High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet urges the Government of Nicaragua to release 94 political prisoners
Geneva, September 16, 2020. In her oral update on the situation in Nicaragua before the United Nations Human Rights Council last Monday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged the Government of Nicaragua to release “all those arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in the context of protests or for expressing opinions critical of the Government.” She argued that freeing these political prisoners “would be a significant step towards restoring rights and reducing existing polarization.”
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Nicaraguan civil society organizations report that 90 men and 4 women who are perceived as opponents of the Government have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty and accused of common crimes as pretexts for their detention.
This was the second oral update to be delivered pursuant to the mandate of the resolution “Promotion and protection of human rights in Nicaragua (A/HRC/43/L.35).” This resolution also directs the OHCHR to deliver a written report on the Nicaraguan situation during the 46th session of the Human Rights Council in February 2021.
The High Commissioner added that since her last oral update on Nicaragua in July of this year, “there has been no progress in the human rights situation and no sign that the Government is constructively addressing the tensions and structural problems that triggered the socio-political crisis in April 2018.” The State has also failed to implement any of the recommendations made by the OHCHR.
Since July, the OHCHR has registered 30 cases of threats and intimidation against human rights defenders, journalists, students, peasant leaders, members of the Catholic clergy, and others.
Nicaraguan Attorney General Wendy Carolina Morales rejected Bachelet’s update. Although the update reflects reports from many Nicaraguan sources pointing to a deepening of the socio-political crisis, Morales claimed that it was “biased and unilateral.” According to Morales, the update “did not take into account the reports that our country has shared in good faith and in a timely manner with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights” and was based on reports from non-governmental organizations and media outlets that she labeled as “opponents” of the Government. This statement ignores the longstanding and vital practice by international human rights bodies and mechanisms of consulting with a wide range of in-country sources.
Morales stated that the Nicaraguan Government has guaranteed the right to health in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, has respected the territorial rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities in the Caribbean region, and has granted extraordinary measures to more than 8,000 people in prison during this year.
Bachelet highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the full range of human rights, including economic, social, and cultural rights. In Nicaragua, the state response to the pandemic has led to violations of freedom of expression and to the arbitrary dismissals of medical personnel.
Bachelet added, “Official data are reported only once a week and lack detailed epidemiological information. In this regard, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) warned that it has been necessary to resort to data produced by non-official sources to analyze the situation in the country. Of particular concern is the lack of disaggregated information on the impacts of the pandemic on indigenous peoples and people of African descent, as well as on any specific measures” taken to address these populations’ particular needs.
Other matters of concern
In her speech, Bachelet highlighted the precarious conditions faced by thousands of Nicaraguan migrants seeking to return to their country in recent months, including hundreds stranded at the southern border crossing known as Peñas Blancas.
She also expressed concern about the discrepancies between the data on femicide between February 1st and August 7th provided by women’s organizations (who reported 50 murders) and those reported by the authorities (who reported only 11). This discrepancy shows “a possible under-recording, which would make it difficult to take effective measures to counter these crimes.”
Likewise, she denounced recent attacks on journalists, including legal proceedings for slander and defamation, acts of intimidation, and police harassment against leaders and staff of Radio La Costeñísima and Radio Darío. She also highlighted the imposition of tax proceedings on three media outlets.
Finally, the High Commissioner urged the State of Nicaragua to implement the recommendations made by her Office, particularly in light of the elections scheduled for November 2021, and to resume effective cooperation with the OHCHR, including “authorizing a mission to the country” in preparation for her written report in February.
The European Union urged Nicaragua to adopt electoral and institutional reforms and to ensure free and fair elections in 2021, while a group of countries (Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Paraguay) lamented the lack of progress on human rights in Nicaragua and denounced the authorities for their lack of cooperation.
“We are concerned about the lack of real electoral reforms to allow Nicaraguans to freely and transparently carry out their political participation with a view to the next presidential elections. Our countries make a firm call to the authorities of the Government of Nicaragua to implement the recommendations issued by the High Commissioner. We reiterate the need to establish genuine cooperation and access for the Office of the High Commissioner in the country and to give real evidence of a dialogue and of a concrete will to improve the socio-political and human rights situation in Nicaragua, for the benefit of all its citizens”, said Julio Peralta, representative of Ecuador, on behalf of the group of Latin American countries.
The Ukrainian and Austrian delegations also expressed concern about the situation in Nicaragua, particularly in relation to political prisoners, human rights defenders, journalists, and other Government opponents who have been attacked, including by armed pro-Government groups.
Only the Government of Venezuela supported the Nicaraguan Government, urging the OHCHR to adhere to “non-interference.”