Press Release

IACHR, OSFRE, and OSRESCER Express Serious Concern Over Violations of the Right to Information in Nicaragua and the Impact of These on Access to Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 29, 2020

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Washington, D.C. -  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the offices of its Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (OSRFE) and Special Rapporteur for Economic, Social, Cultural, and Economic Rights (OSRESCER) expressed serious concern over the lack of reliable information and the ongoing official disinformation over the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nicaragua. This is a violation of the population’s right to access information and is preventing evaluations of how authorities are handling the health emergency.

The IAHCR’s Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) has found that the Nicaraguan government has so far provided unreliable information on the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the number of deaths, and the number of people who have recovered. This information can only be compiled by the state and is vital to guaranteeing human health, making it an absolute priority.

However, the information provided up to May 22, 2020, is unclear or unspecific regarding the spread of COVID-19 in Nicaragua and what protocols have been developed and implemented to monitor suspected cases. Official information is not provided on a regular, preestablished basis, which makes it hard to ascertain how many tests are carried out each day, what kinds of testing is being used, how tests come back positive, where the confirmed cases are, and how the virus is spreading. Likewise, official sources have not provided information on health workers or the hospital system’s capacity for handling the emergency, among other indicators.

On Tuesday, May 19, the Minister of Health stated at a press conference that there had been 254 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, 199 of whom had allegedly recovered. At another press conference, the authorities reported nine new deaths linked to COVID-19.

The IACHR noted that several independent investigations had questioned the official figures that had been published up to that point (a total of 25 confirmed cases and eight deaths) and were calling on the state to provide complete, up-to-date, disaggregated information on the pandemic. A civil society organization, the COVID-19 Citizen Observatory, and several investigative journalists have been reporting substantially higher numbers of cases based on lab testing and reports of people who were allegedly displaying COVID-19 symptoms in Nicaragua.

In a letter, nine former Nicaraguan health ministers have also spoken out against irregularities in how the health emergency is being handled, including regarding the publication and transparency of information on the pandemic. Independent media outlets citing medical sources reported that approximately 1,300 positive cases had been confirmed but that the majority of cases were being kept secret. These reports estimate that Nicaragua has now entered the community transmission stage, although the government has not yet acknowledged this.

Over the last few days, different media outlets have reported on burials of people who were allegedly displaying COVID-19 symptoms. In many of these cases, authorities allegedly ordered the burials to take place urgently and at night, without first testing whether the deceased were infected with COVID-19 at the time of their death.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has repeatedly expressed its concern that Nicaragua is not providing the information required by international health regulations. A few days ago, PAHO’s director of health emergencies, Ciro Ugarte, explained at a press conference that Nicaragua is the only country in the region where the mode of COVID-19 transmission has not yet been established. He expressed concern about a possible increase in the number of unreported cases in Managua and Chinandega and about the unusual increase in deaths from atypical pneumonia in the country. On Tuesday 19, PAHO reiterated its request to visit Nicaragua to analyze the COVID-19 situation in the country and cooperate more effectively with it.

“The IACHR has insisted that high-level authorities must take special care over their statements regarding the spread of the pandemic. In the current circumstances, it is the authorities’ duty to keep the population informed and, when they do so, to act diligently on the basis of scientific information,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, the country rapporteur for Nicaragua. “The state of Nicaragua is not following these recommendations—indeed, the measures it has adopted run counter to what scientific evidence and international experts recommend to prevent the spread of COVID-19, namely adopting social distancing policies and discouraging gatherings and crowds,” she added.
Since the emergency began, the OSRFE has repeatedly drawn attention to how closely the availability of information in the current situation is tied to saving lives, taking precautions, and monitoring all aspects of the government’s response.

“Human rights law obliges governments to provide reliable, disaggregated information on the pandemic and avoid spreading misinformation. Governments must also be transparent about the steps communities need to take to protect themselves, paying particular attention to people with difficulties in accessing the mass media and the internet,” said the rapporteur for freedom of expression, Edison Lanza.

Similarly, the IACHR and the OSRESCER have repeatedly expressed their concern over the Nicaraguan population’s access to the right to health. Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in Latin America, a situation which is being aggravated by the current context.

“The impact of COVID-19 on the life and health of the Nicaraguan people is extremely worrying given the current climate of scarcity, official disinformation, and the persecution of medical and health workers. The state must comply fully with its obligation to respect and guarantee the right to health, which includes providing effective protection for those who are working tirelessly in the health sector, said Soledad García Muñoz, the rapporteur on economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights.

The OSRESCER and the OSRFE are special offices of the IACHR that were specifically created to support the organization in fulfilling their respective mandates: to promote and protect economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights (OSRESCER) and to defend the right to freedom of thought and expression (OSRFE) in the Americas.

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. 119/20