Nada Al-Nashif United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
Interactive Dialogue on the oral update by the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Nicaragua
I welcome the opportunity to address the Council and provide an oral update on the human rights situation in Nicaragua pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 52/2.
Our Office continues to document serious human rights violations that have taken place in Nicaragua since 2018. I remain disheartened by the lack of action to prevent such violations from occurring and by the Government's continued distancing of itself from human rights, the rule of law and other core democratic principles. Political and indigenous leaders, members of the Catholic Church, human rights defenders, journalists and other individuals have been systematically targeted by the Government for expressing different views. Many are in exile, with no possibility of return. Those who remain in Nicaragua are in constant threat or face a range of serious human rights violations, and impunity is the norm.
The Government continues to persecute those who may bring an alternative view to the public sphere and to further extend political control over the Caribbean Coast in Nicaragua. Within this context, the authorities have on 3 October, arbitrarily cancelled the legal status of YATAMA, the main indigenous and Afro-descendant political party in the country. In addition, its two representatives at the National Assembly were deprived of liberty by the police without arrest warrant and due process. Our Office is concerned about the health and physical integrity of one of them, a 71-year-old man, whose fate and whereabouts remain unknown since his arrest on 28 September 2023 in Bilwi, in a situation that amounts to enforced disappearance. The other arrested YATAMA Assembly member was sentenced to 8 years in prison on 13 December for undermining national integrity and spreading fake news, in proceedings that lacked due process and judicial guarantees. Following these arrests, their seats in the National Assembly were unlawfully reallocated to the ruling party. Such measures are of particular concern in the context of the upcoming regional elections in the Caribbean Coast scheduled for March 2024.
Furthermore, since August 2023, 69 consultations with 5,550 individuals representing 23 indigenous territories were conducted over a period of six weeks to obtain consent for the Bio-CLIMA project, funded by the Green Climate Fund. Our Office is concerned about the lack of access to sufficient information about the project and its risks, and about undue pressure exercised on indigenous peoples to provide their consent to the project without sufficient time for deliberation, noting that consultations were held in the presence of armed police officers. Any such consultations should be held in full compliance with international human rights law and standards, including in relation to free, prior and informed consent.
Regrettably, restrictions on civic space continue, with repeated instances of arbitrary detention against those who exercise their fundamental freedoms. 17 women and 54 men, including political opponents and human rights defenders, remain arbitrarily detained according to civil society sources. Some criminal trials are reportedly held without the physical presence of the accused, who participate only via video call, and without legal assistance. Our Office has documented reports of torture in detention, as well as information about threats against prisoners and their relatives cautioning them not to denounce conditions of detention.
Illustrative of the current coercive environment is the case of a woman arrested last April simply for printing a T-shirt with the slogan “Viva Nicaragua libre.” She was deprived for two months of her right to family visits. She can now only receive the visit of her 1-year-old and 8-year-old children once a month for 45 minutes, both having to travel for 4 hours to reach “La Esperanza” prison. Our Office also documented the arbitrary arrest of four individuals, including three students, who peacefully protested the closure of the Central American University. The individuals were found guilty of drug offences last November in proceedings that lacked due process and respect for fair trial rights. A 70-year-old man who verbally criticized the Government in his shop was arrested and forcefully disappeared for over a month. An academic who criticized the Government on his social media account was also detained at the end of November, and his whereabouts remain unknown.
The persecution against the Catholic Church persists. Limitations to the exercise of the right to freedom to manifest one’s religion imposed by the authorities are incompatible with Nicaragua’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Our Office was informed about several Catholic masses being banned, including on All Saints Day. While we welcome the release of twelve Catholic priests in October 2023, they had to be transferred to the Holy See as part of an agreement between the authorities and the Vatican for their release. Meanwhile, Bishop Álvarez remains in detention in “La Modelo” prison. Despite recent information on his situation released by the Government, his prison conditions violate international standards, as he continues to be subjected to prolonged solitary confinement, with sporadic family visits, deprived of sufficient food, adequate medical care or any reading materials.
The denial of entry into Nicaragua of citizens perceived by the Government to be political dissidents and their families, documented in 30 instances since June, has resulted on many occasions in the forced separation of children from their parents. Our Office continues to document violations against Nicaraguans stripped of their nationality and property, including at least 5 property seizures since September. Confiscations of sometimes life savings has plunged many into economic hardship and precarious situations in third countries.
The alleged arbitrary removal of the Supreme Court's president and hundreds of justice system officials illustrates yet again the concerns consistently raised in earlier reports (A/HRC/54/60 and A/HRC/51/42) regarding a justice system that has long been controlled by the Executive through arbitrary appointments and dismissals, and used to criminalize dissent, in particular since 2018.
Despite the Council’s request (A/HRC/RES/52/2, para. 20), the Government has declined to collaborate with our Office, and with the broader UN international human rights system. Notably, in October, when the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) considered Nicaragua’s combined 7th to 10th periodic reports, Nicaragua’s representative appeared briefly to address the Committee using inappropriate language about the latter’s alleged attempts to discredit the Government.
Every day the country deviates further from human rights, deepening people’s suffering, triggering the exodus of youth, and undermining the future of democratic public institutions. I call on Nicaragua to immediately reverse this course and introduce the fundamental changes that lie in the interest of its people, anchored in human rights.
There is hope. Human rights defenders in Nicaragua and in exile continue to work tirelessly towards a better future. But they need the sustained support of the international community.
Let me conclude by reminding the Government that it has repeatedly committed before the international community to respect the principles and purposes of the United Nations, which include promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. I call on the Government, once again, to accept our offer for genuine dialogue and technical assistance to overcome the human rights crisis that has engulfed Nicaragua since 2018.