Condemnation and solidarity in the face of the National Assembly’s move to annul the legal status of this Human Rights organization.
Our commitment to the people of Nicaragua can’t be dissolved by a resolution passed by a State organ with no autonomy,” declares Cenidh head Vilma Nunez.
By Wilfredo Miranda Aburto (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – The cancellation of the legal non-profit status for the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh) on Wednesday, December 12 took the members of that organization by surprise.
Those who were at the organization’s head offices turned on the live broadcast of the legislative session to follow the discussion in Parliament. That unannounced discussion culminated in a vote decided by the Ortega bench: 70 votes in favor of removing legal status for the institution that for 28 years has led the battle for the defense of human rights in Nicaragua and has processed the denunciations of human rights violations all over the country.
“They’ve struck a blow at us, but we’re not in pain,” Dr. Vilma Nunez, president of Cenidh declared defiantly. “A serious human rights organization can’t be dissolved by a resolution from a State organ with no autonomy or independence, nor can our commitment and accompaniment of the Nicaraguan people,” she stated.
After following the legislative broadcast from her modest office, together with representatives from the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights’ Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (Meseni), the veteran human rights defender spoke to the national and international press. In that press conference, she denounced the fact that Cenidh had been the victim of an “express cancellation” of its legal status.
Unlike other NGO’s who were asked to appear before the Interior Ministry pr to the cancellation of their legal status, Cenidh was taken entirely by surprise. Nunez stated that they didn’t even leave them time to offer a rebuttal to the arguments used to annul their legal status as a non-profit.
“Cenidh utilized their organizational structure to apply for, receive, channel and facilitate funds to alter the public order and realize actions to destabilize the country,” alleged Sandinista deputy Filiberto Rodriguez who has now become Parliament’s assigned executioner of the NGOs. Deputy Auxiliadora Martinez, together with the president of the governance commission, asserted that the organization for the defense of human rights had “distorted” its legal status and had committed crimes.
“[It’s] truly an aberration to ascribe crimes to a legal entity, because by law a legal entity can’t commit crimes,” explained Nunez, a lawyer by profession. “They want to attribute crimes to us, making affirmations that they can’t prove. We’re willing to appear before whoever has the legal possibility of investigating this situation,” added the human rights advocate.
In less than four weeks, Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship has cancelled the legal status of four organizations: CISAS, the Center for Information and Consulting Services in Health, whose director Ana Quiros was deported from the country where she’d been a resident since 1997. Later, in secret, the accounts of another NGO, Ineepp, the Institute for Strategic Studies of Public Policies, were frozen, and their legal status was cancelled the following day. Third was the organization Hagamos Democracia [Let’s make democracy], whose legal status as a non-profit was cancelled on Wednesday, minutes before that of Cenidh, all by the National Assembly.
Then on Thursday Ortega’s legislature cancelled the legal status of five more NGOs: El Centro de Investigación de la Comunicación (Cinco), Fundación Popol Na, Instituto para el Desarrollo y la Democracia (Ipade), Fundación del Rio and el Instituto de Liderazgo de las Segovias.
“All organizations should be prepared; they’re going in order, all part of Rosario Murillo’s ‘We’re going full speed ahead’ policy,” Nunez warned.
Government alleges that Cenidh is “headless”
The principal argument given in the cancellation document is that Cenidh “is without a head, and thus is breaching its agreement with this regulatory body,” since – according to the document – the term of its current Board of Directors expired on April 25 and they failed to report on their finances for 2017, thus violating the General Law on Legal Status for non-profits.
Although those who introduced the petition were government functionaries, the president of Cenidh accuses Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo of being the true culprits of this ”perverse act”. On the nightly television news program “Esta Noche” [Tonight], Vilma Nunez explained that the Cenidh Board of Directors is legally constituted, and although the members should have been elected on April 23 they were unable to do so, due to the explosion of social protests against the Ortega-Murillo regime.
“I placed a written record in our files indicating that the assembly to elect the Board of Directors had been postponed for reasons beyond our control. The streets were paralyzed by the protests. The assembly was then realized on August 8, and the documents sent to the Interior Ministry with all the requirements,” Nunez explained.
On November 30, the office of Registry and Control of Associations refused to receive the Cenidh documentation, alleging that there were new requirements to fulfill. The representative of Cenidh accepted the list of new requirements and the process of renewing the letter of legality was left open.
“Ortega and Murillo have a special hatred of Cenidh”
Underlying the legal excuse for annulling Cenidh’s status, Dr. Nunez asserts that there’s a political motivation, as well as one of revenge, coming directly from the presidential couple who govern from their residency in the El Carmen bunker, very near the offices of Cenidh.
“Cenidh has been a thorn in their sides from the moment in which we became the only human rights organization that dared to support, accompany and demonstrate the rape and childhood sex abuse accusations of Zoilamerica Ortega Murillo, the president’s stepdaughter, to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Nunez maintained. She recalled that Rosario Murillo herself came to the Cenidh offices in 1998 to try and dissuade her from accompanying Zoilameica in her rape accusation against Daniel Ortega.
“Rosario Murillo came to this table to ask us not to assume that responsibility. In addition to eliminating everything critical of her repression, they have a special hatred for Cenidh. Just as we were able to document the case of Zoilaamerica before the IACHR, we’re also the organization that beginning in 2014 have been denouncing another rape committed by Daniel Ortega against another minor,” Nunez affirmed.
On the afternoon of this same Wednesday that their status was revoked, the Cenidh team went to the seat of the Interior Ministry to complain of what they consider an “illegality.” No one received the human rights advocates. Instead of the Ministry functionaries, they found dozens of armed riot police surrounding the public institution.
“We’re going to continue. Our struggle will be to defend the Cenidh and to do so we’re going to make use of the resources established under the law. Not because we have a lot of expectation of achieving a favorable resolution, but in order to leave documentation of the involvement of other State institutions in this perverse persecution that’s being played out,” expressed Nunez on the Esta Noche program. “They’ve given us fifteen days to turn over our accounts and the books… We’re going to continue working normally. They’ll have to drag me out of Cenidh if they want to get us out,” added the human rights advocate. However the following night the Cenidh offices were violently broken into.
World condemnation and solidarity
A few hours after the cancellation of Cenidh’s legal status, the principal human rights organizations around the world expressed their solidarity with Dr. Nunez and her team. “I’m indignant about the cancellation of the legal status of Cenidh and of Hagamos Democracia. My support for all the human rights organizations that work in restrictive environments,” stated Michel Forst, United Nations Special Rapporteur. “Silencing civil society won’t put an end to the legitimate aspirations of thousands of people in Nicaragua,” he added.
The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights issued a number of messages on the topic, noting that freedom of association is an essential tool for the existence and functioning of a democratic society.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights telephoned the site of Cenidh according to Dr. Nunez, while Luis Almagro, the OAS Secretary General tweeted his criticism of the Ortega-controlled Nicaraguan parliament.
“The decision of the Nicaraguan National Assembly to annul the legal status of organizations that defend human rights and those of civil society such as Cenidh and Hagamos Demomcracia is unacceptable. Silencing them is an authoritarian move,” Almagro wrote.
For their part, Amnesty International declared it “extremely alarming” that organizations with the trajectory and legitimacy of Cenidh “are being persecuted”. “In canceling their status, the government leaves the Nicaraguan people defenseless, impeding the representation of victims or of those fighting to demand justice and responsibility. Today is a very sad day for the defense of human rights in the region,” the organization stated.
“Cenidh will be here for a long while”
Vilma Nunez stated that Cenidh would continue working for the “defense of the organization and of human rights.” The Cenidh president recalled that during the era of the terrible dictatorships in South America and the military dictatorships of the Northern Triangle of Central America, the human rights defenders didn’t need legal non-profit status to defend human rights.
“Cenidh will be here for a long time,” Nunez promised. “There’s a commitment on the part of each and every one of the advocates on the directive council, the founding members, and especially from the team who daily face discrimination and stigmatization from the dictatorship. I’m not leaving here until the day that I can no longer go on, as long as my physical strength allows me to. At my 80 years, I have all the strength I need to go on,” promised the veteran human rights advocate.