Press Release

Two Years After Visit to Nicaragua, IACHR Condemns Lack of Compliance with its Recommendations and Calls on the State to Urgently Implement Them

May 16, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - Two years after its working visit to Nicaragua—which took place on May 17–21, 2018, in the context of the human rights crisis that started on April 18 that year—the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the lack of compliance with the recommendations it made in its Preliminary Observations and its Country Report: Gross Human Rights Violations in the Context of Social Protests in Nicaragua, and urges the State to implement those recommendations. The IACHR has taken this lack of compliance with its recommendations into consideration to include Nicaragua in Chapter IV.B of its annual reports for 2018 and 2019, in keeping with its Rules of Procedure.

During its working visit, the Commission observed serious State repression of civilians protesting against the government. At the time, repression involved an excessive, often lethal use of force by the police; a repressive deployment of parapolice or civilian squads, with the acquiescence and collaboration of State authorities; stigmatization, intimidation, threats, and arbitrary arrests of leaders and protestors, among other individuals; a failure to do justice; and direct and indirect censorship of the media.

Two years after this visit and the subsequent launch of the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI, by its Spanish acronym)—created to monitor the recommendations made by the IACHR both in the Preliminary Observations at the end of the visit and in the Commission’s Country Report—the IACHR has observed the persistence of repressive patterns and has notified the international community of them. These patterns include an attack on civil liberties through bans on any form of dissidence or social protest; a systematic attack on freedom of expression and freedom of the press; a stigmatization and persecution of human rights defenders; and a deployment of parapolice groups and other civilian squads that support the government to persecute and attack opposition activists and demonstrators. All this has happened in a context marked by structural impunity, where public institutions had been weakened by a concentration of power in the hands of the executive and a lack of independence by the Judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, on the one hand, and by obstacles to on-site international scrutiny, on the other.

Nicaragua remains immersed in a de facto state of emergency where rights like freedom of expression, association, and assembly, the defense of human rights, and the right to influence public affairs are all suspended or severely restricted (PR 80/2020). Since 2018, the State has implemented a strategy to prevent or inhibit all demonstrations against the government that involves a ban on protests and a disproportionate occupation of public spaces by armed police officers. Further, since 2019, State repression has targeted new forms of protests by civilians, including short-term roadblocks, brief demonstrations on private property, and religious ceremonies. Additionally, the practices of conducting arrests as a form of intimidation and launching arbitrary and illegal criminal prosecutions against demonstrators (with more than 86 individuals deprived of liberty in this context at the moment) both persist.

In the current scenario, the Commission stresses the recommendations it issued following its visit, in May 2018, which remain valid to this day. They include the need to immediately end repression against demonstrators and arbitrary arrests of anyone taking part in protests; to respect and enforce the rights of Nicaraguans to protest and to be involved in politics and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly; to protect the lives, integrity, and safety of individuals who are demonstrating and exercising their civil rights and liberties and suffering the consequences of a repressive environment; and ensuring that security operations involving protests follow protocols that are in line with international standards on the use of force by law enforcement officers.

In this context, the IACHR specifically observes a persistent, systematic pattern with repressive measures and actions aimed at restricting freedom of the press and preventing the exercise of independent journalism in the country, as has been amply documented by the MESENI. The State continues to occupy and control the facilities and property of two of the country’s main independent audiovisual media, while government action has led one of Nicaragua’s main printed media to close and forced another to restrict its circulation, format, and supplements. Further, harassment, surveillance, and attacks against independent media as well as their journalists and other workers persist in the country. More than 90 journalists and other media workers have been forced to go into exile due to State repression. All this shows that the State has failed to comply with the Commission recommendation that it should ensure respect for the independence of the media and refrain from enforcing prior restraint by any State institution, as well as any prior constraints that might imply censoring freedom of expression.

The IACHR has noted that the risks faced by human rights defenders, journalists, and demonstrators have deepened, amid an intensification of assaults, threats, monitoring, and surveillance efforts, and stigmatization, harassment, and criminalization campaigns committed by officers of the State or government supporters. The Commission therefore observes that the State has failed to comply with its recommendation that the State refrain from issuing public comments that stigmatize demonstrators, human rights defenders, and journalists and from using State media to conduct public campaigns that might encourage violence against individuals based on their opinions, and to effectively protect defenders and journalists who are at risk.

The IACHR further recommended that the State break up parapolice groups and take measures to prevent the operations of armed third parties who attack and harass civilians. However, the MESENI has received many testimonies that consistently note that these groups continue to conduct arrests and other forms of harassment, hounding, and attacks against individuals who are identified as opposition activists or who have been released from detention, as well as against defenders and journalists.

In this worrying context, the Commission has also expressed its concern about the impunity that shrouds the serious human rights violations perpetrated since April 18, 2018, particularly due to a lack of judicial independence and to the adoption of a set of new laws that violate international law, including the Amnesty Act. This—together with a government narrative that fails to recognize the persistent human rights crisis—has exposed a lack of will to ensure access to truth, justice, and adequate reparations in compliance with the recommendations issued by the IACHR, in the sense of diligently investigating the violence that has taken place in the context of the crisis, establishing who perpetrated it, and punishing those individuals.

The Commission further stresses its call to protect the right to truth, justice, and adequate reparations in cases involving the many murders perpetrated in Nicaragua’s rural areas and the attacks suffered by indigenous communities in the autonomous portions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean. The IACHR is particularly concerned about allegations collected by the MESENI of a connivance and even collaboration by officers of the State in those acts of violence, and a failure to do justice in those cases.

The Commission stresses that, in June 2018, while the State of Nicaragua did facilitate the deployment in Managua of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI–Nicaragua, by its Spanish acronym), of the MESENI, and of a team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in compliance with IACHR recommendations concerning international scrutiny of the events that followed the crisis in the country, the State eventually took action that entailed a failure to comply with those recommendations. On August 31, 2018, the State of Nicaragua decided to revoke the invitation it had issued to the OHCHR. On December 19, 2018, the State temporarily suspended the presence of the MESENI as well as IACHR visits to the country and noted the expiry of the GIEI–Nicaragua’s mandate, goals, and mission, which prevented the Group from presenting its Final Report in Managua. So far, the repressive patterns observed by the IACHR have been abundantly verified in the report issued by the GIEI–Nicaragua, which investigated for six months the acts of violence that took place April 18–May 30, 2018. However, the report has not been accepted by the State of Nicaragua, and its recommendations have therefore not been implemented.

The Commission stresses that opening the country to international scrutiny would be positive to protect democracy and the rule of law. In that sense, the IACHR urges the State to facilitate visits to Nicaragua by itself and its MESENI, as well as by other international organizations, including the OHCHR.

Finally, the Commission notes that it will continue to monitor the situation of human rights in Nicaragua and to document the cases of human rights violations that continue to happen in the country, with the aim of contributing to the longed-for enforcement of justice and to ensuring that victims and their families can know the truth about what happened. The IACHR urges the State of Nicaragua to take action to implement Commission recommendations—in compliance with the international obligations the country voluntarily accepted—as an appropriate way to restore democratic safeguards in Nicaragua. The IACHR further stresses its constant willingness to provide technical assistance to that end. The Commission stresses how urgent these measures are in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation of human rights in Nicaragua—which involves among others a lack of access to public information and a lack of trust in the authorities in a scenario where impunity and repression are rife—seriously affects the State’s ability to address the health problems caused by the pandemic.

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. 113/20