In the midst of the crisis in Nicaragua, human rights of indigenous and Afro-descendants continue to be violated

Washington, D.C. August 14th, 2019. Repression and extrajudicial killings that occurred in several cities in Nicaragua since April 2018, especially in the urban areas of the Pacific and central zone of Nicaragua, were behaviors already known by the indigenous and Afro-descendant communities of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. “We have already lived through these forms of repression in our communities since 2015” although under different motivations, affirms the president of the Center for Justice and Human Rights of Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast (CEJUDHCAN, for its initials in Spanish), Lottie Cunningham.

In the midst of the socio-political and human rights crisis that Nicaragua is going through, the rights of indigenous and Afro-descendant people continue to be predominantly violated in two ways: for the violation of their self-determination and autonomy, and for the lack of a title-clearing process for communal properties, denounced the lawyer and activist from CEJUDHCAN, who is deeply concerned about the situation of impunity and the lack of institutional guarantees for these populations.

Self determination

In the North and South Atlantic of Nicaragua, each community is autonomous and has its own form of organization. Indigenous people are organized based on their customs and traditions, so there are communal and territorial authorities that must be chosen according to a legally regulated procedure. But the interference of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN, for its initials in Spanish) has generated frequent conflicts in these communities.

“This has come to create many problems, it has come to confront communities, because the party interference has created parallel governments, it creates some figures that are not part of the traditional authority,” Cunningham explains.

According to the activist, the Sandinista Leadership Committees (CLS, for its initials in Spanish), also existing in the Pacific and urban areas of the country, are in fact monitoring mechanisms, and do not fulfill their role as traditional authorities. The Government is responsible for delivering, after each election, a certificate of appointment as an authority, but those who are chosen according to the tradition are denied that certificate. It is the people who abide the party mandates those who get the certificate.

“They are creating a fractionation of the indigenous family, of the indigenous community. And in those conflicts, there have even been injured people, a bloodshed,” Cunningham laments. One of the most recent cases occurred in the Kamla community, municipality of Bilwi, North Caribbean of Nicaragua, when on June 26 this year a group of Sandinista sympathizers attacked the communal leader and municipal councilor Marcela Foster, causing the loss of her left eye and a fracture in one of her arms.

“We are now concerned about the omission of public officials, the Police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office that do not act, and as impunity has continued, this may worsen,” Cunningham warned. “In the indigenous communities the siege and criminalization has increased and we are very afraid…”, she added.

Lack of a title-clearing process

The Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua is a multi-ethnic, pluricultural and multilingual region where nearly 508,000 people with origins from the Mískitu, Sumu/Mayangnas, Rama and Afro-descendant (Creoles and Garífunas) communities live. As a result of a ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2005, the State of Nicaragua approved Law 445, which established a process of demarcation and titling of these communities’ lands.

Under this law, between 2007 and 2016, 23 territories benefiting 304 indigenous and Afro-descendant communities were demarcated, but the title-clearing process has not been carried out, which is the State guarantee to the indigenous people of “the effective use and enjoyment of their titled territories when faced with their occupation by third parties or settlers.”

Due to state ineffectiveness, the lack of a title-clearing process has begun to have negative effects for the security of indigenous people and for their use of natural resources. “The settlers are armed, they have come to the nearest perimeters of the community, usurping, occupying land,” says Cunningham, who recounts: “When we go to communal assemblies, it’s sad, women cry because they tell you how they can’t go to collect their food, they can’t go fishing, they can’t go collect their traditional medicine, because they don’t live from a grocery store or a pharmacy, they live from the forest.”

There have also been reports of settlers who kidnap indigenous people to warn them not to exceed the limits they have arbitrarily defined, or to force women to raise the bean crop. “There are missing indigenous people, we have indigenous people who have died, atrociously killed, who have get their heads and hands cut off, their eyes taken out…”, thus describing the extreme violence that has characterized some recent events.

Cunningham said that the police do not go to the communal areas, and rather it is the leaders who demand the title-clearing process of the communities that have been arrested and criminalized. “Instead of advancing in the title-clearing process, right now we are seeing (how activists are facing) common crime trials, we know that (crimes) are not true, there is no evidence, because we know that people and we know that those are also selective actions”, Cunningham points out.

According to Cunningham, the authorities allow these land seizures to “stay in power, because the indigenous people hardly vote to the national parties.” In addition, they have also granted concessions to gold and timber companies without territorial governments having endorsed them, as mandated by the International Labour Organisation Convention No. 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples.

“Due to the social crisis of 2018, a massive invasion of settlers has entered to our communities. And the State of Nicaragua knows it,” laments Cunningham.


Race and Equality calls on the State of Nicaragua to protect the rights of indigenous and Afro-descendant people, particularly to guarantee respect for collective property, their autonomy to choose their authorities as well as security conditions that protect their lives and personal integrity from violence that afflicts them today.

We urge the State of Nicaragua to accept the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review regarding these peoples in the next session of adoption of the Report of the Working Group of the Human Rights Council and its prompt implementation.

Fotos de Flickr. 

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