Article by PBI-Netherlands

Less than two months before the scheduled elections on November 7, we face an increasingly worrying panorama in Nicaragua.

August ended with a massacre, believed to be the work of "settlers", in which at least eighteen indigenous Miskitas and Mayagnas were killed in the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, a protected natural area in the Región Autónoma de la Costa Caribe Norte. The inhabitants of this area have recently experienced frequent violence and lack of protection of their rights, in addition to the general environmental degradation caused by large-scale livestock farming, illegal logging, and mining. Therefore, they have been forced to leave the territory of their ancestors to protect their own lives. In 2020, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed all its concerns about the continued impunity for crimes against the indigenous people of Nicaragua.

In addition, the repression of government critics continues to increase. In the past two months, Nicaraguan Asamblea Nacional has suspended the legal status of 39 national non-governmental organizations, including medical organizations that have criticized the government's response to the pandemic. Also in August, the licenses of six NGOs from the United States and Europe were revoked, including those of Oxfam and Diakonia. This brings the total of organizations closed by the Nicaraguan government since 2018 to 55, arguing for non-compliance with legal obligations.

These new government measures come after the United States and Europe stepped up pressure on the Ortega-Murillo administration and announced new sanctions against family members and people close to the government in response to the arrest of more than 30 people. including seven presidential candidates, journalists, leaders of student unions and social movements, and human rights defenders. They have been detained since the end of May and in most cases, it is not known exactly where they are staying or what their health is like. According to Amnesty International 's most recent report¿Dónde están? Desaparición forzada como estrategia de represión en Nicaragua,“The arrest followed by the cover-up of detainees' whereabouts constitutes an enforced disappearance in light of the international obligations of the Nicaraguan state in the field of human rights”.

Amid this wave of arrests, the Supreme Electoral Council disqualified the only opposition party that had formally registered for the upcoming presidential election on November 7. After this action, which according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights " wants to prevent the participation of the opposition in the national elections ", the European Union considers that " the opposition has been eliminated ".

Reactions from the international community

Due to the deteriorating situation in Nicaragua, the United States has withdrawn the visas of 100 people associated with the Ortega-Murillo government. In addition, the US Senate has approved a proposal to increase pressure on the Nicaraguan government and strengthen sanctions. This could lead, among other things, to additional sanctions against key figures within the Nicaraguan government and even the possible exclusion of Nicaragua from the Central American free trade agreement. This bill still needs to be approved by Congress.

At the same time, the European Union has imposed restrictive measures on eight people, including Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo, one of her children, and six senior officials who are "responsible for serious human rights violations or acts that undermine Nicaragua's democracy and rule of law". This means that there are now a total of 14 Nicaraguans who are subject to restrictive measures from the EU.

Nicaraguans in exile

The Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (Meseni) reports that more than 103,600 Nicaraguans fled abroad between the start of the protests in April 2018 and July 2021Amid the social, economic, and political crisis in Nicaragua, the number of people who have chosen exile in recent weeks continues to grow. According to the United States Customs and Border Protection Service, in July this year alone, 13,338Nicaraguans arrested on the southern border of the United States, a number that is 52 times higher than in January, taking the total number of Nicaraguans who tried to cross the border between Mexico and the United States this year to 32,683. And this trip from Nicaragua is not without danger. For example, several cases of families who have been victims of extortion or kidnapping by criminal networks have been reported as well as cases of abuse by US border authorities. Costa Rica also saw the number of asylum applications triple in June, with 4,328 applications in one month.

PBI Nicaragua in Costa Rica remains committed to providing guidance to organizations and individuals in exile and is deeply concerned about the dire human rights situation in Nicaragua. Read here the testimonials of some Nicaraguan human rights defenders who continue their important work from their exile in Costa Rica.