His Excellency António Guterres
Secretary-General United Nations
405 East 42nd Street New York, NY,
10017 USA 30
We, the undersigned civil society groups working across different regions, write to bring to your attention the ongoing erosion of the rule of law and systemic violations of human rights in Nicaragua. President Daniel Ortega and his Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, (FSLN) party are executing a sustained campaign that targets civil society organisations, human rights defenders and the political opposition and are silencing any form of alternative views.
Independent institutions including the judiciary and other public bodies are controlled by the government, making it impossible for President Ortega and his administration to be held accountable for any human rights violations they perpetuate. The government has repeatedly ignored regional and international recommendations to stop these human rights violations and if nothing is done urgently, there will be no space left for civil society and independent voices to operate. We are very concerned about the following;
Unprecedented deregistration of civil society organisations and restrictions on free associations
We are concerned that over the last four years, the Nicaraguan authorities have systematically targeted civil society organisations and outlawed over 400 NGOs accusing them of undermining the regime, acting as “foreign agents,” or failing to provide financial statements. The number and types of organisations targeted is unprecedented including organisations that provide much needed assistance to improve the health of children, those that work on development projects for rural communities, excluded and marginalised groups, and aid organisations. For example, the Matagalpan Women’s Collective, whose legal status was cancelled in 2021, provided much needed care to women and children and to libraries and community homes for more than three decades. Others include the Nicaraguan Coordinating Federation of NGOs Working with Children and Adolescents which brought together organisations working to promote the rights of children and adolescents for over three decades.
Multiple human rights organisations, environmental groups, professional associations, cultural and educational institutions and religious organisations have also been impacted. The targeting of these organisations have been preceded and backed by a series of decrees sponsored by the FSLN. For example, in May 2022, the National Assembly approved four legislative decrees that led to the cancellation of the legal status of 94 civil society organisations and Foundations. The authorities have followed some of these actions by appropriating the assets of some organisations including the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights.
To further restrict the right to freedom of association, the authorities promulgated the General Law for the Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organisations on 6 May 2022. The law imposes additional restrictions for the registration of organisations and provides the government with the discretion to demand information about the activities, funding and beneficiaries of organisations. The Nicaraguan authorities are empowered to first authorise activities of organisations before they are implemented and organisations are prohibited from participating in political activities - which is broadly defined.
Criminalisation of independent media outlets and targeting of journalists
We are concerned about the ongoing censorship of independent media outlets and the arrests and intimidation of journalists. Since 2018, more than 20 media outlets have been closed down and at least 120 journalists have fled Nicaragua to avoid reprisals from the state. On 10 June 2022, journalist Juan Lorenzo Holmann of the La Prensa newspaper was sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of “money laundering.” He was arrested in August 2021. On 16 February, journalist Miguel Mendoza was sentenced to nine years in prison and banned from holding political office after he was found guilty of “conspiring to undermine national integrity” and “disseminating false news.”
Judicial persecution, intimidation and detention of human rights defenders and members of political parties
The FSLN regime continues a campaign of repression, persecution and detention of human rights defenders, activists members of the political opposition and those who are critical of the government. Dozens of human rights defenders and the political opposition were arrested in the period leading to the elections and charged with security-related offences under the Penal Code and the Sovereign Law. In most cases the trials of those arrested are characterised by irregularities and many are not tried in court but at the Directorate of Judicial Assistance (DAJ) of the prison also known as the Chipote.
Most of the trials are rushed and sentences are handed to those detained without due process. Those convicted include activist Yader Parajon who demanded justice for victims of government repression and was found guilty of “conspiracy to undermine national integrity” on 2 February 2022. Ana Margarita Vijil, a feminist activist and former President of the opposition group Unamis, was convicted on 2 February 2022. The persecution and detention of activists continue despite the fact that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed concerns over the deplorable and inhumane detention conditions, including those for women. Because of these restrictions, Nicaragua is rated Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor.
We request that you urge the government of Nicaragua to;
- Reverse all restrictive policies and laws used to outlaw civil society organisations and create an enabling environment for them to operate without fear of reprisals.
- Lift all restrictions and civil society organisations imposed by the government so they can continue carrying out their activities.
- Release all human rights defenders, members of the political opposition, activists and other arrested and detained and drop all charges against them.
- Take steps to review the General Law for the Regulation and control of Non-Profit Organisations together with civil society with a view to amending its restrictive provisions.
- Respect the rule of law at all times and guarantee the independence of the judiciary and state institutions
- Respect the rights of members of the political opposition and their supporters and create an enabling environment for political participation