Bachelet Reports Persecution of Even Priests in Nicaragua

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights points out that political prisoners “are facing detention conditions that don’t stand up to the UN’s basic standards.

By Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, announced on Thursday June 16th, that the Ortega-Murillo Government in Nicaragua has stepped up repression against civil society even further. This repression began violently in 2018, and today, even Catholic priests are victims of persecution.

“Ever since May (2022), the Police have resumed their harassment of Catholic priests, following and intimidating them non-stop,” the High Commissioner said during the presentation of her report about the Nicaraguan situation to the UN Human Rights Council.

The UN Human Rights Office, which Bachelet leads, has compiled new information over the past three months about how arbitrary arrests continue, as well as the imprisonment of people considered to be dissidents and NGOs being forced to close.

All of this has led to an unprecedented number of people fleeing the country, even more than the number recorded in the 1980s, during the Sandinista Revolution.

“In the last eight months, the number of refugees and asylum seekers from Nicaragua in Costa Rica has doubled and now reaches 150,000,” she explained, after also pointing out that the number of Nicaraguans who have been intercepted on the border with the US is dramatically rising.

Regarding political prisoners, she pointed out that 173 people have been arrested for their involvement in the 2018 civil protests, and another 50 within the context of the 2021 presidential elections, “who are being held in conditions that fail to meet the UN’s basic standards.”

Bachelet requested the release of all of these prisoners, after complaining that the abuse they suffer includes limited family visits, with loved ones only being able to visit them four times this year, although this excluded their young children.

]The report indicates that the Nicaraguan National Assembly – controlled by the Frente Sandinista – has stripped 388 organizations of their legal status this year, which brings the total to 454 organizations since November 2018, in addition to similar measures against twelve universities, which are now under state control. [Since the report the number has risen to 669 non-profits closed down.]

Bachelet also warned that two National Assembly committees finalized their analysis of the Penal Code in April, using this legislation to persecute those the government considers its opposition. They even proposed tougher sentences and introduced other repressive measures requested by the government such as seizure of assets, which she said, “raises serious concerns that makes us think the government is trying to step up repression of critical voices even more.”

The Nicaraguan regime’s response

After these complaints, Bachelet urged the Nicaraguan Government to cease “its policies that only serve today to isolate the country and its people from the regional and international community.”

She believed that granting access to personnel from her organization to visit the country would be seen as a very positive gesture.

Nicaragua’s Attorney-General, Wendy Morales, responded to Bachelet’s presentation by saying that she is presenting facts “far-removed from our reality” and that this was a “unilateral attack against our people and its legitimate government,” despite complaints from the UN and international organizations about the lack of transparency during elections.

She added that Bachelet’s report forms part of a “campaign led by the US” with the mission of “meddling in countries’ domestic affairs.”

Widespread condemnation

Bachelet’s update on the situation was welcomed by most of the organization’s member-states that spoke during the session, it was only some of the regime’s allies that rejected the her office’s complaints, like Cuba and Venezuela.

The European Union (EU) condemned the repression “in all its forms against dissidents” and asked Nicaragua to “ensure rights of freedom of speech and association.”

Eurogroup pointed out that they are “outraged by guilty verdicts and harsh sentences for political prisoners in recent months” and, within this context, repeated the demand for “the immediate and unconditional release of every political prisoner and for their sentences to be lifted.”

Costa Rica – in the name of Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru, said that they are concerned about the “systematic human rights violations and abuse committed in Nicaragua in the past four years and, more recently, by the measures Nicaragua has taken to repress the work of the press, opposition parties and their leaders, stripping civil society organizations of their legal status, the OAS being kicked out, as well as the ICRC’s (International Committee of the Red Cross) representative.

This group of countries urged “the Nicaraguan Government to actively cooperate with international and regional organizations.”

Expert Group for Nicaragua

The US delegation asked how they could support in their role as the head of the Independent Experts Committee, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, given Nicaragua’s lack of commitment.

The regime outrightly refused this Committee’s request to cooperate with its order to investigate human rights violations in Nicaragua between 2018 and 2022. The Committee was created last March with a vote of 20 UN member-states.

Ecuador also appealed for “States and other actors to support” the work of the expert group and lamented “the lack of measures to fight impunity and hold those responsible for human rights violations” in Nicaragua.

The Center for International Law and Justice urged for “a thorough examination of the violence and impunity against indigenous peoples and the forced displacement of thousands of Nicaraguans.”

The International Federation for Human Rights, with a speech from Vilma Nuñez, human rights lawyer and advocate in Nicaragua, invited states “to double down on efforts to obtain the release of the political prisoners” and to support the Committee’s work, overseen by German Jan-Michael Simon, and complimented by Chilean Alexandro Alvarez and Colombian Angela Maria Buitrago.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times