Washington D.C., October 20, 2022.- The United Nations Human Rights Committee summoned the State of Nicaragua for the review of the IV periodic report on Nicaragua and its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) on October 19. The State party was absent from the review, “an unfortunate situation that has arisen as a result of the lack of response to the communications,” according to the Committee’s Chairperson, Photini Pazartzis.
For Pazartzis “it is of particular concern” that this is the fourth consecutive occasion that the State of Nicaragua has refused to engage in constructive dialogue with UN treaty bodies. Last year it refused to respond to the list of issues of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and decided to limit itself to participating “as a listener”. In July of this year, it absented itself from the review of the Committee against Torture (CAT) and called it a “provocation”; in August it did not attend the review of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and now it did so with the Human Rights Committee.
The Human Rights Committee, in accordance with its rules of procedure and with the support of alternative reports sent by Nicaraguan and international civil society organizations, proceeded to discuss 29 issues in the absence of the State, including: the situation of persons deprived of liberty for political reasons; the rights of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, women and the LGBTI+ community; the situation of women’s rights in the face of violence; the excessive use of state forces to restrict public freedoms; the lack of judicial independence, among others.
Politically motivated deprivation of liberty and lack of judicial independence
Currently, more than 219 people are deprived of liberty for political reasons in Nicaragua. There are reports of cases of torture in state and clandestine centers, as well as precarious conditions of detention: overcrowding, poor sanitation and food, and lack of access to medical care. “Information continues to be received about torture and ill-treatment in the prisons of El Chipote, La Modelo, and La Esperanza…information has been provided about cases of sexual and gender-based violence against men and women detained in the context of the protests, including inappropriate touching and threats of rape,” said Mr. Quezada, member of the Committee.
On the other hand, Mrs. Bassim -who is also a Committee member- regretted that in February 2022, there was the death in custody of opposition leader Hugo Torres, who was transferred to a hospital late; she also stated that “this death has forced the government to resort to house arrest in very precarious cases from the point of view of health”, however, the excessive restrictions on family visits to people in detention centers have resulted in them starting hunger strikes that can seriously affect their health.
Subsequently, Committee member Mr. Carlos Gómez referred to the trials and sentences against persons detained in 2021 in the context of the general elections, which hint at the lack of judicial independence.
“They were held behind closed doors, without the presence of the public, some of them in the same detention centers… and these defendants were not allowed to have interviews with their lawyers until a few minutes before.” Only one of the convictions has been overturned on appeal and others are pending appeal. “This procedure suggests a total lack of the subjective guarantees of jurisdiction, such as the independence and impartiality of the court,” Gómez explained.
Violence against indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, women and LGBTI+ persons
Official statistics continue to lack data on violence and discrimination against LGBTI+ persons, which prevents an assessment of the real dimension of the associated problems; however, according to information received by the Committee, “trans women deprived of their liberty in the context of the crisis were held in men’s prisons and subjected to discriminatory and degrading treatment”.
Regarding indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, Committee member Mr. Santos Pais stated that they “continue to be victims of structural discrimination” reflected in poverty rates, precarious living conditions and persistent institutional violence and discrimination. The State Party “has still omitted to carry out the last stage of the process, the regularization stage, of the 23 titled territories…which would have the purpose of defining the rights of third parties or settlers within the indigenous territories”, he added.
On the other hand, in relation to violence against women and femicides, the Committee notes with concern that public policy ignores the rights of women and privileges the protection of the family, hinders reporting and allows mediations that could put them at greater risk of femicide. Likewise, the government has not allocated funds from the Budget of the Republic to shelters and has closed at least 176 organizations that guaranteed protection to victims of domestic and gender violence. The government “confiscated their assets or canceled their legal status,” explained Santos Pais.
Excessive use of state forces and impunity
“The Committee has received information on the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, particularly on the occasion of the social protests that began on April 18, 2018,” as well as by armed pro-government elements or shock forces “who have acted with the blessing of high-level authorities and the National Police in attacks on demonstrators and even illegal detentions,” exposed Mr. Quezada, expert of the Human Rights Committee.
The indiscriminate use of force by state and pro-government groups during peaceful demonstrations in 2018 has resulted in at least 355 fatalities, more than 1,600 people injured and, as of May 2020, 1,614 arbitrarily detained.
In relation to this, for the Chair of the Committee, the Amnesty Law passed in July 2021, which grants immunity to state agents for actions they took from April 2018 until the date the law was passed “raises quite serious concerns, including concerns regarding retroactivity”.
Retaliation against journalists, media and human rights defenders.
At least 120 Nicaraguan journalists have been exiled due to government reprisals, at least three media outlets have been confiscated since 2018, including Confidencial, La Prensa and 100% Noticias. Twenty-three radio and television stations have been shut down this year, Mr. Gómez added.
Six journalists have been sentenced to up to 13 years in prison, among them: the manager of the newspaper La Prensa, Juan Lorenzo Holmann, who was sentenced to nine years in prison for the alleged crime of money laundering; and three other journalists were sentenced for the alleged crime of spreading fake news. On the other hand, “the murder of journalist Ángel Gahona” in the context of the 2018 crisis has not been clarified, and the Committee has received information that after the 2019 Amnesty Law, this case has been archived.
Chairperson Pazartzis added that the Committee is also aware of the stripping of passports from journalists and human rights defenders.
Serious deterioration of the human rights situation in the aftermath of the electoral process.
“It is clear that, in light of the information received… especially since 2018, and more recently during the 2021 elections, the human rights situation has been deteriorating in a very serious way,” said Chair Pazartzis.
The 2021 general elections took place in a context of concentration of State powers in the Executive and, according to the Organization of American States (OAS), “were not free, fair or transparent and lacked democratic legitimacy.” It should be noted that, in May 2021, a reform to the Electoral Law favored the hegemony of the current governing party. Furthermore, according to civil society records, during the voting there were more than 2,000 reports of anomalies and it is estimated that there was 81.5% abstention.
In this sense, according to the Committee, “it is possible that the new municipal electoral process in November of this year will follow a similar pattern to that of the 2021 presidential elections”.
The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights rejects the State’s refusal to engage in dialogue and provide the necessary information to the Committee regarding its concerns expressed in the List of Issues provided to the State in a timely manner. The full cooperation of State Parties in the dialogues is a key component for the fulfillment of their obligations under the Covenant. We remind the State of Nicaragua that ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights entails the obligation to submit reports, participate in constructive dialogues with the Committee, and comply with the Committee’s recommendations.
Finally, we highlight the fundamental role of Nicaraguan civil society organizations in monitoring and documenting human rights violations, particularly civil and political rights, in Nicaragua. Their hard work and reporting have made possible the examination and formulation of observations.
*The Committee will issue its concluding observations during the current session (October 10 – November 4) and forward them to the State of Nicaragua.