Commissioners: Antonia Urrejola, Rapporteur for Nicaragua; Flávia Piovesan, Rapporteur for the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Persons (LGBTI) and in charge of the Unit on the Rights of Older Persons; Soledad García Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (ESCER); and Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

Petitioners: Comisión Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Nicaragua (CPDH), Asociación Nicaragüense Pro-Derechos Humanos (ANPDH), Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH), Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL)

State: Nicaragua

Topic: Right to Freedom of Expression; General Human Rights Situation

During the IACHR’s 170th Period of Sessions, representatives from the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH), and the Permanent Commission for Human Rights in Nicaragua (CPDH), participated in a thematic hearing on repression and human rights violations occurring in Nicaragua, stemming from policies passed under President Daniel Ortega’s government. The State of Nicaragua did not participate in this hearing. The topics discussed during the hearing included: the criminalization of public demonstrations; the alarming number of arrests resulting from these policies that limit citizens’ right to freedom of expression and political participation; the persecution of civil society and human rights organizations in Nicaragua; and the constant and systematic human rights violations occurring under Ortega’s regime.

On April 18, 2018, demonstrators in several Nicaraguan cities began protesting against social security reforms decreed by President Daniel Ortega. Up to two dozen people were killed during these protests, marking the beginning of a wave of growing opposition protests. In response to these anti-government rallies, President Ortega criminalized public demonstrations in Nicaragua. In accordance with this decision, Ortega dispatched police and para-police groups across the country. These forces have detained hundreds of people for exercising their freedom of expression, and several of these detentions have resulted in death or injuries. Furthermore, many individuals are detained in a prison facility called El Chipote, which is notorious for its inhumane conditions, including torture and mistreatment of prisoners.

In addition to criminalizing public demonstrations, Ortega’s government has implemented other increasingly repressive regulations, such as an “anti-terrorism” law, which expands the definition of terrorism to include individuals who force the government to perform an act or abstain from doing so, or alter constitutional order. These new repressive policies have resulted in the unlawful detention and human rights violations of hundreds of individuals, including members of civil society groups, human rights activists, and journalists.

This hearing before the IACHR, held on December 6, 2018, began with representatives from CEJIL summarizing the crisis evolving in Nicaragua. Since President Ortega criminalized public demonstrations, several individuals have lost their jobs and been forcibly displaced. Furthermore, many people have been subjected to inhumane treatment, often amounting to torture or resulting in murder. CEJIL also discussed alleged attacks and harassment against opinion leaders, journalists, and independent media workers in Nicaragua.

Following CEJIL, representatives from CPDH discussed how unlawful detentions have become common practice in Nicaragua, and those detained for exercising their freedom of expression are stripped of their due process rights. A representative from ANPDH claimed that the Nicaraguan government has failed to demonstrate any attempt to end the human rights crisis, and government officials have not initiated any type of investigation or prosecution of the violations. Moreover, several human rights organizations, including ANPDH, have been prohibited from doing their human rights work and were forced to leave the country.

Petitioners brought up several issues addressing the violation of rights listed in the American Convention on Human Rights. Ortega’s dictatorship has violated individuals’ Right to Freedom of Thought and Expression, listed under Article 13 of the Convention, and the Right of Assembly, under Article 15. Furthermore, the arbitrary imprisonment and mistreatment of those in detention violates Article 7, the Right to Personal Liberty, and Article 5, the Right to Humane Treatment. Additionally, individuals in detention are also stripped of their due process rights in violation of Article 8 of the Convention, the Right to a Fair Trial.

Petitioners presented several findings depicting the alarming rates of detention and human rights violations occurring over the last few months in Nicaragua. The findings included that there have been approximately 608 arrests; 40,000 individuals have been forcibly displaced to Costa Rica; about 100 university students have been expelled and several have been arrested or forced to flee the country; 417 people have lost their jobs, including 200 medical professionals and 40 higher education professionals; and about 325 people have been murdered (including 24 children).

The following Commissioners were present at the hearing: Antonia Urrejola, Rapporteur for Nicaragua and Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Flávia Piovesan, Rapporteur for the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Persons (LGBTI) and in charge of the Unit on the Rights of Older Persons; Soledad García Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (ESCER); and Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

The Commission concluded the hearing by reiterating its strong condemnation of the Nicaraguan government’s reaction to public demonstrations, asserting that the crisis in Nicaragua is a top priority for the Commission and that they will continue to monitor the situation.

Nicaragua is experiencing a progressive and systematic deterioration of human rights and the rule of law. As a consequence of Ortega government’s repression of protests, individuals in Nicaragua have been stripped of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, a fair trial, personal liberty, and humane treatment. The findings and arguments brought before the IACHR by petitioners CEJIL, CPDH and ANPDH, make it evident that there is an urgent need for action.