Accountability key to ending Nicaragua’s human rights crisis – Bachelet

GENEVA (24 February 2021) – The failure of the Nicaraguan Government to acknowledge the State’s responsibility for multiple human rights violations committed since social protests erupted nearly three years ago has perpetuated impunity and fostered the recurrence of such violations, a UN Human Rights Office report presented to the Human Rights Council on 25 February says.

The report, which covers the period between 1 August 2019 and 31 December 2020, sets out the continuing, illegitimate and severe restrictions to their rights and freedoms faced by Nicaraguans trying to express their political views and defend human rights.

“Fundamentally, the persistence of the crisis remains rooted in the fragility of institutions and the rule of law, which have been progressively eroded over the years, while human rights violations perpetrated since 2018 remain unpunished and civic space has been further restricted,” the report says.

Attacks, harassment and persecution by security forces and pro-government elements have persisted over the last 18 months against political opponents, journalists, human rights defenders, students, peasants, media outlets and anyone perceived by the Government as having differing views, the report notes.

The report describes how police officers and pro-Government elements intimidated human rights organizations, women’s groups and victims’ relatives’ associations. The UN Human Rights Office has document 83 cases of persecution, harassment and threats, including reprisals against people who cooperated with the UN.

Journalists and media organizations also continued to be targeted. The Office registered 34 cases of intimidation, threats and smear campaigns, as well as instances where media outlets were raided, had their equipment destroyed and were subjected to administrative sanctions for their journalistic work.

People have been prevented from peacefully demonstrating and those who have managed have been systematically targeted by law enforcement agents or by pro-government elements.

According to civil society, as of 7 December 2020, at least 110 people who had participated in protests or collaborated with opposition groups were being arbitrarily detained, including 13 held since 2018. The report details how some of those in detention have allegedly been subjected to torture or ill-treatment.

“I call on the Government to release all those arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in the context of the protests or for expressing dissenting views,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said.

Among other concerns highlighted in the report is the approval of three laws, one on foreign agents, one on cybercrimes and a third on defense of independence, sovereignty and self-determination, which could have significant negative ramifications for freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association and political participation, especially in view of the upcoming elections.

Similarly worrying is the reform of the Constitution to sanction so called “hate crimes” with life imprisonment, as well as the recent reform of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which delays effective judicial review of a detention for up to 90 days. Given the weakening of the rule of law and the erosion of checks and balances in Nicaragua, there is a significant risk that these laws could be selectively applied to further repress dissenting voices.

“While I am encouraged to see that there have been some recent signs of openness by the Government in working with UN agencies in the response to COVID-19 pandemic and in the aftermath of two destructive hurricanes, I regret that the authorities have not accepted our repeated offers for access to the country and of technical assistance to improve the human rights situation in the country,” Bachelet said.

“The Government must urgently adopt effective electoral reforms and establish a genuine and inclusive dialogue with all sectors of society to pave the way for credible, transparent and peaceful elections due to be held on 7 November, and to chart the way forward to rebuild trust and ensure no one is left behind,” the UN Human Rights Chief stressed.


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