Press Release

IACHR expresses concern about the situation of Nicaraguan migrants and refugees and calls on the States of the region to adopt measures for their protection

August 15, 2018

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern at reports that a large number of Nicaraguans have been forced to travel to other countries in the region as a result of their political views and serious human rights violations that have taken place since the start of the April 2018 protests, as well as the activation of persecution and criminalization practices by the Nicaraguan state and other non-state actors, such as vigilante groups. The Commission urges the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) to adopt measures to guarantee the effective enjoyment of their human rights, to provide them with international protection and to strengthen mechanisms of shared responsibility to address the situation of Nicaraguans who have been forced to migrate.

In its report “Gross Human Rights Violations in the Context of Social Protests in Nicaragua,” the IACHR noted that a large number of Nicaraguan people had been forced to move within the same municipality, or to other cities, due to the upsurge and prolongation of violence that had arisen after the beginning of the repression of the protests in April 2018. 

Subsequently, the IACHR, through its Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), has gathered information on a large number of students, demonstrators, victims and their families, witnesses, human rights defenders, religious leaders, medical and health personnel, indigenous peoples, among others, who have been forced to flee their homes and in some cases hide in safe houses. In the most serious cases, people have been forced to migrate to other countries to seek international protection as a result of the activation of various forms of judicial persecution and criminalization against them. After the beginning of state repression of the protests, the IACHR has observed a significant increase in the number of Nicaraguan asylum seekers and in the number of people leaving the country, especially in countries such as Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico and the United States.

In this context, the IACHR highlights the serious vulnerability of human rights defenders. In this regard, the IACHR notes with concern the temporary closure of the headquarters of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) and the departure of several of its members from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, including the Secretary of that organization, Álvaro Leiva Sánchez, beneficiary of IACHR precautionary measure MC660/18, as a result of threats and siege by armed groups.

The IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) have established that the right of free movement and residence may be violated when a person is the victim of threats or harassment and the State does not provide the necessary guarantees to allow him/her to move and reside freely in the territory in question, even if such threats come from non-State actors. Likewise, the lack of an effective investigation of violent acts, as well as the situation of impunity, can undermine the victims' confidence in the justice system and contribute to conditions of insecurity. Moreover, such impunity can lead to or perpetuate exile or forced displacement. The IACHR urges the State of Nicaragua to comply with its obligations regarding the right of free movement and residence, including the possibility that any person may leave its territory, as established in Article 22.2 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

"At first the Nicaraguan State's actions were characterized by the violent repression of the protests, which later evolved into selective persecution, arbitrary detentions and practices of criminalization of dissidents and their families. This has caused thousands of people to be forced to hide and move, even to the point of being forced to flee Nicaragua to seek international protection in other countries," said the IACHR Country Rapporteur for Nicaragua, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola.

In this regard, the Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, Commissioner Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva, stated: "the increase in asylum applications and the number of people seeking to leave Nicaragua require that the States of the region be sympathetic to the situation of Nicaraguan people and be prepared to provide an effective, shared and human rights-based response to avoid falling into a protection crisis in the region".

For his part, the Executive Secretary of the IACHR, Paulo Abrão, said: "We are facing a serious situation that requires that many of these people be recognized as refugees, and therefore, the leadership, political will and shared responsibility of the States of the region to respond to this crisis.

In consideration of the serious human rights crisis affecting Nicaragua, the IACHR welcomes the decision of the Costa Rican State to leave its borders open and to open two shelters with a capacity of 2,000 people to serve people fleeing to that country. In this regard, the Commission urges States in the region to establish legal, regular and safe migration channels. States must also ensure entry to the territory, non-arrest as a rule and access to asylum procedures with due guarantees, ensuring appropriate protection for refugees when they qualify, either by the classic definition of a refugee in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or, where applicable, by the expanded definition in the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees. The prohibition on refoulement must also be respected in favor of those persons who, without being recognized as refugees, are at risk of their human rights in cases of refoulement, through the use of supplementary protection measures.

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. 183/18