Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, 22 June 2021
(delivered in Spanish)
Since my latest report on Nicaragua to this Council on 23 February, my Office has observed a worrying and accelerating deterioration of the human rights situation. This makes it unlikely that Nicaraguans will be able to fully exercise their political rights in the elections on 7 November.
For more than three years, this Council has been analysing in depth the human rights, social and political crisis affecting Nicaragua. Regrettably, I must report that almost none of the recommendations made by my Office to the State of Nicaragua have been implemented. This crisis not only shows no signs of being overcome, but it has worsened alarmingly.
From 2 to 21 June, the National Police and the Attorney-General's Office detained several members of the opposition: five people who had made public their intention to run for President; eight other political leaders – five women and three men; and two leaders of the business sector. Their arrests, under ambiguous criminal offences and without sufficient evidence, were marked by serious violations of due process. In this regard, I am particularly concerned about the situation of women and older people deprived of their liberty.
These criminal investigations are based on two pieces of legislation adopted in July 2018 and October 2020, respectively: "Law No. 977 against Money Laundering, Financing of Terrorism" and "Law No. 1055 on the defence of the rights of the people to independence, sovereignty and self-determination for peace". My Office and several human rights mechanisms had already warned that these laws could be used to persecute opponents, as is indeed happening.
The authorities also used a recent reform of the criminal procedure code to detain the vast majority of the aforementioned individuals for up to 90 days, instead of the constitutional term of 48 hours. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor's Office continues investigations that undermine their rights to personal liberty, to the presumption of innocence and to effective remedy. This would prevent them from standing in the general elections, restricting not only their political rights, but also the rights of citizens to be able to vote for the candidates of their choice.
On 4 May, an electoral reform law was adopted. Although it promotes women's equal political participation, it ignores the demands made by civil society and the international community. It fails to introduce safeguards to guarantee the impartiality and independence of electoral authorities and it unduly limits the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and political participation.
On 18 May, the Supreme Electoral Council annulled the legal status of two political parties without hearing their representatives. These decisions violate the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality.
Since the second half of April, within the context of the third anniversary of the beginning of protests in 2018 my Office has recorded an escalation of targeted persecution against human rights defenders, journalists, and those perceived to be opponents.
We continue to document arbitrary arrests, attacks and harassment by the National Police. They indicate systematic repression of attempts by victims and civil society organisations to protest in public spaces, violating their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Relatives were even prevented from commemorating the third anniversary of the death of their loved ones.
According to civil society sources, as of 14 June, 9 women and 115 men who were detained in the contest of the ongoing human rights crisis remained in prison.
A significant number of human rights defenders, social and political leaders, lawyers, students and peasants reported to my Office that they were victims of persistent harassment by the police around their homes or the headquarters of their organisations. On several occasions, the police prevented them from leaving their homes, violating their right to freedom of movement. In addition, in some cases, they also reported harassment by people in civilian clothes.
In addition, there were public statements by authorities and some pro-government media stigmatising people perceived as opponents. These include threats on social networks and harassment of independent media and journalists, including through their involvement in the above-mentioned criminal investigations.
These actions together create a climate of fear that inhibits the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression, which are essential to ensure a credible, free and fair electoral process.
Reports of armed attacks against indigenous communities in the Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region and new cases of femicides continued.
My Office continues to coordinate closely with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the international community to monitor the situation in Nicaragua. Regrettably, the Government has still not replied to the communications sent by my Office.
Given this scenario, I call on the Government of Nicaragua to urgently change its course of action with regard to the electoral process. This implies, at the very least: immediately releasing all those arbitrarily detained; ceasing all acts of persecution against dissident voices; re-establishing the rights and freedoms that make a free, credible and fair electoral process possible; and repealing restrictive legislation on civic and democratic space.
As set out in your latest resolution, I call on this Council to urgently consider all measures within its power to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights in Nicaragua. This includes accountability for the serious violations committed since April 2018.
I also reiterate that it is urgent that my Office authorized to return to Nicaragua, as well as the other human rights mechanisms, in order to contribute to overcoming the crisis in the country.