UN report finds 'Urgent action is needed to address the human rights crisis in Nicaragua'

On 29th August 2018, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report describing "the patterns of human rights violations and abuses committed between 18 April and 18 August 2018 in relation to the social protests and ensuing political crisis in Nicaragua". The report stated that since April 2018, the human rights situation "has been characterised by multiple forms of repression and other forms of violence that resulted in thousands of victims". In the report, among other recommendations, the UN urged the government of Nicaragua to "[g]rant OHCHR direct and unfettered access to the whole country, including to places of detention, in accordance with the High Commissioner’s mandate and standard practices of engagement and technical cooperation with authorities and civil society". 

However, on 31st August 2018, it was reported that President Ortega ordered the expulsion of the UN team. Following this decision, Amnesty International said

“The Nicaraguan government is opting for a strategy of isolation in an attempt to avoid international scrutiny and continue to repress those exercising their rights to freedom of expression. This position only serves to worsen the crisis that has so far seen at least 322 people killed, thousands injured, scores of people arbitrarily detained and thousands fleeing their country in search of protection.”

The Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos issued a statement rejecting "the unusual and provocative decision of the Ortega Murillo government" to expel the OHCHR who is in the country fulfilling the mission of monitoring the human rights situation. The statement added: 

"This decision reflects the arrogant and intolerant nature of the [government] in the absence of solid arguments to contradict the report."

Peaceful Assembly

On 25th June, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) launched the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) to monitor the situation in the country and the implementation of the recommendations made by the IACHR in May 2018. After eight weeks, MESENI confirmed that 322 have died since the crisis started in April 2018 and hundreds remain in detention. According to the Commission, people who are detained are facing trials "on unfounded, disproportionate charges involving widespread accusations of terrorism" and without respect for "the basic rules of due process". In addition, on 8th August, the Centro Nicaraguence de los Derechos Humanos (Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights, CENIDH) reported that 180 people have disappeared and 14 are still missing. 

Despite several statements made by international and regional organisations condemning the violence and the presence of the IACHR in the country, the criminalisation of protests continue. It was reported that, during a protest in Matagalpa on 11th August 2018, protester Lenin Mendiola died. A few days later, on 19th August, police forces and pro-government groups attacked a protest in Masaya. 

UN OHCHR report stated that during demonstrations, police used disproportionate force against protesters, sometimes resulting in extrajudicial killings. In addition, the organisation documented cases of "enforced disappearances; obstructions to access to medical care; widespread arbitrary or illegal detentions; prevalent ill-treatment and instances of torture and sexual violence in detention centres". By one measure, the repression has been effective as the number of protests has decreased over recent months, which "indicates the chilling effect of repression". 

Association

As reported previously on the Monitor, several students and human rights defenders were granted precautionary measures by the IACHR due to the risks they have faced. Since the last report, the Commission granted six precautionary measures benefiting at least 24 activists and social leaders in Nicaragua who are being threatened for their monitoring of human rights violations. 

Systematic harassment against human rights defenders and social leaders in Nicaragua is continuing. The authorities are accusing these activists of terrorism, organised crime, and similar offences, as illustrated by the previously reported cases of Medardo Mairena, Coordinator of the National Council in Defense of Land, Lake and Sovereignty, and Pedro Joaquín Mena Amador, who were both arrested on 13th July. A court hearing for the  two defenders took place on 14th July; however, family members, the press, the IACHR and the UN were denied entry. Reports indicate that Medardo was subjected to mistreatment while in detention. 

On 18th July 2018, activist Irlanda Jerez was arbitrarily detained in the country’s capital. Jerez was returning home after having participated in a meeting with members of the Nicaraguan Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders. Christian Fajardo, a leader of Movimiento 19 de Abril, and his wife, Maria Adilia Peralta, were arrested on 22nd July at the border with Costa Rica when they tried to leave the country seeking protection. In a separate incident, the Nicaraguan Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders reported that on 23rd August, police officers showed up at the residence of feminist activist Jennifer Brown and delivered a subpoena. Brown has been subjected to threats since April.   

The report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that "authorities continue to resort to smear campaigns, threats of prosecution, arbitrary dismissals of civil servants and other forms of harassment or intimidation against individuals perceived as critical of the Government. Leaders of rural movements (Movimiento Campesino) and of student movements have been particularly targeted". 

Expression

Journalists continue to face intimidation, harassment and threats in Nicaragua. On 29th July, journalist Roberto Antonio Collado, a correspondent for Channel 10, was beaten by masked individuals while he was reporting on a demonstration in Granada. He was later handed over to the police. On 14th August, Gerall Chávez, a reporter for the Vos TV channel, received a threatening message posted on the wall of his house in El Rosario, Carazo. On 19th August, German journalist Sandra Weiss was attacked and robbed by a masked armed group while reporting in Chinandega. 

The Inter-American Press Association conducted a visit to Nicaragua on 15th and 16th August to carry out an assessment of the situation of freedom of expression in the current context. The visit concluded that state authorities are engaging in political and judicial harassment of media and journalists who criticise the government of Ortega and Murillo. Economic pressure is also part of the government’s strategy to silence independent media, primarily through the use of public advertisement and restrictions on the imports of supplies for news outlets. 

Regarding this situation, the UN OHCHR report expressed that: 

"Freedom of expression has been restricted in systematic and varied ways throughout the crisis. Such limitations need to be considered in the light of a pre-existing environment characterized by a progressive erosion of media freedom: a high concentration of media outlets in the hands of the governing party and relatives of the president and vicepresident; the absence of an independent media regulator; the use of Governmental advertisement to promote official media and indirectly censor independent media; the lack of effective policies to promote and protect access to information." 

Nicaragua is currently on the Monitor's Watch List of countries where there is an urgent, immediate and developing threat to civic space. If you have information to share on the situation, please get in touch. Click here to find our contact details.