When tens of thousands of people in Nicaragua took to the streets to protest severe pension cuts during April 2018, severe repression by the government of President Daniel Ortega triggered a human rights crisis. Police, sometimes in coordination with pro-Government armed elements, were accused of using disproportionate force against protesters, triggering an escalation in the demonstrations. At least 320 people were killed and 2,000 injured in Nicaragua between April and September 2018.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report in August 2018 detailing widespread and systematic violations and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity. Further research by the interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts mandated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) affirmed that crimes against humanity have been committed by the government between April and May 2018. This included murder, persecution and arbitrary deprivation of liberty. The government responded to reports by both the High Commissioner and the IACHR-mandated Group of Independent Experts by expelling them from the country.
Although mass protests have subsided after August 2018, the government continued its targeted repression of the opposition. During December 2018 the government shut down numerous non-governmental organizations, forced independent media outlets to close and arrested journalists on charges of hate crimes and terrorism. While the government has released more than 490 individuals detained in the context of protests, arbitrary detentions and torture and ill-treatment of alleged opponents continues. As of June 2019, over 80,000 people, including persecuted opposition activists, had to flee to neighboring countries.
Talks between the government and representatives of the opposition, which began in February 2019, stalled without significant progress.
In the absence of an independent national judicial system, perpetrators of possible atrocity crimes committed during April-May 2018 have not been held accountable. The situation in Nicaragua continues to be characterized by violations and abuses of human rights. The expulsion of human rights mechanisms, together with the banning of many civil society organizations, persistent impunity and ongoing state-led repression, constitutes a risk factor for renewed atrocity crimes.
The government of Nicaragua needs assistance in implementing structural reforms, including establishment of an independent judiciary and security sector reform, in order to uphold its primary Responsibility to Protect all its population.
Various regional and international mechanisms responded to state-led repression soon after violence escalated in April 2018.
In May 2018 the Organization of American States established a Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua, which was expelled by the government in late 2018.
During September 2018, the UN Security Council held its first briefing on the situation in Nicaragua, during which the government of Costa Rica highlighted the international community’s responsibility to protect populations facing human rights abuses and violations in Nicaragua.
During March 2019 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling upon the government to release all arbitrarily detained individuals.
To end the protracted human rights crisis, and reduce the risk of renewed atrocities, the government of Nicaragua must halt the persecution of alleged opponents and cooperate with international and regional human rights mechanisms.
The government should fully commit to national dialogue and allow independent media and civil society organizations to operate safely and freely. All individuals who remain arbitrarily detained must be released immediately.
All deaths and human rights violations resulting from political violence should be independently investigated and those responsible must be held accountable.