Nicaragua on Civil Liberties Watch List

By Julio Estrada Galo (La Prensa)

Illustration from the Civicus Monitor Watch List.

HAVANA TIMES – Nicaragua is one of five countries now on the watch list of the international organization Civicus Monitor. The list tracks countries where there’s been a serious and rapid decline in fundamental civic freedoms in recent months. The organization has its headquarters in South Africa, but monitors civil liberties worldwide.

Civicus Monitor uses a scale to measure the level of respect for human rights and civil liberties. Each country is accordingly classed as Open, Narrowed, Obstructed, Repressed or Closed. Nicaragua is currently considered “repressed” by the group.

The organization posts background information for each country on the watch list. In Nicaragua, they note, human rights advocates, journalists and “perceived political opponents” have been the principal victims of the government repression. These “face criminalization and harassment from security agents and pro-government civilian groups.”

Civicus Monitor noted that the Amnesty Law passed in 2019 has had a largely negative impact. It did serve to free hundreds of political prisoners. However, it also, “effectively prevented investigation into those who perpetrated human rights injustices during the [2018] crackdown.”

“In recent months,” the report states, “there’s been an increase in the use of common criminal charges, such as drug and arms possession. [These are used] to convict those perceived as government opponents, while denying their status as political prisoners.”

Civicus Monitor is a network of organizations at a local, national, regional and international level. They bring together research, evaluations and “consultations with activists on the ground”. Using these tools, they analyze the state of rights and civil liberties in over 190 countries around the globe. Their “nearly two decades” of work has served to “strengthen citizen action and civil society throughout the world”.

According to the site, the Nicaraguan government’s decline in respect for human rights accelerated during the April 2018 protests.  Since then: “Systematic repression of demonstrations has effectively suppressed mass mobilizations.” Nonetheless, even “alternative forms of protest, such as flyer distribution, satirical performances and one-person demonstrations, are quickly repressed…”.

Repressive laws

The Civicus Monitoring brief highlights the recent repressive laws as part of the systematic deterioration of public freedoms in Nicaragua. This series of laws the regime has promoted is “designed to reduce the space for freedom of association, assembly and expression.”

The new laws include legislation that forces civic organizations to register as foreign agents. This and similar laws “enable control over civil society activities, criminalize legitimate online activity and further persecute protesters and opposition groups.” These statements appear in the Civicus Monitor’s Country Research Brief on Nicaragua.

The summary also alludes to the “Law for the Defense of Peoples’ Rights to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-determination for Peace.” This law supposedly designed to punish “traitors” “is likely to be used to block political opponents from running for office,” in the upcoming Nicaraguan elections.

A call to the international community

Natalia Gomez Peña heads Civicus Monitor’s Latin American advocacy department. She affirmed that the purpose of the watch list is to call attention to what’s happening in these countries, including Nicaragua.

Nicaragua is currently the only country on the list from the Americas. The other four are Myanmar, Poland, Russia and Togo.

“Civicus Monitor is especially concerned. First, for a growing wave of repressive laws that threaten civil society. (…) In addition, for the growing harassment, persecution and criminalization of human rights advocates or activists who criticize the government,” Natalia Gomez declared.

She explained that this isn’t the first time the Civicus Monitor has included Nicaragua on their watch list. In 2019, following a year of the socio-political crisis, it was also singled out for follow-up in this way.

Another of the objectives of the monitoring, according to Gomez, is to “raise our voice about the crises occurring in all these countries. Also, to use this tool as an instrument for exerting pressure in international human rights forums.

Natalia Gomez expressed hope that the evaluations this organization has realized can be presented before the UN Human Rights Council.  The international community will be present at this meeting, which began on February 22nd. Civicus Monitor hopes their data will influence the adoption of resolutions for actions to reduce the level of repression in the countries on the list.

Read more on the situation in Nicaragua here on Havana Times.