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Interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in Nicaragua

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42nd session of the Human Rights Council

Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Michelle Bachelet

10 September 2019

Mr. President,
Members of the Human Rights Council,
Excellencies,

In compliance with resolution 40/2, my Office has submitted a report on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, which covers the period from 19 August 2018 to 31 July 2019.

The Office previously published the report "Human rights violations and abuses in the context of protests in Nicaragua", covering the period from April to August 2018, which compiles the findings of a team that travelled to Managua at the invitation of the Government. Since the departure of the Office, it has continued to monitor the human rights situation in Nicaragua from Panama. One hundred and eighty-seven (187) interviews with victims and witnesses have been conducted and extensive documentation from governmental and non-governmental sources has been analysed.

I would like to stress that my Office is in permanent communication with the Government of Nicaragua. I hope that this relationship will be strengthened and that an agreed upon work plan will soon materialize, one that contemplates access for the Office and for the different Council mechanisms, under appropriate conditions and guarantees.

Mr. President,

As indicated in the report presented by my Office, between August 2018 and July 2019, human rights violations continued to occur in Nicaragua. However, since the end of February 2019, when the Government and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy resumed their dialogue, the number of violations against life and personal integrity has decreased, proof that dialogue is a possible and peaceful way to overcome the crisis.

However, it is a source of concern that, at the time of finalizing the report, my Office received corroborated information on some homicides and attempted homicides that took place between June and July 2019 mostly in the department of Jinotega and in the border area between Honduras and Nicaragua. In at least three cases (two of them in the municipality of Trojes, Honduras), it was confirmed that the victims had actively participated in the 2018 protests. I urge the authorities to immediately investigate these crimes, and punish those responsible.

On the other hand, acts of torture and ill-treatment against detained protesters have continued. According to the information collected, conditions improved at the beginning of 2019, when the International Committee of the Red Cross began visiting the detention centres. Since June 11th of this year, when almost all of those detained in the context of the protests were released by the Government, complaints of violations against personal integrity within detention centres have been sporadic.

However, it is important to note that to date, the civic space in Nicaragua has been significantly reduced. Freedom of expression has been restricted through various actions ranging from the closure of independent media outlets and the retention of their property and equipment, to the imprisonment of national journalists during several months. Arbitrary arrests have also been documented simply for waving a Nicaraguan flag or singing the national anthem in public spaces.

The exercise of the right to peaceful assembly has been impeded. Since September 2018, the police have begun to require permits to carry out public gatherings and have denied authorization to individuals and organizations that intended to publicly express their disagreement with the Government's position. Those who tried to carry out peaceful protests, despite the ban, were arrested, and in most cases released within 48 hours after their arrest.

Freedom of association has also deteriorated during this period. Nine civil society organizations, including leading human rights groups, had their legal registration cancelled after having been accused of supporting “terrorist actions” during the 2018 protests. As of today, none of these organizations had their legal registration restored, nor have their goods and equipment been returned.

Likewise, human rights defenders and community, indigenous and Afro-descendant leaders, who adopted critical positions against the Government have continued to be harassed, stigmatized and threatened by the police or by pro-government elements. 

Mr. President,

The institutional response to the above-mentioned human rights violations has been insufficient. I am concerned about information regarding the lack of independence of the judiciary and the Prosecutor’s Office during these 17 months of crisis. The report describes patterns of violations to due process guarantees for those who were investigated, prosecuted and sentenced for events that occurred in the context of the protests. With the exception of a single individual benefiting from the recent amnesty, my Office is not aware of any other investigation, prosecution or conviction against members of the security forces or pro-government armed elements. To date, the justice system in Nicaragua has not guaranteed accountability for serious human rights violations.

The resumption of the national dialogue in February 2019 was praiseworthy. The agreement signed with the Civic Alliance, regarding the release of people detained in the context of the 2018 protests resulted, according to official sources, in the release of 492 people (452 ​​men and 40 women). Civil society organizations have indicated, however, that more than 100 people deprived of liberty in the context of the protests remain in prison, most of them having been detained since February 2019.

The second agreement on the strengthening of citizens’ rights and safeguards has apparently not been respected; and the Government considers the negotiations to be over.

The legislative measures adopted by the National Assembly at the Government’s request were adopted without consultations with the victims, and are incompatible with international standards. Both the Amnesty Law and the Law on Comprehensive Care for Victims should be reviewed in order to guarantee victims’ right to truth, justice and adequate reparation. My Office reiterates its availability to provide the necessary assistance during a legislative review process.

Mr. President,

Nicaragua is a country that achieved significant development in the years prior to the crisis.

However, the socio-political crisis has had a negative impact on development indicators and the enjoyment of economic and social rights. According to the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute, between March 2018 and February 2019, more than 140,000 formal jobs were lost, representing 15.7 percent of the total job market. In April 2019, the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit indicated that the prices of basic consumer goods had increased, on average, by 2 percent, while the price of public water and electricity services, increased by 8.9 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively.

On the other hand, my Office has verified the arbitrary expulsion of university students critical of the Government and the unfair dismissal of doctors who treated injured people during the protests and professors not aligned with the Government.

The report presented by my Office offers a series of recommendations on concrete measures that I believe should be implemented within the framework of a new context for dialogue between the Government and the Nicaraguan civil society. A dialogue that must be inclusive, sincere, transparent and human rights- based.
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My Office reiterates its willingness to provide the support and technical assistance necessary to ensure that the proposed solutions are in accordance with international human rights standards.

Many thanks, Mr. President.