New York: The human rights situation in Nicaragua has continued to deteriorate over the past three months, with detainees held in appalling conditions, shrinking civic space and an “unprecedented” increase in the number of of people fleeing the country, said UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet. Thursday.
Giving her latest update on the country to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Ms Bachelet said dozens of people remained locked up following the political, human rights and election crises in over the past four years.
Widespread protests erupted in Nicaragua in April 2018 after President Daniel Ortega announced planned social security reforms. Hundreds of people were reportedly killed in the crackdown.
Release all detainees
Last year, dozens of political opponents were arrested ahead of November’s presidential election, which saw Mr Ortega secure a fourth consecutive term in office.
“I take this opportunity to urge once again the competent authorities to ensure the prompt release of all those arbitrarily detained and to guarantee their physical and mental integrity. Likewise, I urge the authorities that an independent verification of the conditions of detention be undertaken,” Ms. Bachelet said.
Citing civil society sources, the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that 173 people are being held in detention centers in connection with the 2018 crisis.
A further 50 people detained in connection with the 2021 elections are being held in conditions that violate UN standards on the treatment of prisoners.
Children without contact
The 39 men and 11 women were sentenced to terms of up to 13 years and are disqualified from holding public office. Eleven are currently under house arrest.
Most were convicted of crimes including spreading false news and/or undermining national integrity, while six were charged with money laundering and related offences. Ms Bachelet said the convictions were allegedly based on allegations that were not substantiated in court proceedings.
“Most of these detainees remain deprived of their liberty in a police detention centre. This year they have only been allowed four visits from their adult parents, and the children continue to be denied the right to have any kind of contact with their parents in detention,” she said.
“Relatives have reported that their loved ones are being held in inhumane conditions, with particular concern for those in need of urgent, permanent or specialist medical care, which the authorities would refuse to provide.
Ms. Bachelet also expressed concern about the dramatic reduction in civic space in Nicaragua.
Silence civil society
Parliament has closed at least 454 organizations since November 2018, affecting not only national and international groups working in areas such as human rights, education and development, but also medical and professional associations.
Academic freedom and the autonomy of universities are also under threat. At least 12 institutions are now under state control after their legal status was arbitrarily revoked. In addition, the academic programs of all universities must now be approved by a central body.
“The authorities claimed that the organizations and institutions concerned had not complied with their administrative obligations and the regulations relating to money laundering and the financing of terrorism. We know, however, that their representatives have been prevented from defending their position through due process before an independent authority,” she said.
In addition, a new law that came into effect last month has also made it more difficult for nonprofits to register. It gives the government full freedom of information about their funds, operations and beneficiaries. Other provisions prohibit engagement in political activities and limit “foreign members” to a maximum quota of 25%.
Socio-political, economic and human rights crises are also forcing thousands of people to seek a better life elsewhere.
“The number of Nicaraguans leaving the country is increasing in unprecedented numbers, even more than in the 1980s,” Bachelet told the council.
In neighboring Costa Rica, the number of Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers has doubled in the past eight months, with a total of 150,000 new applicants since 2018, representing 3% of the total population.
The United States is also witnessing an “unprecedented increase” in the number of Nicaraguans intercepted at its borders. The numbers rose from 3,164 in September 2022 to over 92,000 last April.
The 16,088 interceptions in March represent the highest number recorded so far for a single month, and eight times higher than that recorded in March 2021.
Harassment and bullying
Ms. Bachelet said her Office has also documented several instances of harassment and intimidation by Nicaraguan authorities, seriously jeopardizing the right to freedom of movement.
“Passport renewals at a consulate abroad have been denied on some occasions, forcing individuals to complete the process in Nicaragua where their safety may be at risk,” she said.
“Nicaraguans intending to leave the country have also had their passports withdrawn without justification. Moreover, the entry into the country of a Nicaraguan citizen would have been refused.
Nicaraguan police have also resumed harassment of Catholic priests, she said. The government also ordered that the Catholic channel be removed from cable television.
Last month, international media reported that Bishop Rolando Álvarez, a critic of the Ortega regime, began an “indefinite fast” inside a church after being followed by police.
Respect human rights
Ms Bachelet raised “serious concerns” that the government may seek to deepen its repressive campaign against political opposition.
In April, two parliamentary committees completed an analysis of criminal legislation used to persecute suspected opponents, which proposes tougher penalties and the introduction of other repressive measures such as asset confiscation.
“I urge the government of Nicaragua to respect – not to stray any further – from its human rights obligations. I call on the authorities to immediately cease the policies that now only serve to isolate the country and its people from the regional and international communities,” she said.