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Treaty Bodies: Nicaragua defies human rights bodies, escapes scrutiny

In a rare and unwelcome move, Nicaragua has escaped scrutiny from two UN human rights Committees. By choosing to skip both scheduled reviews, and simultaneously ignoring decisions from a regional human rights court, Nicaragua sends a defying message to the international community, and a confirmation of its intentions to hide a problematic human rights record domestically.

Nicaragua’s defiance of the UN human rights system was laid bare when it failed to show up to the scheduled review of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), on 7-8 October. 

A few days afterwards, and with another review looming with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Nicaragua reiterated and informed the Committee that they would not attend.

In an awkward and rarely seen moment, Nicaragua’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva told the CESCR that he would attend on his own and ‘in a listening mode’. 

Although not totally unseen, the absence of State delegations in Treaty Body reviews is relatively rare, and mostly occurs in instances of small and/or poorly resourced States. Such negative scenarios are also much less commonly seen given the significant technical assistance and cooperation offered to States by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as part of a dedicated capacity strengthening programme established in 2015. 

In their findings, the Committee noted that in Nicaragua, ‘numerous extraordinary events deserved to be addressed’, which required responses to the list of questions raised by the Committee and the presence of a proper government delegation for the review. Nicaragua failed on both counts.

Despite this defying attitude, the Committee issued a set of recommendations to Nicaragua. ISHR welcomes the strong focus on civil society space, including the detailed priority recommendation on ending violence and hostility towards human rights defenders (§10). The other two priority recommendations identified by the Committee relate to the need for free, prior, and informed consent processes for indigenous peoples (§12a, §12b), and the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic (§43).

We welcome the priority recommendation adopted by the CESCR asking the government to end violence against human rights defenders. The government will need to report back to the Committee in 24 months on measures taken to comply with this recommendation. We look forward to holding the government accountable.
Tania Agosti, Legal Adviser at the International Institute for Race, Equality and Human Rights

At the same time as Nicaragua was escaping scrutiny from the UN Treaty Bodies, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Washington was adopting a resolution affirming that ‘refusing to comply with the protection measures and the non-observance of what was ordered in previous resolutions constitutes an act of contempt for the obligatory nature of the decisions issued by this Court and a breach of the duty to inform.’

Nicaragua’s defying attitude to supra national human rights courts and bodies must be adequately dealt with by the international community, namely by establishing an UN accountability mechanism. Failing to do so would not only send a chilling message to all those resisting repression in the country, it could also encourage other repressive regimes to follow suit.
Raphaël Viana David, ISHR Latin America focal point in Geneva

Together with their international allies, Nicaraguan NGOs had previously written to the Chairpersons of five UN Committees expected to review Nicaragua, asking them to prioritize these reviews, given the disruptions induced by Covid-19. As evidenced by the CESCR precedent, UN Treaty Bodies can review countries in absence of a State delegation and issue a set of recommendations which States have a duty to consider.

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