee for the monitoring work of the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurs, it also serves to assist the respective authorities in identifying abuses of public officials, promoting accountability and preventing the abuse of power. Hence, the importance of the State providing timely and complete answers and accessible information.

According to public information, the dismissals have reached 300 health professionals. Such dismissals, allegedly, have already negative consequences on the protection of the rights to health, personal integrity and life of the population due to a lack of health specialists to provide care and treatment, as well as the cancellation of initially planned medical procedures.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur also views with concern the continuing harassment, threats, stigmatization and, in some cases, arbitrary detentions of medical personnel and people who provided humanitarian assistance in the context of the protests. In this regard, Soledad García Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on ESCER of the IACHR, highlighted the fundamental role of persons providing emergency health services to those who are injured in the context of protests, as well as the obligation of the State to protect them and guarantee the work that they do. Additionally, she indicated that "the State cannot interfere through any mechanism in the protection of health and life that health professionals are in charge of. That is, no action by the State should be aimed at dissuading or punishing health personnel for fulfilling their duties, either through threats, arbitrary sanctions or inducing them to make distinctions contrary to the principles of equality and non-discrimination of the people they serve. The right to health and labor rights should in no case be used to neutralize those who protest or are considered political opposition".

This Office of the Special Rapporteur of the IACHR has also been following up on the situation of the university community that declared itself in "student disobedience" and is not willing to resume classes because of a lack of guarantees for the exercise of university autonomy and security conditions. There are complaints of arbitrary dismissals against university professors and administrative workers of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) in Managua, as well as the expulsion of more than 80 students for having occupied the facilities of the university in the context of the social protests. Allegations of arbitrary detentions, persecution of student leaders and pressure from university authorities were also presented. In this regard, the SRESCER recalls that the IACHR has indicated that in higher education, the academic freedom of teachers and students, as well as the university autonomy are fundamental pillars which strengthen democratic structures and which avoid pressure or interventions of a political nature in such spaces. The IACHR has also stressed that the State should facilitate and guarantee, as soon as possible, an environment for recuperating classes, which prioritizes the safety and protection of students.
Finally, the IACHR and its SRESCEC urge the Nicaraguan authorities to protect students and medical or educational workers against any undue intervention and to provide, as soon as possible, complete information regarding the guarantee of these rights, requested in its letter of August 15th.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights is an office created by the IACHR to guide, develop and deepen its work to promote and protect economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in the Americas, taking into account the interdependent and indivisible nature of all human rights.

No. 203/18