Press Release

IACHR Condemns the Cancellation of the Legal Personality of Human Rights Organizations in Nicaragua

December 13, 2018

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Washington, D.C. / Managua – The IACHR condemns the cancellation of the legal personality by the National Assembly of Nicaragua of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policy (IEEPP – Instituto de Estudios Estratégicos y Políticas Públicas), the Association Let’s Make Democracy (HADEMO – Asociación Hagamos Democracia), the Center for Information and Health Advisory Services (CISAS – Centro de Información y Servicios de Asesoría en Salud) and the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH – Centro Nicaragüense de los Derechos Humanos), an organization dedicated to the promotion and defense of human rights in the country for twenty-five years. In the same sense, the Commission was informed about the presentation of bills to annul the legal status of other organizations, among them, the Segovias Leadership Institute (ILLS – Instituto de Liderazgo de las Segovias), the Institute for the Development of Democracy (IPADE – Instituto para el Desarrollo de la Democracia), the Foundation for the Conservation and Development of the South-East of Nicaragua (Fundación del Río – Fundación para la Conservación y el Desarrollo del Sur-Este de Nicaragua), the Communication Research Center (CINCO – Centro de Investigación de la Comunicación) and the Popol Na Foundation for the Promotion and Municipal Development (Fundación Popol Na para la Promoción y el Desarrollo Municipal).

On November 29, 2018, the National Assembly approved Decree No. 8487 which canceled the legal status of CISAS; on December 11, 2018, the Assembly approved, also by decree, the cancellation of the legal personality of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policy; and, finally, on December 12, 2018 it approved the cancellation of the legal status of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and the organization HADEMO.

According to the information received by the Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), the initiatives presented and approved by the National Assembly hold the organizations responsible for actions aimed at destabilizing the country or, in the case of the IEEPP, for the commission of crimes in managing, receiving, channeling and facilitating funds for the commission of terrorist acts. Additionally, the decrees approved are based on the General Law on Non-Profit Legal Entities and the Organic Law of the Legislative Power of the Republic of Nicaragua, which empower the National Assembly to cancel the legal status of an organization “when it is used for the commission of unlawful acts”, “when it is used to violate public order”, or “for carrying out activities that do not correspond to the purposes for which it was created”.

The Commission reiterates that the right to freedom of association is characterized by enabling people to create or participate in entities or organizations with the aim of acting collectively in the achievement of the most diverse purposes, provided that these are legitimate. The Commission also recalls that restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of association, in addition to being provided for by law, must pursue a legitimate purpose and, in short, be necessary and proportional within the framework of a democratic society. In this sense, the Commission notes with concern that the basis of the decrees is allegedly based on excessively vague and imprecise provisions, without prior due legal process, and that they grant a wide margin of discretion to the legislator to be applied against the civil society organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights or that are opposed to the Government as a reprisal for their work in the country.

Additionally, according to publicly available knowledge, the decrees which cancelled the legal personality of the organizations provide that the goods and actions of the sanctioned organizations will have the destination foreseen in their constitutive acts or, if nothing has been arranged, they will become property of the State.

The IACHR Rapporteur for Nicaragua, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, said: “We must remember that some of the representatives of the affected organizations have had to flee Nicaragua because they were being persecuted or have been deported, as is the case of Ana Quirós of CISAS. It is essential to review the regulations invoked in the legislative decisions in light of international standards and guarantee the members of the sanctioned organizations all of the guarantees of due process.”

The Commission expresses its concern that the true intention behind the cancellation of the legal personality of these organizations, without guarantees of due process, is to restrict the ability of the organizations and of human rights defenders to carry out their legitimate work in defending human rights in Nicaragua. The Commission has learned of how, in similar situations, an extensive application of serious criminal offenses, such as disorderly conduct or financing of terrorism, has been used to criminalize civil society organizations because of their defense of human rights in the region. In this regard, the Commission warns that the criminalization of human rights organizations by means of vague and imprecise criminal offenses with the objective of restricting or retaliating against them for their work in the defense of human rights is contrary to Inter-American human rights standards and international law.

“The forced dissolution of civil society organizations, especially those of human rights defenders, constitutes one of the most severe forms of restriction of the right to freedom of association. In addition, it is a measure that affects accused persons and their defenders, and is allegedly aimed at silencing those who denounce the grave situation of human rights in the country,” expressed Paulo Abrão, Executive Secretary of the IACHR.

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. 265/18