Photo: Jorge Mejía Peralta / Wikimedia Commons

Latin America & Caribbean

Legal persecution of civil society denounced in UN Human Rights Council debate on Nicaragua

Nicaragua is once again a key topic of concern on the agenda of the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The newly-appointed ‘Group of Experts’ created by the Council in March begins its investigation of serious human rights violations in the country, as international condemnation remains strong.

During the session, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet presented her oral update on the country, highlighting key patterns of grave rights violations in the country, including:

  • More than 173 persons deprived of liberty in connection with the 2018 political and human rights crisis;
  • Deplorable conditions of detention, with at least 50 individuals detained in the 2021 electoral context, often without access to medical care or family visits, and facing penalties of up to 13 years imprisonment;
  • The arbitrary cancellation of the legal personality of 388 organisations since last January, bringing the total to at least 454 since November 2018;
  • New threats to academic freedom, including the arbitrary cancellation of the legal personality of at least 12 universities.

As a result of the country’s multi-pronged crises, the High Commissioner underlined that the number of refugees and asylum seekers is increasing at an unprecedented pace:

  • Over the past eight months, more than 150,000 persons have sought refuge in Costa Rica, representing 3% of the country’s population;
  • March 2022 saw the highest recorded number of persons intercepted at the border with the United States(16,088 persons), eight times more than a year ago.

In a statement to the Council, Alexandra Salazar of the Legal Defense Unit (Unidad de Defensa Jurídica), on behalf of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the Institute for Race and Equality, denounced the cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and acts of physical and psychological torture of political prisoners, including human rights defenders. Salazar pointed out the authorities’ non-compliance with the precautionary and provisional measures of the Inter-American Human Rights System and the communications of UN Special Procedures experts. She asked the High Commissioner for more information on her exchanges with the government and the conditions of detention documented by her Office (OHCHR), as well as the measures to be adopted by the Government of Nicaragua to comply with international standards.


In her response, High Commissioner Bachelet urged the authorities to release all persons arbitrarily detained and to guarantee their physical and mental integrity while in detention. Bachelet urged the Nicaraguan government to allow the OHCHR access to the country, and to ‘carry out the necessary legal and judicial reforms to guarantee the rule of law and the independence of powers,’ reiterating OHCHR’s offer of technical assistance.

Sustained international attention to serious abuses in Nicaragua

Costa Rica, on behalf of the regional group of countries leading the Council’s resolution on Nicaragua – Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru – raised concerns at  ‘the systematic human rights violations and abuses committed in the country in the last four years.’

They condemned the Nicaraguan government’s measures intended to suppress free press and opposition parties and expressed alarm at the expulsion of the Organization of American States and the resident delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross from the country.

Additionally, Australia urged Nicaragua to ‘cease attacks and harassment against journalists, political activists and human rights defenders.’

In the interactive dialogue with Bachelet, the European Union denounced  the ‘breakdown of the rule of law in Nicaragua and the terrible effects of rampant human rights violations committed by the State, for which there is widespread impunity.’

Several countries rejected the recent General Law for the Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organizations promulgated on 6 May, that limits the physical and financial capacities of civil society organisations, creating a maximum quota of 25% of ‘foreign members’ in any organisation and introducing extensive registration and reporting requirements, as well as severe administrative sanctions. Five UN rapporteurs denounced the law in a letter to the government on 5 May.

This law adds to the existing restrictive legislative framework composed of the Foreign Agents Regulation Law, the Special Law on Cybercrimes, and the Law against Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism that directly impact the work of human rights defenders, and drastically restrict the rights to freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

Other countries such as Germany, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Spain referred with concern to the closure of organisations, the lack of independence of the judicial system as well as torture of political prisoners in custody.

Nicaragua’s diplomatic allies –Cuba, Bolivia, Russia, Syria, Iran and Eritrea – voiced support for the government’s actions and called for ‘cooperation in line with the principles of non-politicisation, universality, objectivity and non-selectivity.’

The President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Julissa Mantilla Falcón, pointed to the progressive erosion of the rule of law that ‘continues to deteriorate due to the concentration of power in the Executive, the de facto state of emergency and impunity.’ On behalf of the IACHR, she expressed her solidarity ‘with the more than 170 political prisoners, who remain in conditions contrary to human dignity, among them women and elderly people’ urging their immediate release.

Operationalisation of the UN ‘Group of Human Rights Experts’ on Nicaragua

Since March 2022, Nicaragua is more than ever under the scrutiny of the UN and its Member States. On 31 March, the Human Rights Council consecrated the unprecedented initiative of an investigative and accountability mechanism for Nicaragua, promoted by the 46/2 Collective, of which ISHR is a member, by adopting resolution 49/3.

This resolution establishes a group of three human rights experts with a mandate to ‘conduct thorough and independent investigations and establish the facts and circumstances, collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse information and evidence, and, where possible, identify those responsible, for all alleged human rights violations and abuses committed in Nicaragua since April 2018, as well as structural root causes, including its gender dimensions and the impact of intersectional forms of discrimination.’

In the dialogue with the High Commissioner, several delegations including Germany, Colombia, Peru and Switzerland welcomed the appointment of the three experts who will constitute a ‘Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua”: Jan-Michael Simon (Germany, Chair of the Group), Alexandro Álvarez (Chile) and Ángela María Buitrago (Colombia). They will present their final report to the Human Rights Council at its 51st session in March 2023.

Finally, as requested by resolution 49/3, the OHCHR will reinforce its monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, including the analysis of the restrictive legislative framework, through the presence of three new investigators, consolidating a team of five OHCHR staff.

We will provide a robust follow-up to the work of the Group of Experts once it becomes operational, as well as to the implementation of the numerous recommendations made to the Nicaraguan government to put an end to serious violations against human rights defenders and civil society.
Raphael Viana David, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR).

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