Bachelet Urges Electoral Reforms in Nicaragua…

…and the release of political prisoners

Latest UN report insists that the arbitrary detentions must cease. It advocates for Nicaragua to amend recent punitive laws and allow the OHCHR to enter the country.

By Yader Luna (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged the government of Daniel Ortega to adopt effective electoral reforms. She asked that these reforms be “urgently adopted” to guarantee “free, fair and transparent” elections. At the same time, she exhorted the Nicaraguan government to end a series of authoritarian measures.

“Put an immediate end to arbitrary detentions, undue restrictions to free circulation, threats and other forms of intimidation.” These have all been used “against people that participate in peaceful meeting or other political activities,” dijo Bachelet.

“The government must establish a genuine and inclusive dialogue with all sectors of society. [This is needed] to smooth the road to credible, transparent and peaceful elections next November 7th. Also, to recover citizen trust and to guarantee that no one is left behind,” insisted Bachelet. This message appears in a new report on Nicaragua that was presented February 25th before the UN Human Rights Council. The meeting was held in Geneva, Switzerland.

The report recognizes that nearly three years after the massive April 2018 protests, the Ortega government still hasn’t recognized the state’s responsibility. The Nicaraguan government has been implicated in multiple human rights violations committed at that time. Their refusal to address this “has perpetuated impunity and encouraged a recurrence of said violations.” These were the views expressed in the report from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  

The report covers the period between August 1, 2019 and December 31, 2020. It details the “constant, illegitimate and serious restrictions on their rights and liberties” in Nicaragua. Citizens face these “upon trying to express their political opinions and defend human rights”.

Harassment of journalists and opposition members persists

The document states: “the persistence of the crisis remains rooted in the fragility of institutions and the rule of law. [These] have been progressively eroded over the years, while human rights violations perpetrated in 2018 remain unpunished.” In addition, “civic space has been further restricted”.

Over, the last 18 months, “attacks, harassment and persecution on the part of the security forces and pro-government elements” have persisted. They’ve been directed against political dissenters, journalists, human rights advocates, students, farmers, and representatives of the media. The abuses are leveled against any person that the government perceives as having dissenting opinions.

OHCHR has documented 83 cases of persecution, harassment and threats, including reprisals against those who cooperated with the United Nations team.

“People have been prevented from peacefully demonstrating. Those who have managed to do so have been the systematic objects of attacks from the security forces or pro-government elements.”

In addition, the OHCHR report mentions 34 documented cases of intimidation, threats, and smear campaigns against journalists or media workers. There were also “four instances of media outlets being subjected to raids, destruction of equipment and administrative sanctions for criticizing the Government.”

UN recommends freeing the prisoners and modifying the punitive laws

The report notes that as of December 7, 2020, at least 110 people remained in prison for political reasons. The numbers were reported by civil society organizations. These victims of arbitrary detention were singled out for participating in protests or collaborating with opposition groups. Thirteen of them have been imprisoned since 2018.

“I call on the government to free all those who’ve been arbitrarily deprived of their freedom in the context of the protests, or for expressing dissident opinions,” urged Bachelet.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Photo: EFE

Among the organization’s recommendations to the Nicaraguan government was to modify the recently passed punitive laws. These laws include the “Law for Regulating Foreign Agents” and the “Special Cybercrimes Law”. They also include the “Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace”. The report recommended amendments, “in line with international human rights norms and standards, in consultation with different sectors of civil society and experts.”

“There’s been a weakening of the rule of law and the deterioration of the separation of powers in Nicaragua. Given this, there’s a significant risk that these laws could be applied selectively to repress dissident voices still further,” noted Bachelet.

Repeated request to enter Nicaragua

Michell Bachelet recommended that the Nicaraguan government “resume constructive communications with the OHCHR, to discuss technical cooperation. They also asked that the government: “grant the Office access to Nicaragua.”

“I’m encouraged by (..) recent indications of an opening on the part of the government towards collaboration with the UN agencies. [They’ve indicated interest] in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the destruction from the two hurricanes. However, I regret that the authorities still haven’t accepted our repeated requests to access the country. Nor our offers of technical assistance to improve the human rights situation in the country,” Bachelet stated.

The Ortega government has been accused internationally of imposing a de facto police state in Nicaragua. Since June 2020, they’ve ignored OHCHR’s requests for information on the human rights denunciations the organization has received.

Between August 1, 2019, and December 31, 2020, the High Commissioner’s Office has sent 37 communications to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nicaragua. However, the authorities have only responded to 17 of them, including a questionnaire sent by the High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet.

The report is entitled: “Situation of human rights in Nicaragua”. A summary of High Commissioner Bachelet’s participation at the Human Rights Council and a link to the report can be found at: https://bit.ly/3pVbkxd

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.


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