IACHR Expresses Concern Over Electoral Reform Passed in Nicaragua and Calls on State to Guarantee Free, Fair Elections

May 14, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the passing of the electoral reform in Nicaragua, which intensifies the closure of democratic spaces in the country. The IACHR urged the State to take immediate measures to safeguard electoral standards and ensure that the social and political context is compatible with an electoral process involving widespread participation and competition, such that free, transparent, fair elections can be held and monitored.

According to information gathered by the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), on May 4, 2021, the Nicaraguan National Assembly approved Act. No 1070 reforming and extending Electoral Law No. 331. Far from increasing democratic participation and ensuring free, fair, competitive, legitimate, appropriately monitored elections, the reform in question introduces changes to the current system that are mostly formal in nature, along with rules that restrict electoral competition and the exercise of political rights.

In effect, the new legislation limits participation by increasing the grounds for the suspension and revocation of the legal status of political parties, which the current administration has used to arbitrarily and illegally criminalize people who have been identified as dissidents in the context of the human rights crisis that began in the country in April 2018.

Furthermore, the reform also implements Act No. 1040 on Foreign Agents and Act No. 1055 on the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination for Peace, which would allegedly prevent or seriously hamper people who are identified as dissidents from running for office.

As the IACHR has noted, both of these laws limit public freedom in a way that runs counter to international standards, particularly the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, the right to association, the right to freedom of expression, the right to social protest, and the right to defend rights. Likewise, the IACHR observed that by applying both of these regulations at the same time, people who have received international cooperation are excluded from running for office, as are people who have been targeted by unfounded, arbitrary accusations as a reprisal for participating in protests or promoting narratives that run counter to that of the current government. The content of the reforms that have been passed suggests that they will be used in the future to restrict those identified with the opposition from taking part in elections, a situation which is compounded by the lack of independence of Nicaragua's public powers, particularly the authorities responsible for elections and the administration of justice.

The IACHR has taken into account the fact that this situation exacerbates the serious human rights crisis that the country is experiencing and jeopardizes the legitimacy of the elections to be held later this year. This is particularly true given the ongoing context of serious, far-reaching impediments to the exercise of public freedoms using a systematic civil and police response mechanism that is being deployed throughout the country to prevent the movement of any leader who might express ideas that run counter to the stance of the current government. This mechanism works by subjecting these individuals to surveillance, intimidation, harassment, arrest, or criminalization.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) has noted that "representative democracy is an essential component of the system that the Inter-American Convention forms part of" and is "a principle that is confirmed by all States in the Americas through the OAS Charter, which is a fundamental part of the inter-American system." The political rights that are safeguarded by the American Convention and other international instruments promote the strengthening of democratic rule and political pluralism.

The IACHR noted that the passing of these new electoral regulations in Nicaragua and the increase in impediments or severe limitations to public freedom seriously compromises the possibility of including certain demands of Nicaraguan society—particularly those of victims—in the public agenda. The specific demands include bringing an end to impunity, releasing all people who have been arbitrarily and illegally deprived of their freedom during the crisis, and re-establishing the guarantees and rights that are inherent to a democratic regime.

The IACHR urged the State of Nicaragua to revoke all regulations that place arbitrary limits on the exercise of political rights and public freedoms and to re-establish an environment of freedom and respect for political rights to ensure that free, fair elections can be held, in keeping with the recommendations made by the international community, including the OAS Electoral Observation Mission (EOM/OAS) of 2017 and the resolutions of the Permanent Council of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 122/21