Nicaragua

Oral update on the situation of human rights in Nicaragua (16 June 2022)

DELIVERED BY United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet
AT 50th Session of the Human Rights Council
LOCATION Geneva

Distinguished President,
Excellencies,

I am pleased to present this oral update as mandated by resolution 49/3, covering the period from 7 March to date.

In the past three months, the human rights situation in Nicaragua has continued to decline. My Office continues to report arbitrary detentions where detainees face appalling conditions, hundreds of civil society organisations being stripped of their legal status, and that fleeing the crisis, Nicaraguans continue to leave the country in unprecedented numbers.

According to civil society sources, 173 people are deprived of their liberty in connection with the political and human rights crisis that erupted in 2018. Those who were detained in the context of the 2021 elections are enduring conditions contrary to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and many have been prosecuted and convicted without due process.

These detainees - 11 women and 39 men - were sentenced to prison terms of up to 13 years and were disqualified from holding public office. Forty-four were convicted of "spreading false news" and/or "undermining national integrity" and other crimes. The other six were convicted for money laundering and related crimes. However, these convictions were reportedly based on allegations that were not substantiated during the judicial proceedings.

Most of these detainees remain deprived of their liberty in a police detention center. This year, they have been allowed only four visits from their adult relatives, and children continue to be denied the right to have any type of contact with their parents in detention. Relatives have reported their loved ones are being held in inhumane conditions, with particular concern for those in need of urgent, permanent or specialized medical care, which authorities reportedly refuse to provide.

At present, 11 people are under house arrest. In accordance with existing national regulations, this benefit should be granted to all older or seriously ill detainees.

I take this opportunity to again urge the competent authorities to ensure the swift release of all people arbitrarily detained, and to guarantee their physical and mental integrity. Likewise, I strongly urge authorities that an independent verification of detention conditions be undertaken. They should take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and mental integrity of those deprived of their liberty, and to ensure that conditions of detention are in line with international standards.

Excellencies,

I remain very concerned about the dramatic reduction of civic space in the country. To date, the National Assembly, at the request of the Government, has cancelled the legal status of 388 organizations since the beginning of the year, bringing the total to at least 454 since November 2018. This has not only affected human rights organizations, but also other national and international organizations working on education and development, as well as medical and professional associations.

The legal status of at least 12 universities has also been arbitrarily cancelled and they are now under State control. A reform of the Law of Autonomy of Higher Education Institutions was recently adopted, requiring academic programs of all universities to be approved by a central body. This represents a new threat to academic freedom and university autonomy, an integral component of the right to education and freedom for scientific research and creative activity.

The authorities have claimed that the organizations and institutions affected failed to comply with their administrative duties and regulations related to money laundering and terrorist financing. We know however that their representatives have been prevented from defending their position with due process before an independent authority.

I also hold grave concerns for the consequences of the new General Law for the Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organizations, which entered into force on 6 May. This law makes the registration of organizations more difficult and allows the Government full discretion to demand information on their funds, activities and beneficiaries. Any activity undertaken by the organization must undergo prior authorization from the Government and organizations are prohibited from engaging in political activities. The law also imposes a maximum quota of 25% of "foreign members" in any organization.

The limits and prohibitions of this law severely hinder the free exercise of the right to freedom of association, as well as other fundamental rights of a democratic society.

Excellencies,

The socio-political, economic and human rights crises we are witnessing in Nicaragua are driving thousands of people from the safety of their homes. The number of Nicaraguans leaving the country is growing in unprecedented numbers, even higher than in the 1980s.

In the last eight months, the number of Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers in Costa Rica has doubled, reaching a total of 150,000 new applicants since 2018. This represents three percent of Costa Rica's population. The number of Nicaraguans intercepted at the borders of the United States of America is also experiencing an unprecedented increase, rising from 3,164 in September 2020 to 92,037 in April 2022. In March 2022, the number reached 16,088, the highest recorded to date for a single month, and eight times higher than that recorded in March 2021.

My Office has documented several cases of harassment and intimidation by Nicaraguan authorities, placing the right to freedom of movement under grave threat. Passport renewals at a consulate abroad have been denied on some occasions, requiring the individuals to carry out the process in Nicaragua where their safety may be at risk. Nicaraguans intending to leave the country have also had their passports withheld without justification. Additionally, entry into the country of a Nicaraguan citizen has allegedly been denied.

In addition, since May, the police has resumed harassment of Catholic priests, persistently following and intimidating them. Two were surrounded in their churches by police officers and parishioners were forbidden entry. The Government has also ordered the removal of the Catholic Channel from the cable television grid.

Excellencies,

In April, two commissions of the National Assembly completed an analysis of the criminal legislation being used to persecute those whom the Government perceives as opponents and proposed to tighten penalties and to introduce other repressive measures such as the confiscation of their assets. This raises serious concerns about the Government seeking to further deepen repression of critical voices.

I strongly urge the Government of Nicaragua to uphold - not move further away from - its human rights obligations. I call on authorities to immediately cease policies which are today only serving to isolate the country and its people from the regional and international communities.

Granting access to the country for the staff of my Office would constitute a positive step forward – we stand ready to bolster efforts to advance human rights for the people of Nicaragua.

I also call on the Human Rights Council and Member States to rapidly step up efforts aimed at the immediate release of all people arbitrarily detained in the context of the crisis, and to allow my Office to visit them.

Thank you.