Human rights advocates warn of negative consequences from the Nicaraguan government’s arbitrary closure of non-profits and the deterioration of public freedoms.
HAVANA TIMES – The massive closure of civil society organizations is causing “a human drama” in Nicaragua. It negatively impacts both the communities where these organizations worked, and the lives of the workers, who in addition to losing their livelihoods may be persecuted, put under siege, and forced into exile by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
Attorney Juan Carlos Arce of the Nicaragua Nunca Mas [“Never Again Nicaragua”] Human Rights Collective believes that since 2018, “we’ve been living through the greatest attack on the freedom of association in the history of Nicaragua.” He recalled that in the first eight months of 2022 alone, the Ortega-Murillo regime has declared 2,250 NGOs to be illegal. The organizations all had different areas of focus, including women’s organizations, human rights groups and NGOs working in health or education.
The situation “isn’t just a legal tragedy, it’s also a human drama in Nicaragua,” Arce declared during his participation on the panel “Closure of Civic Spaces” held in Lima, Peru. The discussion formed part of the activities paralleling the 52nd General Assembly of the Organization of American States.
The civic organizations in Nicaragua, “have not only had their legal status cancelled, but also (in many cases) had their offices/buildings confiscated, including all the information they had, everything.” Meanwhile, the workers are “persecuted, harassed, forced to leave (the country) and are now exiled.” The regime’s strategy is to “leave no stones to rebuild on,” commented the human rights advocate.
All rights completely annihilated
In Arce’s judgment, the massive cancellation of organizations is “without a doubt” the regime’s reprisal “for the work of accompaniment that we in the social organizations carry out, in a country where the independent institutions have eroded completely.”
The human rights advocate also stated that the regime’s objective is to control all spheres of life, including the freedom of organization and thought. “We can observe the annihilation of the rights of association, the ability to count on services in health, education, religion, accompaniment in human rights and even employment,” he added.
Pedro Vaca, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights’ Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, noted that such measures implemented by authoritarian regimes create “a kind of self-censorship” among those in civil society.
“The closure of civic spaces also brings a fear of freely exercising one’s rights, given the consequences that such actions might bring. Certainly, the sum product of many repressive acts ends up being a closure of the civic space because there’s a loss of trust in the exercise of public freedoms,” the Rapporteur pointed out.
Governments intolerant of criticism
Vaca also warned that on a regional level, there’s “a generalized deterioration in public debate.” He recalled that the inter-American system has exhorted governments to be tolerant of criticism.
“There are governments that have a low tolerance for criticism, and this has led to a common process of labeling civil society – assigning these groups stigmatizing and disparaging labels. Instead of recognizing civil society as a legitimate actor. The organizations are accused and labeled as something that harms society, something that doesn’t contribute, but perverts the notion of a nation,” Vaca declared.
He also indicated that these governments that are intolerant to criticism are “enacting legislation meant to silence voices,” using tax policies, registries of association, administrative measures, and the laws themselves to discourage association, thus turning these policies into repressive instruments.