The Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights (Race and Equality) prepared this policy paper with the aim of analyzing the situation of people who were deprived of their liberty since May 2021 in Nicaragua, and the strategies that the Nicaraguan state has used to criminalize them. Likewise, this report presents a proposal of guidelines to determine in which cases there is a situation of arbitrary deprivation of liberty for political reasons, and a brief overview of the approach and role of international human rights bodies to contribute to the enforced protection required by people who are arbitrarily deprived of their liberty for political reasons.
Since 2018, the authoritarian Ortega and Murillo regime has resorted, in a systemic and generalized manner, to the detention and arbitrary deprivation of liberty for political motives. In the last quarter of 2020, the regime perfected its mechanisms with the approval of a series of laws to restrict the civic space and the advocacy capacity of non-governmental organizations (NGO); however, according to information gathered, it was until May 2021 that, in the pre-elections context, the regime initiated a new wave of repression characterized by arbitrarily detaining those who projected themselves as potential candidates to the presidency of the Republic, and by using these laws to criminalize them.
Subsequently, this wave of detentions extended to other sectors of the population such as: journalists, representatives of the private sector, human rights defenders, rural and farmer leaders, and political leaders; and in February 2023 more than 235 people were deprived of their liberty for political reasons in detention centers in Nicaragua, in conditions that constituted ill-treatment, torture, and crimes against humanity. Out of that number, at least 30 were women who suffered violations and different impacts based on gender, among which are: prolonged isolation in cells which are completely sealed, the denial of visits and letters from their sons and daughters, among others.
On February 9, 2023, 222 of the people who were deprived of their liberty were released and presented with the dilemma of having to choose between prison or exile to the United States. Yet, violations against their human rights did not end there; subsequently these people were stripped of their Nicaraguan nationality and civil rights perpetually, and arbitrary detentions have not ceased.
For Race and Equality it is of special importance that all these people are recognized as persons arbitrarily deprived of liberty for political reasons, when they have been criminalized under vague and imprecise laws that make it impossible to invoke any legal base that justifies the deprivation of liberty; for the exercise of rights or freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; for discrimination based on political opinions; and/or with total or partial non-observance of international norms related to the right to a fair trial is of such seriousness that it confers the deprivation of liberty arbitrary in nature. These are the four applicable categories of the five categories that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGDA) uses to determine the arbitrariness of detentions in United Nations member countries, confirming the existence of this pattern in Nicaragua.
The profound level of cruelty from the regime against political prisoners is also worrying. President Ortega has insulted and discredited them publicly on repeated occasions; they were kept in a situation of enforced disappearance for a long period of time; and the conditions of deprivation of liberty were and continue to be much more severe than those of common prisoners.
Race and Equality found that the most frequently charged crimes between May 2021 and February 2023 were treason, conspiracy to undermine national integrity, and spreading misinformation.
Finally, Race and Equality concluded that the Nicaraguan regime has committed systematic and widespread violations of human rights that include crimes against humanity towards a specific group of civil society. These crimes remain in absolute impunity and therefore establishing a mechanism to investigate, judge, and sanction all those responsible is urgent.
Based on what was previously presented in this policy paper, Race and Equality formulated a series of key recommendations for the Nicaraguan State, the mechanisms of protection of human rights, and the States. The purpose of these recommendations is to guide strategic litigation in favor of the release of those arbitrarily deprived of liberty for political reasons, as well as to promote the adoption of reparation and non-repetition measures, and advocacy in favor of the recognition of their vulnerable situation.
To the State of Nicaragua, which has obligations under international law to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights, we recommend:
- Abandon the pattern of arbitrary arrests.
- Immediately release the more than 64 people who are still deprived of their liberty (numbers updated June 19th, according to the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners)
- Investigate those responsible for human rights violations towards those arbitrarily deprived of their liberty for political reasons.
- Implement the recommendations resulting from the review of the status of compliance with the obligations of the Committee Against Torture, Human Rights Committee, the Universal Periodic Review carried out by Nicaragua in 2019, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and other United Nations Special Procedures.
- Take into consideration the measures at their reach to eliminate arbitrary imprisonment for political reasons and adopt indispensable guarantees to prevent these events from happening again.
- Close legal cases against people arbitrarily deprived of their liberty for political reasons, proceeding to eliminate criminal records.
- Guarantee justice and reparation for people who are arbitrarily deprived of their liberty for political reasons, recognizing publicly that those deprived of their liberty for political reasons suffered unjust imprisonment for exercising their right to freedom of expression and universally recognized human rights.
- Abolish the Special Law Regulating the Loss of Nicaraguan Nationality and the initiative for a Law to reform Article 21 of the Political Constitution of Nicaragua, approved in the first legislature, which expresses that those who commit treason lose their Nicaraguan nationality.
To the human rights protection mechanisms, which monitor and cooperate with the fulfillment of the obligations and commitments accepted by the States, derived from treaties and other international human rights instruments, we recommend:
- Continue demanding the immediate release of the more than 64 people who are still arbitrarily deprived of their liberty (numbers updated June 19th, according to the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners)
- Recognize as torture the treatment people arbitrarily deprived of liberty for political received (and some continue receiving) while they remained in state custody.
- Recognize as crimes against humanity the events described in this report, in particular, the arbitrary detention for political reasons, temporary forced disappearance, acts of torture, and forced disappearance that political prisoners were subjected to by the State of Nicaragua.
- Advance quickly in the cases and individual petitions that have been presented before the different bodies, in order to establish the State of Nicaragua’s international responsibility and advance in the victims’ fundamental reparation, including the establishment of guarantees of non-repetition.
To the states, by virtue of the collective guarantee of human rights, we recommend:
- Generate strategies to require Nicaragua to comply with its international obligations.
- Develop mechanisms to protect the exiled political prisoners of Nicaragua, including granting nationality to those who are stateless.