IACHR and the OSRESCER Urge Nicaragua to Immediately Cease Harassment of the Medical Sector

July 28, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Economic Rights (OSRESCER) condemned the acts of harassment and intimidation against medical workers in Nicaragua and urged the State to immediately cease these actions.

According to public information, health professionals, members of the scientific community, and activists for the rights to health during the COVID-19 pandemic are allegedly being severely affected by the escalating repression that has occurred in the country in recent weeks. Specifically, the IACHR and the OSRESCER received reports of acts of persecution and harassment perpetrated by State agents against members of the Nicaraguan Medical Unit (UMN), the COVID-19 Citizen Observatory, and the Interdisciplinary Scientific Committee.

In particular, the IACHR and the OSRESCER learned of acts of harassment and intimidation of members of the UMN and its Board of Directors perpetrated by State agents, including police officers in civilian clothes. In response to the increase in surveillance and harassment, the board decided to close its headquarters and continue providing care via telemedicine.

Information was also received about mandatory summons to appear before different authorities. On July 13, UMN member José Luis Julio Borgen was summoned to testify regarding the investigation that the Public Prosecutor's Office is conducting into one of his patients. Similarly, on July 22 and 26, José Luis Julio Borgen, Carlos Quanty, and Jorge Miranda were summoned to appear before the Ministry of Health's Health Regulation Authority. In statements to the media, Borgen said that authorities had told him "to be careful about what he said and not to forget the Cybercrime Act." Furthermore, Miranda said that he had been threatened with the suspension of his medical licence and the possibility of imprisonment for reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, the IACHR and the OSRESCER condemned the use of harassment or intimidation through the use of criminal, labor, or administrative law with the effect of silencing or instilling fear in members of the medical and health professions. These actions impact the well-being of the people who experience them but also have a negative impact on the medical profession as a whole and the people they assist.

Likewise, on July 22, information was received about legislative initiative no. 20219761, Decree to Cancel Legal Personhood, which was presented before the National Assembly and allegedly seeks to suspend the legal status of 24 nongovernmental organizations, including the trade unions for different medical specializations, which the initiative deems have been "going about their activities unlawfully and have acted against the law."

These events have been aggravated in a context in which high-ranking authorities within the executive branch have made public statements against health professionals. On July 7, a statement from the office of the Vice President of the Republic warned that medical organizations that issue "fake news" are "fake doctors making fake predictions" and that they should bear in mind that "in this life, you pay for everything." In response, the OSRESCER expressed its concern and called for an end to statements of this sort, which are stigmatizing and are being interpreted as a threat by the medical and health sector, and generating fear among them.

The OSRESCER noted that it has been raising awareness around the worrying predicament of health professionals and workers since the human rights crisis in Nicaragua began in 2018. Since the start of the current wave of social protests, the IACHR and the OSRESCER have recorded more than 400 dismissals of health workers for merely going about their work or for holding critical positions toward the government. Many of those in question have had to flee the country to safeguard their lives and personal integrity. There have been 28 new dismissals of medical personnel who have complained about the lack of measures taken by the State in response to the pandemic. There were also reports of at least five professionals who decided to leave the country to protect their integrity and safety and that of their families. The IACHR is also concerned by information on the high numbers of deaths of health professionals from COVID-19 and the limitations on access to vaccines.

The IACHR and the OSRESCER called emphatically on the State of Nicaragua to cease the harassment and intimidation of people in the health sector, civil society, and the scientific community, urging it to construct contexts and environments that are free of harassment or threats, to refrain from hindering the practice of medicine, and to comply with its duty to guarantee the rights of health professionals and workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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. 197/21

11:20 AM