Populations at Risk
The ongoing human rights crisis in Nicaragua leaves populations at risk of potential crimes against humanity.
Severe repression by the government of President Daniel Ortega has triggered a human rights crisis in Nicaragua. During April 2018 tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest severe pension cuts imposed by the government. Demonstrations then escalated across the country in response to the disproportionate use of force by police.
Between April and September 2018 at least 320 people were killed and 2,000 injured. Police regularly used disproportionate and lethal force against protesters, while also perpetrating enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture. State security forces and pro-government paramilitaries also persecuted opposition activists and their families, causing over 23,000 people to flee to neighboring countries. The introduction of an "anti-terrorism" law on 16 August effectively criminalized further anti-government protests. At least 565 individuals remain in detention following their involvement in demonstrations.
On 29 August the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report detailing human rights abuses in Nicaragua. The report described widespread and systematic violations and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity, including extrajudicial killings committed by the police and sexual violence perpetrated in detention centers. Following the publication of the report, the government expelled the UN investigative team.
Although mass protests have subsided, government repression continues. On 22 November eleven UN human rights experts, including five UN Special Rapporteurs, warned about threats and physical violence targeting human rights defenders, peaceful protesters, journalists and individuals cooperating with the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS). During December 2018 the government shut down numerous non-governmental organizations, forced independent media outlets to close and arrested journalists on charges of "terrorism."
On 20 December the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, mandated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), affirmed that crimes against humanity were committed by the government between April and May 2018. The experts' report was released one day after the government expelled both the group and the IACHR's Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua.
The situation in Nicaragua continues to be characterized by widespread and systematic human rights violations by state authorities that may amount to crimes against humanity.
In the absence of an independent national judicial system, perpetrators of serious violations of international law have not been held accountable. The expulsion of the IACHR, together with the banning of many civil society organizations, leaves the country without independent human rights institutions.
The government of Nicaragua is failing to uphold universal human rights and its primary Responsibility to Protect all its population, regardless of political belief or affiliation.
The OAS established the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua during Mary 2018. On 18 July the Permanent Council of the OAS adopted a Resolution 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.
The government of Nicaragua must immediately halt the persecution and arbitrary detention of alleged opponents and cooperate with the UN and OAS. The government should immediately demobilize and disarm pro-government paramilitaries and must ensure that its treatment of political detainees complies with international law. Civil society organizations should be allowed to operate safely and freely.
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 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to conduct an independent investigation of the situation in the country.
Last Updated: 15 January 2019
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