The new law against Non-Profit Organizations mutilates all the spaces of civil society for thought and development.
HAVANA TIMES – The classification of Non-Profit Organizations between religious and civil —social, cultural and educational— violates freedom of association and consummates the policy of repression and harassment of Daniel Ortega´s regime, by “vetoing certain fields” that civil society organizations can or cannot develop, say activists and experts in Nicaraguan law.
The new Law for the Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organizations, approved by the National Assembly on March 31, legalizes the confiscation of NGOs. With it, the regime restricts the right of organizations to work in areas such as human rights, freedom of the press, association, environment and indigenous peoples, since none of these topics appear in the classification contemplated.
“The non-profits that are under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior are classified into: religious and/or charitable, which have the purpose of exercising the right to religious freedom and may carry out charitable activities. And in civil and/or social, cultural, and educational whose purpose is to develop activities of common interest and social character,” reads the law.
“By not mentioning the areas of human rights, environment, democracy it can be seen that there is a vision to curtail these areas of work… and only implement more humanitarian, social or education themes. Such is to limit them to some issues that for them do not represent any danger, a risk to their model and their policy,” points out the president of the confiscated Fundación del Río, Amaru Ruiz, and co-author of the report “The brutal demolition of freedom of association in Nicaragua.”
With the outbreak of the April Rebellion in 2018, the regime launched a witch hunt against civil society organizations that denounced human rights violations by the State and also maintained critical positions against its authoritarian drift.” However, in the last three years, it has lashed out against NGOs focused on local development, the environment and financing, stripping them of their legal status and in some cases, confiscating their assets.
New law against NGOs in Nicaragua is “unconstitutional”
Lawyer Martha Patricia Molina explains that, even though Law 147 or the Law of Non-Profit Legal Entities was obsolete and presented multiple legal gaps, this new law “does not improve the poor regulatory framework we already had,” and does not respond to the recommendation of the International Financial Action Task Force (FATF), to strengthen the laws so that NGOs are not used to finance terrorism.
It is “a law simply tailored to the Ortega-Murillo public administration, which has a single purpose, which is the eradication of NGOs that do not follow the repressive line that the regime has been presenting,” he assessed.
The law is also in conflict with the Nicaraguan Constitution, notes Molina, as it violates article 49 which mandates that: “these organizations…will have a social function and may or may not have a partisan character, according to their nature and purposes. However, the new law establishes in its article 5 that: “all citizens have the right to voluntarily constitute non-profit organizations… without any discrimination, with religious and/or social, cultural and educational functions,” thus cutting off the partisan character recognized in the Constitution,” indicates the specialist.
“Instead of the State being the guarantor and protector of our constitutional rights, it is precisely the one that is hindering this new type of associations,” adds Molina.
Doors closed to human rights organizations
Gonzalo Carrion went into exile after the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) was stripped of its legal status and its facilities confiscated by the Ortega regime in 2018. From Costa Rica, now as a member of the Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Nicaragua Nunca Mas, he sees the new law as an instrument “to legalize the entire accumulated abuse of power and serious human rights violations.”
“The only thing missing is to impose an order that says: any allusion to human rights and tyranny is strictly prohibited,” says Carrion.
Amaru Ruiz says it is clear that if they allow NGOs working for the protection and promotion of human rights, they will question the policy of infringement of rights that the regime has maintained. If they cannot control them the organizations, as they do with the Prosecutor’s Office, which is a state entity, “they will try to prevent anyone from working on these issues.”
In 2021, the Ortega regime cancelled the legal status of 60 organizations, of which 22 associations worked in the promotion of social, economic and democratic development, including six international organizations, and at least two NGOs focused on women’s rights. So far in 2022, the governmental onslaught has already wiped out more than 40 NGOs, including private universities whose assets were confiscated.
Molina points out that anything related to human rights, the environment, democracy and politics “is opposed to the new social, economic and legal reality in which we are living. The dictatorship must always be read between the lines because they themselves give you the guidelines of what they want to focus on,” she says.
The political background of the law is “to mutilate all the spaces that had been left loose, all the possible spaces for thought and development,” but the most “dangerous and devastating” thing is what is happening in the legal sphere because constitutional and human rights are being violated, as well as international conventions on the same subject.
“We are being prevented from advancing our right to organize ourselves through these non-profit organizations. Logically, human rights tell you that other rights will be negatively affected,” Molina adds.
The new classification of the regime against NGOs was not contemplated in the previous legislation, which defined them as non-profit civil and religious associations, foundations, federations, and confederations. This new law restricts NGOs to specific fields. According to Ruiz, this decision also responds to “having a discretional and differentiated treatment between religious associations versus social and humanitarian associations,” taking into consideration that the regime has applied special treatment with the evangelical churches, which require a legal status to be constituted as such.