Washington, D.C. December 6th, 2018. A new escalation of repression by the government of Nicaragua seeks to dismantle any space of criticism and to silence the voices of demonstrators, journalists, women, activists, and all those who defend freedom, demand democracy, and claim justice for the victims of human rights violations in the country. This was the main message that a group of Nicaraguan human rights defenders presented before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) last week during the thematic hearing “Repression and Violation of Human Rights in Nicaragua,” held in during the 170th period of sessions of the IACHR.
Human rights defenders of fourteen national and international organizations, including Race and Equality, requested that the IACHR and the international community “take all necessary actions so that the repression stops in Nicaragua and also to help find a democratic solution to the crisis.”
The State of Nicaragua, which was invited to participate in this hearing, the fourth to be held since the current human rights crisis began eight months ago, did not show up. The State argued that it was not appropriate to conduct a hearing as a monitoring mechanism for the country. For civil society organizations, the non-appearance of the State of Nicaragua reflects its lack of willingness to be accountable to international bodies.
Paulo Abrāo, Executive Secretary of the IACHR, assured that the situation in Nicaragua is being addressed “at a priority level” because a police state has been installed in the country. “There is not a single day in Nicaragua in which the IACHR does not receive reports of human rights violations in the context of the crisis,” he lamented.
Current situation of the country
As of now, human rights organizations and the IACHR count 325 people killed as a result of repression, as well as more than 600 political prisoners. Additionally, 200 health professionals and 40 of higher education have been unfairly dismissed for doing their work, and over 40,000 people have been forcibly displaced to Costa Rica. The Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES, for its initials in Spanish) estimates that 417,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from their jobs as a result of the crisis.
Madeleine Caracas, a 21-year-old woman member of the University Coalition and currently sheltered in Costa Rica, said that since late September, the public force has prevented civil demonstrations. This “inhibits the legitimate right of people to express themselves and demonstrates the authoritarianism that we are facing.” Additionally, she revealed that there are more than a hundred students who have been expelled from their universities for having participated in protests and taken over public universities.
The Nicaraguan Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IND, for its initials in Spanish) has counted more than 370 attacks on women within the context of crisis. This includes two cases of rape, two murders of transgender women, and 102 arbitrary arrests. Forty-eight women are still detained, some of whom have been convicted, some have not been charged or accused of any crime, and a few have a criminal case against them in process, detailed Caracas.
The young woman also highlighted the continued persecution of human rights defenders, like Ana Cecilia Juguer, promoter of the Permanent Commission of Human Rights (CPDH, for its initials in Spanish), who has been detained for more than 20 days in El Chipote; Haydeé Castillo, who was held in the airport and imposed with an immigration restriction; and the most recent case of Ana Quirós, who was expelled from the country and arbitrarily stripped of her Nicaraguan nationality and whose organization’s legal personality was canceled.
“It is evident and worrisome that the people who defend human rights in Nicaragua are one of the main targets of the repression strategy implemented by the Ortega-Murillo government. They do not allow us to carry out our defense work, we are persecuted, we are stigmatized, we are denied information, among other aggressions,” Caracas denounced.
Marcos Carmona, of the CPDH, spoke in detail about illegal detentions, the criminal proceedings against demonstrators, and violations of due process guarantees.
“CPDH has been in charge of the defense of 72 trials, involving 178 people. Thirty-five people have been sentenced to more than 24 years for terrorism, 20 people have obtained their freedom, and 102 people are still waiting for the judge’s ruling,” Carmona said, stating also that “all these processes have violated constitutional guarantees and due process since the moment of detention.”
Carmona also emphasized that “no policeman, no paramilitary, no supportive party leader or any authority has been prosecuted” for the crimes that were committed since April as part of the government’s repressive response to civic demonstrations.
Vilma Núñez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH, for its initials in Spanish), denounced that political prisoners are not allowed to have access to their lawyers or be accompanied by human rights defenders, and are denied access to medical care. Additionally, their families face obstacles when they try to visit them and accompany them during the trial.
Núñez reported that six peasant leaders are “held in maximum security cells, without access to light or ventilation, living with pests and without access to adequate toilets” and others have been forced to self-exile as a result of the persecution.
She also highlighted the censorship and criminalization faced by different Nicaraguan media and independent journalists. “Since the beginning of the crisis, repression has been characterized by repressive measures against freedom of expression,” Núñez said, mentioning the escalation of attacks against journalists and even members of the Nicaraguan Catholic Church.
The organizations participating in the hearing made seven petitions to the IACHR, among them, to continue monitoring the situation in Nicaragua, to include Nicaragua in Chapter IV of its Annual Report for the year 2018, and to require the State of Nicaragua to provide adequate conditions so that the Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (Meseni, for its initials in Spanish) and the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI, for its initials in Spanish) can carry out their work without restrictions.
In addition, they asked the IACHR to demand full access to judicial proceedings for family members and human rights organizations, to request periodic information from the American States on the displaced Nicaraguans, and to request that the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) carry out periodic sessions on the human rights situation in Nicaragua.
Antonia Urrejola, Nicaragua’s rapporteur for the IACHR, replied that the monitoring of the Nicaraguan situation will remain constant, that this week they will discuss the introduction of Nicaragua in Chapter IV, and that a report on the situation of Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica will be published soon. Also, Urrejola assured that the Meseni will be strengthen and that the Commissioners and Special Rapporteurs will continue to make visits to Nicaragua. They already have a plan for this in the first quarter of 2019-.
“I simply want to insist that we are not going to stop accompanying human rights organizations and the Nicaraguan people in the situation they are living nowadays. They will count on us permanently, have no doubts about it,” Urrejola concluded.
Edison Lanza, Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR said that in Nicaragua there has been an absolute suppression of fundamental freedoms by the installation of a State of Terror that seeks the moral demolition of the leaders of civil society and which also aims to reach the IACHR.
OACNUDH will return to Nicaragua
Three months after the mission of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) left Nicaragua because the government terminated its mission, representatives of that office will return to Managua in mid-December; Marlene Alejos, Regional Representative of the OHCHR for Central America, Panama and the Dominican Republic, revealed during the hearing.
“The Office will visit Managua in the middle of this month to explore with the Government the adequate conditions that allow us to return to work in the country, both in the monitoring of the human rights situation and in technical assistance,” Alejos explained.
Two days before its expulsion, the OHCHR published a report on the crisis in Nicaragua, concluding that “the overall response of the authorities to the protests did not comply with the applicable standards on the proper management of demonstrations, in violation of the International Law of human rights.”
Alejos recalled that in March 2019 there will be an Ordinary Session of the Human Rights Council in which the Member States will evaluate the situation in Nicaragua. Another important opportunity for Nicaragua to be evaluated will be in the month of May during the country’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).