UN Human Rights Council Should Ensure Continued Enhanced Monitoring of the Human Rights Situation in Nicaragua
Open Letter to Member States of the UN Human Rights Council
We, the undersigned human rights organizations, call on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC or Council) to adopt a resolution during its 46th session, renewing the mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR or High Commissioner) to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Nicaragua. The mandate remains critical, given Nicaragua’s continued refusal to cooperate with the regional and international human rights systems and the High Commissioner’s recent assessment that so far “there has been no progress in the human rights situation and no sign that the Government is constructively addressing the tensions and structural problems that triggered the socio-political crisis in April 2018.”1 We urge your delegation to work with others to lead a strong resolution on Nicaragua, which fully renews the mandate of the High Commissioner and sets clear benchmarks for cooperation. The resolution should send a clear message that the international community stands with victims and human rights defenders in the pursuit of justice, truth and reparations.
Despite UN and regional efforts to address the crisis, the human rights situation in Nicaragua remains critical. Reports of serious human rights violations have continued in 2020, including arbitrary detention, torture and ill treatment, harassment, denial of justice, restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and continued efforts to silence civil society organizations and independent media. As noted by the OHCHR, human rights defenders, women's and feminist organizations, community leaders, Indigenous peoples and independent journalists continue to be targeted, stigmatized, intimidated, threatened and even killed.2
Over the last year, the National Assembly has adopted several laws proposed by the government’s party that violate the rights to freedom of expression and association, and to run for office and vote in fair and free elections. These include the Law for the Defense of People's Rights to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-determination for Peace, enacted in December, as well as the Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents and the Special Law on Cyber-crimes, enacted in October.
In January 2021, the National Assembly approved a constitutional amendment that would allow for lifetime imprisonment for “grave crimes” that are “accompanied by hate, cruel, degrading, humiliating or inhumane treatment, which, because of their impact, provoke commotion, rejection, outrage and disgust to the society.” The broadly defined amendment could open the door to further abuses as the government has often baselessly accused critics and political opponents of committing “hate crimes,” though they are not defined by law.
Human rights defenders and other government critics have continued to be the targets of arbitrary detentions, intimidation, online defamation campaigns, harassment, surveillance, and assault. Human rights defenders fear the worst is yet to come. Many believe that, in the run-up to the November 2021 presidential elections, the ongoing human rights violations will intensify as the government seeks to silence any form of opposition and prevent any form of political participation.
As noted by the High Commissioner in her update to the 45th session of the Council (September 2020), Nicaragua’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic “has included violations of freedom of expression and the dismissal of medical personnel, and continues to highlight the need for greater transparency and better dissemination of information.”3 Despite public health recommendations by international organizations, the Government early on called for mass gatherings instead of ensuring social distancing.4 Hundreds of migrant workers and asylum-seekers from Nicaragua seeking to return to the country in the context of the pandemic faced significant obstacles imposed by the government.5 The authorities continue to refuse to cooperate with regional and international human rights monitors and have continued to block their access to the country since expelling staff members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and OHCHR in 2018. Two years after the creation of the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (Mecanismo Especial de Seguimiento para Nicaragua - MESENI) the authorities of Nicaragua have consistently “failed to respond to the IACHR’s express requests on specific issues or situations,” particularly with regard to the implementation of protection measures granted by the Inter-American System.6
Given Nicaragua’s continued refusal to cooperate with the regional or international system or to take steps to improve the dire human rights situation, the situation continues to meet the “objective criteria for HRC action” (see our overview in this regard in annex). These criteria were elaborated to help identify situations requiring the HRC’s attention in a joint statement led by Ireland at the 32nd session,7 and further reaffirmed by joint statements led by the Netherlands at the 35th session, Australia at the 37th session, Fiji at the 40th session of the Council, and the Marshall Islands during the 43rd session of the Council.
Accordingly, we urge the HRC to adopt a resolution when it meets for its 46th session to:
- Renew the enhanced OHCHR mandate to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, and ensure it is adequately resourced: Continued enhanced monitoring and reporting by the OHCHR remains essential to challenge the impunity for crimes under international law and grave human rights violations committed during and since the 2018 protests at a national level and to curb possible further violations, including in connection with the 2021 presidential elections. It also remains critical in supporting the work of civil society and addressing economic, social and cultural rights violations underlying the crisis in Nicaragua.
- Mandate the High Commissioner to report regularly to the HRC on the situation in Nicaragua the context of interactive dialogues, including an additional enhanced interactive dialogue around the elections scheduled for November 2021.
- Establish clear benchmarks for cooperation by Nicaragua, with which Nicaragua’s failure to comply would lead to a more robust approach by the HRC in 2022, including with regard to access by OHCHR, Special Procedures, and other human rights monitors.
- Urge Nicaragua to implement the recommendations of OHCHR, the precautionary measures and recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and the recommendations of the Interdisciplinary Group of Experts (GIEI),8 and allow them access to the country: the High Commissioner noted in her update to HRC45 that “most of the recommendations [made in her] September 2019 report […] have not yet been implemented, resulting in continued impunity, and further violations.”9 She again urged “the Government to implement these recommendations, in particular in view of the elections scheduled for November 2021,” and to “resume effective co-operation with [her] Office, including by authorising a mission to the country.”10
- Respond robustly to the report that the High Commissioner will present to the 46th session: The resolution should take into consideration the report, condemn the reported ongoing violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and urge the Government to take concrete and time-bound measures to implement recommendations.
- Express support for human rights defenders: They represent the last front for monitoring and documenting crimes under international law and human rights violations within the country. Explicit mention of the categories of human rights defenders in situations of greatest vulnerability, in particular Indigenous, Afro-descendent, environmental, women's and LGBTI defenders, as well as journalists, formerly incarcerated persons, and their families is also necessary.
- Address violations of economic, social and cultural rights, particularly in the context of COVID-19.
We hope that your delegation will play an active role in ensuring such a robust response to Nicaragua’s continued failure to take steps to overcome the human rights crisis in the country, and to achieve and engagement with international or regional human rights actors.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurance of our highest consideration,
Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Centro Nicaraguese de los Derechos Humanos (CENIDH)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Colectivo de Derechos Humamos Nicaragua Nunca Más
Front Line Defenders
Fundación para el Debido Proceso (DPLF)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Iniciativa Nicaragüense de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (IND)
International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race & Equality)
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Just Associates (JASS) Mesoamerica
Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IM-Defensoras)
Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres (MAM)
Unidad de Defensa Jurídica (UDJ)
Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala (UDEFEGUA)
Unidad de Registro (UDR)
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
1 OHCHR. Update on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, pursuant to resolution 43/2, 14 September 2020, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26228&....
2 See OHCHR 2020 oral updates: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=26228..., and https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26027&....
3 OHCHR. Update on the human rights situation in Nicaragua pursuant to resolution 43/2, 14 September 2020, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=26228....
4 PAHO. Virtual press briefing on COVID-19, 19 May 2020, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fozu2c1A5X8.
5 OHCHR. Update on the human rights situation in Nicaragua pursuant to resolution 43/2, 14 September 2020, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=26228....
6 IACHR. Two Years After the Creation of MESENI, IACHR Recalls Nicaragua’s Pending Human Rights Obligations, 23 June 2020, Available at: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2020/146.asp.
7 Joint Statement delivered by Ireland (“Objective Criteria for HRC action”), 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, 8 July 2016, available at: https://www.dfa.ie/our-role-policies/international-priorities/human-righ....
8 Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes (Interdisciplinary Group of Experts). For more information, see: https://gieinicaragua.org/en/#section00.
9 OHCHR. Update on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, pursuant to resolution 43/2, 14 September 2020, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26228&....
10 OHCHR. Update on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, pursuant to resolution 43/2, 14 September 2020, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26228&....