This Sunday, November 7, 2021, Daniel Ortega Saavedra will secure a fourth consecutive term as president of Nicaragua in an electoral process “tailor-made” and give him and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, another five years in power. Now, more than ever, the international community must not forget about the people of Nicaragua and must reject the validity of a government being imposed onto the Nicaraguan people, without any minimum safeguards to consider it “democratically elected”.
Nicaragua’s democracy began its progressive deterioration many years ago, with the pact between former President Arnoldo Alemán and Daniel Ortega. The social unrest in April 2018 and the repressive response by state authorities and paramilitary forces – which escalated to lethal levels – caused a deterioration of the rule of law where the Executive co-opted all other state powers and institutions. Subsequently, the crisis deepened further as a consequence of the closing of spaces of participation and dialogue, censorship and the increasing violations of citizens’ human rights in the electoral context. With Sunday’s elections, Nicaraguan democracy will finally erode.
November 7 will be a somber day for the people of Nicaragua, who have been in mourning for more than three years and longed for free elections to begin a process of democratic transition and guarantees for truth and justice without impunity, full reparation and non-repetition. Unfortunately, there are no signs of a swift improvement to the situation in the country. Everything points to the fact that a government which systematically violates human rights will continue in power.
Therefore, it is time to dispell any remaining suggestion that Sunday’s voting represents anything but Ortega and Murillo’s Democratic facade. It is urgent that the international community, multilateral organizations and international human rights organizations use all the resources at their disposal to prevent human rights violations to continue, particularly against people who are identified as opponents of the regime.
To contribute to this point, Race and Equality shares the following update on the grave human rights situation in Nicaragua.
Political prisoners – According to the most recent report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), since the beginning of the socio-political crisis in 2018 more than 1,614 people have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty and 149 people remain imprisoned for having participated in protests in opposition to the Ortega government.
Since May of 2021, the National Police, supported by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, unleashed a wave of arrests aimed at criminalizing at least 39 people – including seven presidential candidates, human rights defenders, non-governmental organization workers, journalists, businessmen, peasant and student leaders and other dissident voices. The most recent arrests were carried out against the President and First Vice President of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), Michael Healy and Álvaro Vargas, respectively, on October 21.
In most of these cases, a group of legislation passed in 2020 has been applied, which have been highly criticized by the international community because they fail to comply with the country’s human rights obligations and cause a perverse effect on the administration of justice, selectively criminalizing the opposition. These include the Foreign Agents Law (Ley de Agentes Extranjeros), the Law for the Defense of the People’s Rights to Independence (Ley de Defensa de los Derechos del Pueblo a la Independencia), the Special Law on Cyber Crimes (Ley Especial de Ciberdelitos), the Anti-Money Laundering Law (Ley contra el Lavado de Activos) and the Reform to the Criminal Procedural Code Law 1060, which expands the term of detention to 90 days, without minimum guarantees of due process.
As families of political prisoners, local and international organizations, we denounced violations of due process and detentions without communication. Many victims were in a situation of “forced disappearance” until August 31, when state authorities finally allowed the first family visits at the Judicial Assistance Directorate (Dirección de Auxilio Judicial). More recently, on October 11, a second visit was allowed, through which the families of the detainees observed aggravated conditions of detention, such as isolation and being kept in the dark or under permanent electric light, continuous weight loss and lack of adequate medical attention.
Deprivation of liberty for political reasons must be eliminated from Latin America, and Nicaragua is no exception. For Race and Equality, one political prisoner is too many and we will not rest in our demand for freedom. Given the perpetuation in power of the Ortega Murillo family, 2022 will be a key year to advocate before international bodies and mechanisms to urge the regime to release all those people who are now in jail unjustly and to immediately cease all forms of repression against those who oppose
Freedom of expression and freedom of the press – During the last three years, attacks against the media, journalists and media executives have not ceased. The independent press in Nicaragua has been the victim of harassment, threats, smear campaigns, judicial harassment, theft of equipment, withholding of paper and ink, raids, immigration detention and deprivation of liberty of journalists, commentators and media executives.
Since May 2021, in the framework of the administrative and criminal investigations against the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation – one of the main organizations dedicated to the defense of freedom of the press in the country, which had ceased to operate in February 2021 – more than 25 journalists and media workers were summoned to testify before the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and some were threatened with the application of the Special Law on Cybercrime. Likewise, arrest warrants were issued against some of their workers, as in the case of the defender Guillermo Medrano and journalist Lourdes Arróliga. This situation has forced at least 40 journalists into exile.
The pattern established by the Nicaraguan authorities of preventing the entry and expulsion of journalists from international media interested in reporting on the human rights crisis, and more recently on the electoral process is of deep concern. All of the above, coupled with the Supreme Electoral Council’s refusal to accredit journalists and independent media outlets is further evidence that Ortega and Murillo intend to undermine freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
Repression against indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples – The Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples of Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast have been targeted by armed groups since 2015. The number of fatalities and systematic violence has increased considerably this year.
On August 23, “settlers” executed a massacre in the Kiwakumbaih hill of the Mayangna Sauni As territory, in the North Caribbean of Nicaragua, where at least 9 Mayagna and Miskitu indigenous people were killed, including women and children. Forty-one days later, on October 4, invaders kidnapped and murdered Mayangna Martiniano Macario in Kimawkas (known as Tigre Negro), within the Mayangna Sauni As territory.
After these events, the pro-government media blamed members of the indigenous peoples for the growing violence and deforestation of the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. Likewise, they tried to disqualify recognized organizations defending the rights of indigenous peoples such as the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN), the Center for Legal Assistance to Indigenous Peoples (CALPI) or the River Foundation, calling them “organizations aligned with the political opposition” and claiming that indigenous leaders do not feel represented by them. Recognizing the violence suffered by indigenous peoples, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) extended the provisional measures granted to 9 Miskitu communities.
Race and Equality recognizes the invaluable work of organizations and defenders working on the ground, and of those who have been forced into exile but continue to advocate for Nicaragua’s indigenous peoples’ rights. We must not remain indifferent in the face of discrimination, assassinations and dispossession of indigenous lands. The government must guarantee security in the face of the invasions and the regulation of titled territories; likewise, the armed groups must be dismantled, dismantled and brought to justice.
Nicaragua at the UN – Despite the fact that the United Nations Human Rights Council has followed the situation in Nicaragua for three consecutive years and has adopted three resolutions to promote and protect human rights in the country, the Nicaraguan government has shown no willingness to overcome the serious human rights crisis.
In accordance with Resolution 46/2, on September 13, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet gave an oral update on Nicaragua in which she lamented the deterioration of civil and political rights in the electoral context, and urged the Human Rights Council to consider all measures within its power to protect human rights in the country. To date, the regime has not complied with any of the recommendations made by the High Commissioner.
In addition, on October 7 and 8, the State of Nicaragua was summoned to a dialogue with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) to review the implementation of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Nicaraguan representative chose to participate in a “listening capacity”, refusing to engage in a constructive exchange with the expert members. Despite the State’s lack of cooperation, the Committee published its concluding observations and concerns on October 20.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considered persecution and reprisals against human rights defenders, violence against indigenous peoples and the lack of access to information on the COVID-19 pandemic to be of particular priority; and made recommendations related to guaranteeing the impartiality and independence of the Judiciary and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, reestablishing international dialogue and cooperation with human rights protection mechanisms, and providing effective protection to victims of corruption cases, among others.
Nicaragua in the Inter-American Human Rights System – The Inter-American Court has also pronounced itself on the extreme gravity of the current context in the country. The Court ordered the immediate release of 21 persons arbitrarily detained in the current wave of repression In the framework of the provisional measures granted in favor of them. Likewise, this Court has repeatedly expressed its willingness to carry out an on-site visit to Nicaragua with the objective of verifying the conditions in which the detainees are being held. However, the State has not given its consent.
For Race and Equality, the Ortega regime has not shown the slightest willingness to cooperate “in good faith” with the United Nations, nor with the Inter-American Human Rights System. Far from this, it insists on remaining absolutely closed to international scrutiny and has tried to disqualify their work by accusing them of being “repressive” and “interfering”. Faced with this negative stance of the Nicaraguan State, it is essential that human rights organizations continue to carry out the excellent work of monitoring, documenting and denouncing human rights violations that they have done so far.
In view of the next session of the Human Rights Council in March 2022, we request that the monitoring mandate of High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet be renewed and that an investigation and accountability mechanism be established for Nicaragua. This mechanism should investigate the grave human rights violations that we civil society organizations have documented since April 2018, as well as the structural causes that have caused Nicaragua to remain immersed in this crisis. This mechanism would allow the mandate to verify the facts, identify perpetrators, and preserve evidence for when the conditions for a justice process in Nicaragua are in place. It is a key tool in the fight against impunity and we will strongly support its establishment.
The Nicaraguan people deserve justice and freedom. Let us not forget Nicaragua!