Washington D.C., October 24, 2023- In the review of the State of Nicaragua, experts from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), expressed their concern about laws that pose serious threats against women human rights defenders and activists, as well as the neglect of Indigenous and Afro-descendant women on the Caribbean Coast, in the context of the closure of civic and democratic space in the Central American country.
At the beginning of the session, the representative of the State of Nicaragua, Rosalía Concepción Bohórquez Palacios, abandoned the exam in a disrespectful manner. She expressed “total rejection of the malicious, biased, partialized and malicious questions on the report presented by Nicaragua on May 2, 2019.”
This is the fifth time that Nicaragua has failed to comply with its obligation to actively participate in the periodic reviews carried out by the United Nations treaty bodies for the promotion and defense of human rights in the signatory countries. The Chair of the Committee, Ana Peláez, regretted the State’s position, “however, the work that the Committee has and the obligations and responsibilities that they assume in relation to the States Parties, makes us continue to advance in today’s work.”
Law 1055: The Law with the Most Effects on Women
The Committee’s Rapporteur for Nicaragua, Leticia Bonifaz Alonzo, expressed her deep concern that in the Central American country “femicide is not an autonomous crime.” The reforms limit the definition of femicide to the murder of women in the context of a relationship. It is also a matter of concern that victim-aggressor mediation has been incorporated, which increases the risk of impunity and exposes victims to re-victimization and reprisals.
“The figures provided by non-governmental organizations show how violence against women has increased,” she added.
She then recalled that, between 2020 and 2021, the State issued three laws with content contrary to international human rights instruments: Law 1040, Law on Foreign Agents which, with the indication that “they have interference in internal affairs,” has made it impossible for non-governmental organizations to accompany, protect and empower Nicaraguan women, as well as the deprivation of their patrimony and forced abandonment of the country. Law 1042, known as the “Gag Law” because it violates the freedom of expression of women human rights defenders; and Law 1055 “Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace,” has seriously affected the civil and political rights of women. According to the expert, Law 1055 is the law that has most affected women human rights defenders.
In addition, “there are particular patterns of aggression against women, such as arrests and theft of personal items and the disproportionate presence of members of the armed forces,” Bonifaz said.
Arbitrary Detentions and Statelessness, Latent Threats to Women Defenders
“Women’s participation has been restricted due to gender-based violence against women human rights defenders. Women defenders are under siege in the State party,” warned expert Marion Bethel. In the last four years, women’s rights organizations have documented approximately 7,000 cases of attacks against women human rights defenders.
In addition, women’s human rights defenders and activists who oppose the government face possible loss of nationality in retaliation, leaving them in a situation of statelessness, a condition that hinders the exercise of other rights such as health, education, decent employment and family life.
“The State party (Nicaragua), through legislative amendments, has arbitrarily deprived some persons of their nationality, and this is contrary to international human rights law,” he told the Committee.
According to alternative reports from 2023, around 222 people who are stateless are mothers and fathers of children who continue to live in Nicaragua. For the expert, this violation of fundamental rights puts them at greater risk of discrimination and “exacerbates the vulnerability of women and girls who may already be exposed to gender-based violence and human trafficking.”
Indigenous and Afro-descendant Women in the Absence of Protection
“Violence against women in the autonomous regions along the North and South Caribbean Coast continues to increase, particularly in the case of indigenous women who have legal provisions and protection orders,” said expert Rangita de Silva de Alwis.
In August 2021, two women were sexually abused in an attack related to a gold mining dispute in the Mayangna Sauni As territory.
Expert Bandana Rana emphasized the determined struggle of Afro-descendant women as they confront challenges related to the preservation and respect of the treaty that grants them the right to inhabit their ancestral lands, preserving their unique customs and resources. The expert lamented that the incursions of third parties in the Mosquitia have worsened the human rights situation of Afro-descendant women, since “violence is committed against women, girls and adolescents, which includes murders and forced displacement.”
In relation to health on the Caribbean Coast, expert Dafna Hacker said that “there is a gap between the law and reality,” since in general terms, there is a lack of health services that impacts especially women “due to a high prevalence of malaria, fever, dengue, HIV/AIDS, as well as the remoteness of care centers and the high costs of transportation.”
On several occasions, the Chairperson of the Committee called on the State of Nicaragua to express its point of view on the issues. Nonetheless, an unsettling silence prevailed in all of them.
Finally, the Chair expressed her deep disappointment and concern over the accusations made by the State in relation to the work of the Committee and its experts “which call into question the loyalty, honor, impartiality, true commitment, and full awareness that all the experts of this Committee make when they assume their responsibilities and duties”. Despite these insults, the President insisted that they are willing to “extend their hand” and “open the doors” to the State of Nicaragua.
The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) rejects the position of the State of Nicaragua, which disrespects the work of the Committee and the civil society organizations that exercise their legitimate right to participate in this process. Both with respect to the Committee and with respect to the organizations, the State refers in disqualifying and inappropriate terms, completely refusing to be held accountable for its actions and seeking to circumvent its international obligations towards women.
This pattern of non-compliance by the State of Nicaragua with its international obligations in the area of women’s human rights undoubtedly requires a forceful response from the international community.
The committee will submit its concluding observations before the end of the current session. The concluding observations will be adopted at the 87th session in February 2024.