San José, September 7, 2022 – Central America is going through a spell of serious setbacks regarding the respect and guarantee of the foundational rights and liberties to civic spaces, including the freedoms of expression and of peaceful assembly and association, particularly in countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The current context poses a dire threat to just, peaceful and inclusive societies in the region.
In this context, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, conducted an academic visit in Costa Rica, to talk about his mandate’s activities to promote and protect these rights in the region.
During the visit, which took place between 29 August and 2 September, the Rapporteur had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Costa Rican Bar Association, the Diplomatic Academy and the United Nations University for Peace, among others.
On September 1, at the headquarters of the University for Peace, a conference took place with university students, with the participation of the Dean of UPEACE, Juan Carlos Sainz-Borgo, and Mr. Mihir Kanade, Director of the Human Rights Center & Academic Coordinator at UPEACE and President of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development.
During the visit, Special Rapporteur Voule participated in a presentation at the Diplomatic Academy “Manuel María de Peralta” in San José, together with Ambassador Carmen Claramunt, Deputy Director of the Diplomatic Academy.
“In Nicaragua, one of our main concerns I raised with authorities throughout my engagement with them are the laws that have been adopted between 2020 and 2022, notably the Law of Foreign Agents and the Law of Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organizations”, said Voule during his presentation at UPEACE.
“The provisions of these two laws are being used by the Nicaraguan authorities to suppress civic space by criminalizing human rights defenders and opposition leaders and dissolving hundreds of civil society organizations”, he added.
In his presentation, the Special Rapporteur placed special emphasis on the seriousness of the situation in Nicaragua since 2018. The socio-political crisis that began more than 4 years ago has resulted in the quasi-total closure of civic space, the curtailment of the freedom of association, and the repression of almost all peaceful demonstrations critical of the government.
The Special Rapporteur emphasized that through such laws, more than 1600 non-governmental organizations have been closed in the country, according to the information he received.
“The situation is tense, even in our capacity. We have not been able to enter the country. Those I’ve been able to speak with have said that their properties were confiscated. We’re now seeing other countries attempt to replicate this dire situation for civic space, and my mandate wants to prevent that. That’s why I came to Central America”, the Special Rapporteur said.
The closure of these spaces has worsened since the approval of the Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents passed by the Nicaraguan congress in September 2020, which was used as a pretext to close civil society organizations in the country.
The month of its adoption, the mandate sent a communication to the Government of Nicaragua expressing its concern about the incompatibility of the Law on Foreign Agents and the Law on Cybercrimes with the country’s international obligations, particularly with regard to human rights. The Special Rapporteur stated that the law’s scope of application was overly broad and lacked in clarity. This legislation prohibits those classified as “foreign agents” from intervening in Nicaraguan affairs, political issues or internal activities, without these terms being clearly defined.
Similarly, in the region, the Government of El Salvador is in discussion since 2021 to adopt a similar law which has raised concerns across various sectors, as they fear it will generate a similar situation to the one in Nicaragua and will lead to the closure of hundreds of civil society organizations.
Among others, the Special Rapporteur expressed his concerns about provisions creating a registry of foreign agents that severely limits access to funds from external sources. The Special Rapporteur stressed that he was gladto receive a reply from the Government stating that the consideration of this law had been suspended.
In Guatemala, the Rapporteur raised his concerns over the abuse of emergency measures to prohibit and suppress peaceful protests, in addition to the increased militarization and politicization of civic protests. These concerns were conveyed to the authorities through an official communication.
Honduras is also one of the countries in the region that has warranted particular attention from the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.. Mr Voule has shared his concerns through official channels with the Government over the criminalization of, as well as the attacks and judicial harassment against civil society leaders, which has resulted in several deaths.
On the Rapporteur’s mandate
Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule was appointed Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association by the Human Rights Council and assumed his functions in April 2018.
The mandate he holds submits annual reports to the Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly, as well as conducts official country visits to assess the situation with regards to the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in a country, and present recommendations.
The Special Rapporteur additionally transmits urgent appeals, other letters, and letters of allegation to Member States on alleged violations of the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
In June 2022, the Special Rapporteur presented to the Human Rights Council his most recent thematic report on “Access to resources”, as well as his report on: “The Protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests during crisis situations.”