Press Release

The IACHR Urges the State of Nicaragua to Protect the Rights of Nicaraguans Who Return to the Country in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic

July 31, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about the situation of Nicaraguans who wish to return to their country in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The IACHR urges the State of Nicaragua to enable the immediate return of the country’s citizens and also urges other States in the region to develop and strengthen cooperation measures to that effect.

Through its Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI, by its Spanish acronym), the Commission has been monitoring the situation of hundreds of Nicaraguans who have been seriously affected by the health emergency and the loss of jobs in other countries and are now seeking to return to Nicaragua. In particular, the IACHR has highlighted the situation of around 500 Nicaraguan workers—some of them from Afro-descendant communities in the country’s Caribbean coast—who remain stranded in precarious financial circumstances in the Cayman Islands; the case of over 1,000 Nicaraguans who are trying to return to their country from Panama; and other individuals who are being prevented from returning to Nicaragua from Guatemala and Honduras, most of whom are currently living in shelters in poor conditions.

Further, in recent days, the Commission has received reports of the serious situation of another group, more than 500 Nicaraguans who remain stranded on the Costa Rican border. According to publicly available reports, the State of Nicaragua denies these people entry for lack of a negative COVID-19 test, in keeping with the Nicaraguan Health Ministry’s Resolution 016-2020, of July 14, 2020. The IACHR observes with concern that these people—besides not having access to the tests that the authorities appear to be requiring from them—survive in overcrowded, makeshift camps or in the open, with no access to drinking water, food or personal hygiene services. These conditions disproportionately affect women, children and adolescents, and older persons in the group.

In line with the Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Human Trafficking, the IACHR stresses that all persons—whatever their migration status—have the right to return to a State whose citizenship they hold. States must promote lasting, sustainable solutions to enable a safe return for migrants, particularly unaccompanied children. In its Resolution 01/20, Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas, the IACHR recommended that States protect—through cooperation, the exchange of information, and logistical support between the States involved, in compliance with the applicable health protocols, and ensuring respect for family unity—individuals’ right to return to their States or territories of origin or to the States of which they are citizens.

The IACHR further acknowledges the importance and complexity of the exceptional measures adopted by States in the Americas in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including restrictions of human mobility. However, the Commission stresses that restrictions on movement must be strictly proportionate to pursue the legitimate goal of protecting life and health. The Commission notes that—according to the applicable instruments and the recommendations issued about the return of a country’s citizens, and according to the specific recommendations made by the Commission in the context of the ongoing pandemic—COVID-19 should not be used to prevent a person from returning to a country of which they are a citizen and should not cause the precarious conditions that Nicaraguans trying to return to their country are currently facing.

In these circumstances, the IACHR urges the State of Nicaragua to take immediate action to allow entry to Nicaraguans who are trying to return to the country. The State should preserve the lives, integrity, and health of the people who are stranded at its borders, by facilitating and prioritizing the adoption of protocols concerning medical and entry proceedings. These protocols must be objective, transparent, and publicly accessible and reflect an intercultural perspective, to prevent returnees from having to wait and from facing the discretional decisions of the authorities in each case.

Given that thousands of Nicaraguans were forced to flee their country in the context of the human rights crisis that started on April 18, 2018, the Commission stresses that the State of Nicaragua must grant real safeguards to protect returnees and, in particular, guarantee that they will not be subjected to persecution once they return to Nicaragua.

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. 186/20