The Ortega-Murillo regime tries to erase the space for independent civil society

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Paris-Geneva, June 2, 2022 — Civil society space in Nicaragua continues to shrink with the arbitrary cancellation, in less than a month, of the legal status of 177 additional Nicaraguan associations and foundations, including several advocacy organizations women’s rights. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights-FIDH and the World Organization Against Torture-OMCT) denounces this latest attack on civil society and urges the Nicaraguan authorities to reconsider this decision and to guarantee, in all circumstances, the right to freedom of association.

Between May 4 and May 31, 2022, the National Assembly of Nicaragua, with a majority in favor of the Ortega-Murillo regime, approved four Legislative Decree initiatives. The first three provide for the cancellation of the legal status of 94 associations and foundations, and the last of 83, on the grounds that these organizations do not respect their legal obligations.

These four initiatives were presented to the National Assembly by Filiberto Rodríguez, deputy of President Daniel Ortega’s party, the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front – FSLN), and at the request of the Department of Registration and control of the associations of the Minister of the Interior. Mr. Rodríguez is also President of the Peace, Defence, Governance and Human Rights Commission of the National Assembly. On June 1, he presented a new initiative to cancel the legal personality of 96 new organizations.

With regard to the legal obligations allegedly violated by the aforementioned organizations, in a general and abstract way, the initiatives indicate that they have not been registered as “foreign agents”; that for several years the organizations have not submitted their detailed financial reports; that they have not accounted for the resources they have received from abroad; and, moreover, that their boards of directors have not been updated. The organizations allegedly violated several laws, including the Anti-Money Laundering, Terrorism Financing, and Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation Financing Act 977 and its Executive Order, because their actions promote a lack of transparency in the administration of funds; and Law 147 on non-profit legal persons.

It should be noted that the National Assembly of Nicaragua had already approved two similar decrees on March 17 and April 20, 2022, canceling the legal status of 24 and 25 organizations respectively. Since December 2018, Nicaraguan authorities have outlawed at least 336 NGOs, including 253 arbitrarily shut down in 2022 so far. If we add the 96 announced, this will bring to 432 the number of civil society organizations canceled in Nicaragua.

These cancellations aim to eliminate any possible social and political vision that differs from that established by the regime. This systematic harassment, characteristic of a totalitarian state, does not only concern political or human rights organisations; Arts, media, educational, scientific, environmental and social organizations are also victims of persecution. The ultimate goal is to eliminate any possibility of an independent civil society in the country.

The regime was not content with nullifying legal status alone; in many cases, it has been accompanied by usurpation and illegal appropriation of assets, as happened with the Nicaraguan Center of Derechos Humanos (Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights-CENIDH), member organization of FIDH and OMCT, even going as far as usurpation of the offices of the Organization of American States (OAS)in violation of the international immunity that protects this type of property.

These decisions are part of a context of systematic repression since 2018 against individuals and organizations that defend and demand respect for human rights in Nicaragua. The persecution escalated in the months leading up to the November 2021 elections with the aim of eliminating all dissenting voices and political opposition and imposing a unique form of regime-controlled social organization. In addition, since October 2020, the state has passed a series of restrictive laws arbitrarily applied to restrict the democratic space in which civil society organizations and human rights defenders operate, including Law 977 against money laundering and the Foreign Agents Act 1040, the ordinances of which are contrary to international human rights law.

The Observatory strongly condemns the cancellation of the legal status of the 336 non-governmental organizations and urges the Nicaraguan authorities to immediately revoke these arbitrary decisions. They must guarantee, in all circumstances, the right to freedom of association – enshrined in the Nicaraguan Constitution – as well as in several international human rights instruments, including article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and policies.

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The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this program is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.euthe European Union Human Rights Mechanism set up by international civil society.

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