HRC47 l International community jointly urges Nicaragua to reverse course on human rights crisis
Nearly sixty countries expressed joint concerns at ‘persistent impunity for human rights violations since April 2018’ in Nicaragua, urging the authorities to take meaningful steps toward a ‘peaceful solution to the country’s socio-political crisis’.
The Nicaraguan authorities have, over the past weeks, intensified their crackdown against civil society and peaceful dissent, ahead of the November presidential elections, and only a few months after the renewal of the Human Rights Council’s resolution 46/2 on the situation in Nicaragua. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), together with the Inter-American Commissioner on Human Rights (IACHR), have jointly denounced the arbitrary detention of five presidential pre-candidates, as well as human rights defenders, journalists, and leaders of the campesino and student movements. Leading civil society organisations – such as the Centro Nicaraguense de los Derechos Humanos (CENIDH) and the Asociación Madres de Abril (AMA) – remain a target of police harassment.
The steady deterioration of Nicaragua’s human rights crisis prompted Costa Rica to deliver an unprecedented statement on behalf of a cross-regional group of 59 countries at the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, urging Nicaragua to:
Cease harassing journalists and human rights defenders, allowing civil society organisations to operate in a safe and enabling environment without fear of reprisals
Immediately release arbitrarily detained presidential contenders and dissidents
Engage with the international community and avail itself of technical assistance, allow international election observers, and re-establish dialogue
Instead of joining the initiative, a number of countries, including Argentina, and Uruguay, addressed their concerns around rights violations in the country in their individual statements; Mexico made a brief mention in its statement to the High Commissioner.
Although Nicaraguan authorities point to ‘politicized accusations’, this timely statement by nearly sixty Latin American, European and Asian countries demonstrates growing, worldwide concern around the country’s crisis. It is yet a shame that key regional players such as Mexico, Argentina and Uruguay avoided joining the call, and preferred speaking out bilaterally.
Raphael Viana David, Programme Officer
Governments were not alone in speaking up, as human rights groups repeatedly denounced rights abuses in dialogues with UN officials during the Council’s session. ISHR joined CEJIL and over 40 other organisations in a statement on the curtailment of freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, in an exchange with Special Rapporteur Clément Voulé.
Maria Eugenia Gómez López from the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IM-Defensoras), delivered a joint statement on behalf of ISHR, IM-Defensoras, the Institute for Race & Equality, and the Red Internacional de Derechos Humanos (RIDH), on the vital role played by women human rights defenders in safeguarding the sexual and reproductive rights of Nicaraguan women. She emphasizes the negative impact that the multi-pronged repression against defenders has had on the promotion and enjoyment of such rights.
On 3 June, UN human rights defenders expert Mary Lawlor deplored a ‘new spate of arrests and attacks [against human rights defenders] following the third anniversary of widespread protests that broke out in April 2018′, including ill-treatment and sexual assault allegations, in a public statement endorsed by four other UN experts. The experts called on the government to ‘put an end to increasing attacks by its security forces’ and to ‘refrain from initiating criminal proceedings based on generic or disproportionate charges’ against human rights defenders.
With the expulsion of the OHCHR and IACHR presences in 2018, defenders have been the last remaining independent human rights monitors in the country. We join UN expert Mary Lawlor’s condemnation of human rights defenders' criminalisation: protecting them must remain a steadfast priority.
Raphael Viana David, Programme Officer
A strengthened UN resolution
Last 23 March, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 46/2, in which it makes a series of recommendations to the Nicaraguan government on the country’s multi-pronged human rights crisis. These range from the situation of human rights defenders, arbitrary detentions, and the shrinking of civil society space, to sexual and gender-based violence, the rights of indigenous peoples, social and economic rights, free and fair elections, as well as cooperation with international human rights mechanisms.
The resolution also strengthens the High Commissioner’s monitoring and reporting mandate, supplementing her oral updates and annual report, with an additional update in the context of the November 7 presidential elections.
Assessing government action against a series of clear objectives, and drawing on public information from the United Nations, the Inter-American human rights system, as well as independent civil society and media reports, the organisations have established that:
The Government of Nicaragua has taken no action to implement any of the recommendations from resolution 46/2, with the exception of the release of human rights defender Celia Cruz on April 25. Yet, despite her liberation, Celia’s legal situation remains uncertain, as the Supreme Court of Justice upheld her 13-years prison sentence.
The Government has taken no initial steps nor respected any of the timelines for action requested in the resolution, such as the adoption of an implementation action plan or the implementation of electoral reforms by May 2021.
The Government has also taken actions contrary to the recommendations, resulting in a drastic reduction of civil society space and an increase in attacks on human rights defenders, journalists, presidential candidates, and dissidents, over the last months.
A narrow window to reverse course
In her oral update on Nicaragua to the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet stressed a ‘worrying and accelerating deterioration of the human rights situation [that] makes it unlikely that Nicaraguans will be able to fully exercise their political rights in the elections on 7 November’.
She deplores that over three years of Council analysis of the country’s situation, ‘none of the recommendations made [by her Office] have been implemented’, as the crisis ‘not only shows no signs of being overcome’ but instead ‘worsen[s] alarmingly’. In its response, Nicaragua’s representative refrained from addressing any concern, limiting itself to denouncing ‘interventionist and supremacists positions’.
The international community should fully understand that it is dealing with an entirely non-cooperative government, while thousands of Nicaraguans try to flee from repression, economic and health crisis. States should take stock, and step up joint pressure and multilateral action.
Raphael Viana David, Programme Officer
Last March, the Council adopted resolution 46/2, by which it decides to ‘consider all measures available to the Human Rights Council to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights in Nicaragua and cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner’ [emphasis added].
ISHR calls on all States to:
Urge the Nicaraguan authorities to promptly implement recommendations from resolution 46/2 and take steps to cooperate constructively with the OHCHR, the IACHR, and the international community
Express concerns and signal intention to escalate action should the Government persist in refusing to cooperate, through a cross-regional joint statement at the upcoming 48th session of the Human Rights Council
Raphaël Viana David
Raphaël is ISHR's Asia Programme Officer, and one of the two Focal Points for Latin America in our Geneva office. He joined ISHR in 2018.
You can follow him on Twitter at @vdraphael.