CIVICUS

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Last updated on 15.06.2018 at 14:22

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Protection measures granted due to grave risks faced by activists at protests

Protection measures granted due to grave risks faced by activists at protests

On 21st May, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to 13 leaders of a student movement and their families due to risks they have faced. The Commission noted that the activists have been attacked when participating in protests as well as in other civic activities, such as food distribution and health care during demonstrations.

Association

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted a working visit to Nicaragua from 17th to 21st May to assess the human rights situation in the country in the context of the ongoing crisis from 18th April, when regressive changes to the social security system sparked widespread protests. In a preliminary report, the IACHR expressed its concern over the high risk human rights defenders continue to face in this time of social unrest, including harassment, threats and physical violence. 

The Commision:

"[R]eminds the State of Nicaragua that it must guarantee, in all circumstances, the ability of human rights defenders to carry out their legitimate activities in defense of human rights, free from any restriction and without fear of suffering reprisals. The State should design and implement a policy of integral protection for human rights defenders that addresses the country’s specific risk factors".

On 21st May, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to 13 leaders of a student movement and their families due to risks they have faced. The Commission noted that the activists have been attacked when participating in protests as well as in other civic activities, such as food distribution and health care during demonstrations. In addition, on 5th June the Commission granted precautionary measures to priest Edwin Roman and human rights defender Alvaro Leiva. Both of them participated actively in the protection of human rights in Masaya during the protests on 2nd June, during which security forces violently attacked demonstrators. The two had appeared waving white flags to mediate with the police and secure the release of 21 people who had been arrested.  

Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights - CENIDH) condemned the harassment of Felix Maradiaga who is the director of Instituto de Estudios Estrategicos y Politicas Publicas (IEEP) in Nicaragua and is constantly advocating for the protection of human rights in the country. In early June, during a press conference, a member of the national police accused Maradiaga of being part of a terrorist group and organised crime network. 

As reported on the Monitor, Iniciativa Nicaraguence de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (Nicaraguan Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders) reported several cases of attacks and harassment against women activists in the country. The situation continues as the organisation has documented at least nine recent cases of attacks against women activists. Verbal attacks and threats through social media have been the most common, and in one instance, student leader Amarilis Acevedo was reportedly followed by police.

Peaceful Assembly

During the IACHR's monitoring visit described earlier, the government of Nicaragua accepted a proposal to create an independent group of experts to investigate the recent violence around protests and violations of the right to peaceful assembly. However, after agreeing to the proposal, one of the biggest protests - a Mothers' Day demonstration - was violently repressed by police and pro-government activists, with 16 people killed and 200 injured in the violence.

In response to the ongoing violence against demonstrators, Amnesty International released a report entitled: 'Shoot to Kill: Nicaragua’s strategy to repress protest'. The report confirms the existence of armed, pro-government groups that operate "in collusion or with the acquiescence or tolerance" of the police and are responsible for creating chaos, repressing and attacking people at demonstration. Cases of the use of firearms and misuse of less-lethal weapons against protesters was also identified in the report. Similarly, in its report on the situation, CENIDH also found that people killed at the protests had gun wounds in the head, neck or chest, indicating a form of execution in the killing.  

In a statement, CIVICUS and the Nicaraguan civil society network - Coordination Civil - have called on the government of Nicaragua to end its violent campaign against peaceful protesters and respect the fundamental right to peaceful assemlby. 

Expression

On 28th May, Luis Aleman, cameraman with Canal 12, was hit in the arm by a rubber bullet while covering a protest in the country. He reported that a police vehicle drove by and police started shooting rubber bullets at protesters. On the same day, journalist Ivette Munguia was injured by a rubber bullet after riot police opened fire at a demonstration in Managua.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) documented an attack against two journalists from EFE Agency in Managua on 28th May. Both were physically attacked while reporting on a protest in the capital. 

Association

Freedom of association is recognised in the Constitution of Nicaragua

Freedom of association is recognised in the Constitution of Nicaragua. Nevertheless, numerous gaps and contradictions in General Law on Non-Profit Legal Persons (law no. 147) allow for the exercise of discretionary authority over CSOs. Legal recognition requires approval by the National Assembly, which is currently dominated by the president’s party – the Sandinista National Liberation Front - and, according to civil society actors, selectively blocks or delays applications. Civil society organisations also face harassment and intimidation. For example, three armed men attempted to break into the offices of the Grupo Estratégico por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico in March 2015.

Peaceful Assembly

The Nicaraguan Constitution supports freedom of assembly, and according to the Manual for Individual and Political Rights, gatherings of more than twenty people require prior notice.

The Nicaraguan Constitution supports freedom of assembly, and according to the Manual for Individual and Political Rights, gatherings of more than twenty people require prior notice. Public demonstrations are generally allowed, but police frequently use excessive force against protestors and fail to protect opposition demonstrators against aggressive behaviour by pro-government supporters. According to the local organisation Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH), during 2015 many demonstrations and protests were blocked and in some cases even repressed by security forces and pro-government groups. On 8th March 2016, International Women’s Day, a peaceful demonstration led by women’s organisations calling attention to gender inequalities and violence against women was blocked by anti-riot police despite having the required authorisation.

Expression

Freedom of expression is constitutionally recognised, but restrictive media policies have proliferated in recent years.

Freedom of expression is constitutionally recognised, but restrictive media policies have proliferated in recent years. Defamation and libel remain punishable by substantial fines, and the recent reduction in the number of legal cases against journalists is likely due to self-censorship. Unlike radio and print, the television market is dominated by two media conglomerates, one led by a Mexican media mogul which concentrates on entertainment, and the other is controlled by the president’s family and is increasingly used to disseminate government propaganda. The ruling party also owns radio stations and news websites. Critical media outlets and journalists report threats, harassment, and physical violence perpetrated by both government and private actors.There is no direct censorship, but freedom of expression is restricted by a lack of information. Civil society has repeatedly stated that the authorities do not comply with the Access to Information Law of 2007. The president has never held a press conference and communicates instead through cadenas nacionales; -joint broadcast, over various media (usually radio and television), directed at the general population of a state-.The first lady is the only authorised government spokesperson. While independent journalists’ requests for interviews are denied, friendly ones are granted exclusive access to government events and press briefings. Critical media is also financially strangled by the arbitrary allocation of government advertising. No restrictions have thus far been placed on the Internet, which is currently accessed by less than 20% of the population.

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