IACHR Warns of the Lack of Appropriate Conditions for Holding Free, Fair Municipal Elections in Nicaragua

November 4, 2022

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the absence of the conditions needed to hold free, fair, competitive elections in Nicaragua. In response, it urged the State to re-establish the guarantees and democratic freedoms befitting a democratic state through the separation of powers and by ending repression.

On November 6, municipal elections will be held in Nicaragua to renew more than 6,000 public offices in the country's 153 municipalities, including mayors, deputy mayors, and municipal councilors. These elections are taking place in a context of repression against the political opposition through the implementation of measures that seek to prevent them from participating in the process and in the absence of reforms to restructure the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) and the Electoral Act, as recommended by national and international organizations.

In this regard, in recent weeks, the IACHR observed first-hand that the repression and persecution of the political opposition has intensified, including acts targeting the members of the Democratic Union for Renewal (UNAMOS) political party. The IACHR has received information on the arbitrary detention of UNAMOS leader Raúl Oportain Nueva Guinea; and of Jeannine Horvilleur and Ana Carolina Horvilleur, both of whom hold dual Nicaraguan and French nationality, and of relatives of exiled UNAMOS member Javier Álvarez Zamora, all of whom were arrested on September 4. Likewise, at least ten members of UNAMOS and their relatives were detained in Managua, Bluefields, Matagalpa, and other departments.

The National Police Force and political operators of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) implemented the de facto replacement of the authorities in five mayoralties governed by the Citizens for Freedom party (whose legal status was revoked in 2021) after raiding their headquarters on July 3 and 4. Since 2018, the FSLN has taken de facto control of 7 of the total 18 mayoralities that were not in its hands.

The IACHR has received information regarding the reform of Electoral Law No. 331, which was passed by the National Assembly in May 2022 and allegedly limits the auditing of the electoral process by civil society by establishing a rapid electoral process involving fewer electoral committees, 20-day electoral campaigns, and a 5-day process for creating Electoral Councils, all of which run counter to international standards.

These circumstances have unfolded in a context in which the government has closed or taken over civic and democratic spaces in Nicaragua. Specifically, this has included arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression and association such as those implemented through the Foreign Agents Act, the General Law on the Regulation and Monitoring of Non-Profit Organizations in the Republic of Nicaragua, and the revocation of the legal status of more than 2,000 civil society organizations. The persecution, harassment, and hounding by the police of press workers, the closure of 54 national media outlets, and ongoing censorship have prevented the free circulation of relevant information on what is going on in the country.

The prolonged arbitrary detention of more than 200 people, including the political opposition, journalists, and human rights defenders, the grave conditions in which they are being held, and the disproportionate charges against them all have a threatening effect on the population in relation to the local elections. This may foster the perpetuation of power and the coopting of the last remaining opportunities for other political forces to participate in government.

The IACHR expressed its concern over the absence of the minimum conditions needed to hold free, fair, and competitive elections in Nicaragua, the lack of an independent electoral system, and the ongoing human rights violations targeting those who have been identified as dissidents. It also noted that exercising the right to participate in government constitutes an end in itself and is a means available for democratic societies to guarantee other rights.

The State must guarantee the separation and independence of the public powers and re-establish the guarantees and freedoms that befit a democratic state operating under the rule of law. It must also immediately release all those who have been arbitrarily detained since the start of the human rights crisis and put an end to all attacks targeting the political opposition.

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. 248/22

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