Populations at Risk
Previously Studied Situations
The ongoing political crisis in Nicaragua leaves populations at risk of potential crimes against humanity.
Repression by state authorities in response to protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega triggered a human rights crisis in Nicaragua. During April 2018 tens of thousands of Nicaraguans took to the streets to protest severe pension cuts imposed by the government. Demonstrations then escalated across the country in response to widespread police violence.
Between April and July more than 300 people were killed and 2,000 injured. Police regularly used disproportionate and deadly force against protesters, perpetrating enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture. State security forces and masked pro-government paramilitaries also persecuted anti-government activists and their families, causing over 23,000 people to flee to neighboring Costa Rica. In response, some anti-government protesters also violently attacked police. The introduction of an "anti-terrorism" law on 16 August effectively criminalized any further anti-government protests. President Ortega subsequently declared on 29 September 2018 that political protests were illegal.
On 29 August the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report detailing human rights abuses in Nicaragua. The UN report described widespread and systematic violations and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity, including extrajudicial killings committed by the police, as well as sexual violence perpetrated in government detention centers. According to the report, in violently suppressing protests the Nicaraguan government has also systematically violated the universal right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the right to peaceful assembly, creating "a climate of widespread terror."
On 31 August, following the publication of the report, the UN investigative team was expelled from Nicaragua. Although government repression has continued, since September mass protests have largely subsided.
The situation in Nicaragua has been characterized by widespread and systematic human rights violations by state authorities that may amount to crimes against humanity.
While the campaign of mass anti-government demonstrations has diminished, opposition activists continue to face targeted persecution, including arbitrary arrest, torture and possible extrajudicial killing by the security forces or masked paramilitaries.
The government of Nicaragua is failing to uphold the universal human rights of its population and its primary Responsibility to Protect, regardless of political belief.
The Organization of American States (OAS) has established a Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua. On 18 July the Permanent Council of the OAS also adopted Resolution CP-RES-1108, condemning ongoing human rights violations and abuses in Nicaragua.
On 5 September the UN Security Council held its first briefing on the situation in Nicaragua. During the meeting the government of Costa Rica highlighted the international community's responsibility to protect populations facing human rights abuses and violations in Nicaragua.
In cooperation with the OAS and the UN, the government of Nicaragua must take tangible steps to deescalate political tensions and mitigate the growing risk of potential crimes against humanity. The government should immediately demobilize and disarm pro-government paramilitaries and must ensure that its treatment of political detainees consistently complies with international law.
All deaths and human rights violations resulting from political violence should be independently investigated and those responsible must be held accountable, regardless of their position or political affiliation. The government should allow an investigation mission from the Inter American Court of Human Rights. The government should also meaningfully reengage with the Catholic Church-led political mediation process.
Last Updated: 15 November 2018
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