IACHR Rejects Nicaragua's Foreign Agents Act and Calls on the State to Repeal It

February 26, 2021

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Washington, D.C.- The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) rejects the implementation of the Foreign Agents Act in Nicaragua and the effects of this new piece of legislation on several civil society organizations. The IACHR stresses that the contents of the act are unconventional and calls on State authorities to repeal it.

The IACHR has been informed that the Nicaraguan Interior Ministry is taking measures to implement the Act to Regulate Foreign Agents. On January 29, the Ministry issued Ministerial Agreement 03-2021, where it confirms content that violates international human rights standards, as noted by the IACHR in press releases 246 and 249 of October 2020. This administrative agreement sets disproportionate sanctions—including cancellation of the legal status of all organizations who are identified as foreign agents—and fines of up to almost 500,000 US dollars. The agreement also sets up specific criminalization mechanisms that enable administrative authorities to demand that criminal prosecutors intervene to address allegations of crimes against "the security of the State."

The Commission is concerned that, as the new law is being implemented, several civil society organizations in the country have said that they will not subject themselves to the required registration and regulations because they are not "foreign agents." This is the case of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation and of PEN Nicaragua, who said in February that they are indefinitely suspending their activities in the country. Other organizations have said that they will continue to operate without registering and will accept any sanctions this behavior exposes them to. Similarly, Nicaragua's Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH, by its Spanish acronym) recently said that its own registration has been severely obstructed by Interior Ministry authorities, who imposed additional requirements and demanded documentation that was not mentioned in the act to prevent the CPDH from registering as required by law.

The IACHR has noted that, with the excuse of branding as a "foreign agent" any individual or organization who is a beneficiary of international cooperation or has ties with institutions who promote international cooperation, the new law seeks to silence individuals and organizations who are deemed to oppose the Nicaraguan government and to prevent the exercise of civil liberties, including freedom of expression and association, freedom to get involved in defining public affairs, the right to protest, and the right to defend rights. The lack of independence and the arbitrary, illegal actions of administrative and judicial institutions in the country make it likely that the new act will be used to discourage public debate and democratic participation, especially at the start of a year when national elections are scheduled to determine the holders of the highest positions in the State.

The IACHR noted that the exercise of civil liberties including freedom of expression is especially important at election time, when society needs to have access to information showing diverse points of views on public affairs.

This act is being implemented alongside others that have recently been passed and that are also a source of concern for the IACHR. The Commission believes that these pieces of legislation (the Special Cybercrime Act, the Act to Defend the Rights of the People, and the Reform of the Code of Criminal Procedure) all seek to scare Nicaraguans, with a view to restricting freedom of expression, in violation of inter-American human rights standards.

The Commission issues a special call to the State of Nicaragua, asking that it repeal this act and all legislation that prevents the exercise of civil liberties, democratic debate, or the normal operations of civil society organizations in Nicaragua.

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.

*** This press release was subjected to changes on March 5, 2021 ***

No. 043/21