The 52th Session of the Human Right Council

27 February - 31 March 2023

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner report on Nicaragua and Interactive Dialogue with Group of Experts on Nicaragua

3rd  March - 7th March 2023


By Juanita Beltrán and Isabel García / GICJ

Executive summary 

On the 3rd and 7th of March 2023, the Human Rights Council entertained two important meetings regarding the human rights situation in Nicaragua. On the one hand, the High Commissioner delivered an oral update,  which stressed the systematic violation of human rights to political opponents of the government of Nicaragua. The High Commissioner exposed the different testimonies of violations of economic, social and cultural rights that millions of Nicaraguans face. On the other hand, the group of experts highlighted major conclusions from their mandate. In the report, the group of experts detailed the illegal actions perpetrated by the current government of Nicaragua that have occurred since the presidential elections in 2018. Extrajudicial killings, an evident systemic violation of civil and political rights, crimes against humanity and accountability for those crimes were some of the topics that the group of experts highlighted in their report. 

Geneva International Centre for Justice stands in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua. We strongly condemn the systematic human rights violation exposed both in the Oral Update of the High Commissioner and the Group of Experts. Furthermore, we encourage Nicaragua to cooperate with the UN mechanisms and the work of the experts to repair the victims and reestablish peace in the country.

Background 

By adopting resolution 49/3, the Human Rights Council mandated the Group of Human Rights Experts (GHRE) in Nicaragua for one year to investigate all alleged human rights violations and abuses committed in Nicaragua since 2018. To this end, the GHRE followed a gender approach to collect and analyse the information. Within this framework, the GHRE gathered confidential interviews with victims, family members, former and current public officials, and other individuals who have firsthand knowledge of the State and its functioning. Additionally, they exchanged information with human rights organisations at the national and international levels. They examined 142 individual cases and examined secondary sources to contextualise the information.

Nevertheless, several obstacles came on the way. The State of Nicaragua denied  access to  experts to enter the country. This was a clear sign of political unwilligness to cooperate with the United Nations Mechanisms. Proof of this is the relentless denial of any type of cooperation with other committees and organisations, such as the Committe against Torture, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In 2021 the government of Nicaragua denounced the Charter of the Organisation of American States (OAS), initiating Nicaragua's withdrawal from the Organisation. On 24 April 2022,  in violation of the commitments adopted by Nicaragua in the Charter, the authorities announced the expulsion of the country from the OAS and the withdrawal of its diplomatic representation to this Organisation.  

In light of the escalation of the political persecutions in February 2023, the experts decided to take extraordinary measures to protect the victims, witnesses and other sources that collaborated in the report. Hence, all the victims and their testimonies were intentionally anonymised in the final report.  



Remarks Oral Update High Commissioner

During her oral update, lze Brands Kehris, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, denounced a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Nicaragua since the 15th of December 2022.  She welcomed the release of 222 political prisoners from their detention centres and house arrest, and she condemned the deprivation of the Nicaraguan nationality to 94 people considered “traitors to the homeland” in February 2023. Some of the affected are journalists, activists, and social and political leaders who currently are both in exile and inside the country. Among them is Rolando Álvarez, a religious leader, who refused to be deported and  sentenced to 26 years and 4 months of prison.

Ms. Brands Kehris also explained that more than 30 University activists, protestors, journalists, and media workers, among others, have faced violations of due process standards since December 2022, such as the arbitrary detention, the denial of a lawyer of their choice or of the access to their whole file. Moreover, sentences not foreseen in the code of Nicaragua have been applied and they have been sentenced up to 10 years in prison.

More than 300 legal personalities have been cancelled since 2018, and those considered to be opponents or critics of the government have been denied the access to scholarships or health services.

Among the violations that indigenous people are suffering are the killing of 7 indigenous people by settlers with impunity or the use of their natural resources without their consent. Also, they stated acts of violence and illegal occupation of their territory by settlers. For this, authorities have declared that an investigation has been opened against 24 settlers.

All of this has resulted in the flight of more than 260 thousand people out of Nicaragua, specially, to Costa Rica and to the United States.

Summary of the UN Report 

The report comprised the different challenges that Nicaragua faces in light of the stark repression of civic and political rights. However, since the last report, several recommendations have not been implemented. They aim to reform the independence and impartiality of the judicial power, align the domestic legislation with international legislation, reinstate civic space, and remove obstacles that favour impunity for human rights perpetrators, among others. 

This time the report accentuated the violations and abuses to the population as the result of dismantling the separation of powers and democratic guarantees, causing a further concentration of power between Nicaragua’s president and vice president. 

Some of these aspects regard the continuous systematic violation and torture of civilians constraining their right to liberty and physical integrity, the right to nationality or to participate in public life. Patterns of violence include the instrumentalisation of the criminal law to suppress criticism and opposition without granting the right to defence or right to due process. The situation worsens for vulnerable groups. Sexual violence was used as a method of torture by police officers, prison system officers, as well as members of pro-government armed groups. With the expulsion of NGOs and similar organisations, women and other vulnerable groups of society have been left with nowhere to go to file a complaint. 

Finally, some conclusions and recommendations target Nicaragua on the one hand at the national level. They include the cease of politically motivated persecution and further restoration of the democratic order. On the other hand, at the international level, the international community must seek  legal action against individuals responsible for violations considering the domestic legislation and take responsibility when planning to invest directly, bearing in mind a human rights approach.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner report on Nicaragua and group of experts 

Extrajudicial killings 

The right to life is an inviolable right that must be ensured by the international community and States. This means that security forces can only use  force and firearms in specific contexts. In this context, the Group of Experts analysed 40 cases, which were all proclaimed to be extrajudicial killings.

The majority were killed while peacefully protesting in 2018. The government of Nicaragua used the national police, shock troops and armed pro-government groups to violently suppress protests, claiming to be a “coup attempt”. Even though the group of experts has not been able to prove if casualties were against the government, it realised that on numerous occasions, the victims were described as a pro-government group killed by manifestants. This claim was then refuted by witnesses and family victims. Moreover, the victims were mostly young men living all around the country. Between 70 and 80 percent of the deaths were caused by gunshot wounds and the month where most victims were killed was June 2018, when 134 people died. Moreover, access to health care was denied to protestants.

The Government of Nicaragua has attributed responsibility for all acts of violence to the protestants and it has not recognized any disproportionate use of force by National Police agents nor the commission of any criminal actions by pro-government armed groups, so there has been impunity. 

Brasil and Georgia condemned the arbitrary detentions and torture against protestants and showed  concern about the huge number of killings. Furthermore, Argentina denounced the fact that the cause of these killings was political considerations against the Government and France condemned the fact that Nicaragua refused to appear before the Committee against Torture in July. 

Systematic violation of civil and political rights

Multiple civil and political rights have been violated since 2018, such as the right to assemble peacefully, the freedom of speech and expression or arbitrary detentions. They aimed to repress and suppress all criticism made by the opponents of the Government and they constitute a violation of human dignity and personal integrity.

As stated by the High Commissioner and the group of experts, there was an arbitrary deprivation of Nicaraguan nationality to 316 people, from which 222 were expelled from the country, violating the right of remain in one’s country. The main victims were those named as “critical voices to the government”, such as protestants or students. Furthermore, women and organisations have been a specific target of human rights violations and abuses – for example, multiple organisations cancelled their legal personalities.

The Government of Nicaragua adopted laws which aimed to criminalise the exercise of fundamental freedoms and prosecute opponents, such as the Anti-Money Laundering Law, the Cybercrime Law or the Sovereignty Law. Furthermore, most of the trials violated the rights to equality before the courts and to a fair trial, for example, they have denied the possibility of choosing a lawyer.

The releases from prison of political prisoners were celebrated by a great number of countries, among which Ecuador, Spain, Chile, Australia, and the United States. Furthermore, the international community, especially countries such as Canada, the United States, Switzerland, and Uruguay showed special concern and condemned the deprivation of Nicaraguan nationality and Spain offered the possibility of having Spanish nationality to those stateless people.

 

Crimes against humanity 

Nicaragua agreed on September 3rd of 1986 to the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity according to decree number 189. According to Article IV of the Convention, the States Parties undertake to adopt the necessary legislative measures to ensure that the statute of limitations does not apply to crimes against humanity. The regional jurisprudence of the Inter-American system and national jurisprudence in Latin America coincide in considering crimes against humanity to be imprescriptible under international law.

War crimes and Crimes against humanity violate the fundamental norms of international law and human rights law. They are serious violations that harm human beings against their life, liberty, physical well-being, health and dignity. Prevention of these crimes is achieved by putting an end to impunity. 

According to the report, the experts have reasonable grounds to think that since April 2018 in Nicaragua there has been  a generalised and systematic abuse against the population. Among the crimes found by the group were murder, imprisonment, torture, including sexual violence, and deportation. As detailed, they believe that these crimes were committed within the framework of a discriminatory policy created by the high spheres of power, such as the president but certainly not only by him. 

Ecuador, Argentina and the joint statement of Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Chile expressed their concerns regarding grave and systematic violations against humanity with the high risk of the situation deteriorating. Similarly, they voiced their fear of the possibility of a major humanitarian crisis. They called on the international community and the Nicaraguan government to protect Nicaraguan rights and provide reparations for victims' declarations and accountability for arbitrary detentions. Finally, they stated their wish to renew the mandate of the expert group. 

Responsibility

The group of experts concluded that abuses and violations were orchestrated by a variety of state actors and institutions, who were following orders of the Presidency and Vice Presidency. They participated in the execution of a terror policy, which consisted of persecution and silencing of the political opposition by all means. 

For one, the experts identified the State's responsibility under international human rights law for the violations. Actions attributable to the state are those executed by the government branches and by other public authorities at local, regional or national levels as well as by non-state actors instructed to act under the control of the state. The state of Nicaragua has thus far failed in its obligation to investigate all human rights violations, abuses and crimes committed and prosecute those responsible. 

On the other hand, individual criminal responsibility was incurred through different acts, including commission, planning, issuing orders, instigation, aiding, etc. The group of experts has not assessed the individual criminal responsibility of officials, state agency members. However, the group has documented several individuals identified by the victims and witnesses as directly responsible for the violations and abuses recorded. 

The United Kingdom, Island and several NGOs addressed in their statements the lack of accountability in the systematic human rights violations in Nicaragua. Nevertheless, they recommended extending the mandate of the experts in order to keep a record of the systematic violence for the day that investigations open to hold those responsible on the account.

 

Concluding remarks 

Both the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and the Group of experts have welcomed  international support to the office, and Ms Brands Kehris welcomed the initiative of those states who offered their nationality to Nicaraguans who were deprived of theirs.

They called on the state of Nicaragua to immediately release all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty and to restore their nationality and social and economic rights to those affected. They have further demanded to guarantee full reparation to the victims and to undertake independent and transparent investigations of all the violations of human rights and crimes in order to ensure accountability. In particular, Ms Brands Kehris claimed that an action plan for accountability should be inclusive and centred on victims needs to  be implemented. 

Furthermore, they have called on the international community to initiate legal action and to extend sanctions against those responsible for violations, abuses, and crimes. 

Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) 

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) welcomes the oral update of the High commissioner and the presentation of the report by the group of experts. In light of the devastating events exposed in both interventions, we strongly condemn the systematic human rights violations that have occurred during the period examined by the group of experts and the high commissioner. Furthermore, we remain deeply concerned about the several human rights defenders and journalists that have been allegedly accused of crimes and therefore been imprisoned. This only shows the government’s desperation to silence the opposition to remain in power. Finally, we urge the Human Rights Council to extend the mandate of the experts to continue the documentation of all human rights violations so they can be prosecuted in the future. 


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