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Rights experts decry shut down of civic space in Nicaragua

Students protest in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua. (file July 2018)
Artículo 66
Students protest in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua. (file July 2018)

Rights experts decry shut down of civic space in Nicaragua

Human Rights

Nicaragua must comply with its international obligations to respect and guarantee fundamental freedoms, two experts appointed by the UN and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said in a joint declaration issued on Monday. 

Clément Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association, and Pedro Vaca Villareal, IACHR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, have written several letters to the Government outlining why the cancellation of the legal standing of hundreds of associations “represents a clear pattern of repressing civic space”. 

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They said that since April 2018, Nicaragua has adopted a “censorship strategy” and developed a “clear pattern of repression of civic space”. 

Critical point 

Dissenting voices have been targeted, including journalists, human rights defenders, civil society representatives, academics, students, members of the Catholic Church, political parties and government opponents. 

In light of the closure and government co-opting of civic spaces and democratic participation, they fear increasing restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, are now reaching a critical point.  

“The State of Nicaragua must immediately cease the judicial persecution of all dissenting voices, release those imprisoned for political reasons, and ensure prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into allegations of human rights violations, resulting in those responsible being held to account and effective remedies being provided to the victims,” they said. 

Humanitarian impact 

Their joint declaration provides key steps for promoting and defending the re-establishment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression. 

The rights experts stressed that the restrictions on fundamental freedoms not only amount to human rights violations but also have a humanitarian impact. 

Currently, there are more than 200 political prisoners in Nicaragua, they said, and many are being held in unhealthy conditions “without access to adequate medical care, subjected to solitary confinement regimes, and prevented from receiving visits from their families, among other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” 

They recalled that all persons deprived of their liberty have the right to life and to be treated with humanity and respect, urging compliance from the Government. 

Appeal to countries 

They also called for the international community to act, including by taking humanitarian support measures “in accordance with the seriousness of the allegations received.” 

The experts were further concerned about the ongoing persecution of various members of civil society who have been forced to flee Nicaragua and require humanitarian assistance.  

“Under international human rights law, refugee law, and international humanitarian law, States are called upon to open their borders and guarantee emergency entry into their territory to civil society actors seeking international protection or demonstrating urgent humanitarian needs, including recognition of refugee status”, they said.  

About UN experts 

As a UN Special Rapporteur, Mr. Voule is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.  

Special Procedures experts monitor and report on specific country situations or thematic issues, such as the right to freedom of assembly and association. 

Experts work on a voluntary basis, are independent from any government or organization, and serve in their individual capacity. 

They are not UN staff and are not paid for their work.