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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Nicaragua

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Nicaragua, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

On January 10, 2007, Mr. Daniel José Ortega Saavedra, leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional – FSLN), became President of the Republic after a controversial election. Mr. Ortega was elected on November 5, 2006 with only 38% of the votes, as provided by a pact made in 2000 with the leader of the Liberal Constitutional Party (Partido Liberal Constitucionalista – PLC), which, inter alia, lowered the majority required in the first run of the ballot.

A real concentration of power was then witnessed. The President's wife, Mrs. Rosario Murillo, in addition to coordinating communication at the Presidency of the Republic, is also Executive Secretary of the National Council for Economic and Social Planning (Consejo Nacional de Planificación Económica Social – CONPES), and is in charge at national, departmental and local level of the new Citizens' Power Councils (Consejos del Poder Ciudadano – CPC), which aim is to establish a link between State institutions and the people.

In 2007, the Government also took certain normative and institutional measures, some of which aimed at greater transparency in the public administration and more effective control of corruption, mainly through better access for citizens to information about the management of State institutions and agencies. Measures were also taken to improve access to primary education, medical care, and to combat poverty.

Poverty however is still the rule among the people: the richest 10% of the population absorbs 30% of the national income, while the poorest 40% only gets 10% of the income. Criminality remains at a high level, particularly in connection with drug trafficking networks, and the police are guilty of exactions, notably during detention. In addition, the families of victims get no protection: Ms. Villanueva Delgadillo Obando, for example, was killed on March 20, 2007 on her way to the Nueva Guinea Court in order to support her sons, who were tortured during detention. The prison population increased by 14% compared to 2006, and is detained in decrepit and insalubrious prisons. At the end of October 2007, according to the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights (Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos – CENIDH), there were 6,701 persons detained in the country's eight penitentiary centres, of which 1,290 were in preventive detention and 5,411 were serving their sentence.

The judicial system is still in the hands of the political parties (FSLN and PLC in particular) and influential economic and religious sectors. Such a climate, which encourages influence peddling and vote-catching, does nothing to guarantee fundamental rights such as the principle of equality before the law, and fosters corruption of the judicial system.

Concerning the freedom of information, on May 16, 2007 the Parliament of Nicaragua passed Law 621 on Access to Public Information (Ley de Acceso a la Información Publica), which came into force on December 20, 2007. Although the law is a real step forward, in practiceit does not seem to reflect an opening on the part of the Government, despite its enthusiastic reception. Information within the Government appears to be increasingly controlled and centralised, as evidenced by the role of the President's wife, who is in charge of communication for all the ministries and the main Government initiatives, which are carried out with the utmost discretion.

Smear campaigns against human rights defenders

In 2007, human rights defenders were exposed to considerable criticism on the part of Government officials, to the extent of discrediting their work. Early in 2007, for instance, the judicial authorities waged a smear and defamation campaign against CENIDH. The Human Rights Prosecutor in particular, Mr. Omar Cabezas Lacavo, stated publicly that the action of the organisation "disgusted" him, and asserted that organisations such as CENIDH "set themselves up in districts and towns only in order to attract journalists". And on July 21, 2007, during the closing ceremony of the São Paulo Forum, President Ortega accused the civil society organisations of paying people to take part in demonstrations calling for better social conditions and more respect for human rights. Such accusations were in particular aimed at the "Civil Coordination" (Coordinadora Civil), which plays a central role in the fight for democratisation, fair redistribution of wealth, citizen participation, reduction of poverty and against corruption. In addition the organisations, including CENIDH, were accused of "defending delinquents" and of "having joined the opposition".

Acts of intimidation against defenders of women's rights

In 2007, defenders of women's rights, in particular the right to therapeutic abortion, were subjected to acts of intimidation designed to deter them from taking action. Following the adoption in 2006 by the National Assembly of Law 603 criminalising therapeutic abortions, as an exemption from an existing article of the Criminal Code, various civil society organisations fighting against the exemption lodged an appeal on January 8, 2007 on the grounds that the law was contrary to the Constitution. In addition, a number of organisations, including the Women against Violence Network, the Women's Autonomous Movement, the Feminist Movement and CENIDH, waged in 2007 a campaign against the new Law through demonstrations, sit-ins and television announcements. The Law was nevertheless ratified on September 13, 2007 and written into the new Criminal Code.

As a result, the members of these organisations were subjected to acts of reprisal, judicial proceedings in particular, as was the case for nine leaders of women's and childhood defence organisations1; two complaints were lodged against them in October 2007 with the Public Prosecutor by the Executive Director of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (Asociación Nicaragüense Pro Derechos Humanos – ANPDH),2 for "offences against the administration of justice", "dissimulation of the crime of rape", "criminal conspiracy" and "apology of crime".

Reprisals against defenders fighting corruption and exactions committed by security forces and the authorities

In 2007, defenders attempting to denounce the corruption prevailing in Government bodies were subjected to acts of intimidation and harassment. Mr. Gerardo Miranda, for instance, former FSLN MP, lodged a complaint for "defamation", and the General Prosecutor of the Republic threatened to launch legal proceedings against Mr. Carlos Fernando Chamorro, a journalist who, on May 27, 2007, had broadcast in his television programme Esta Semana a report denouncing acts of corruption supposedly committed by Mr. Miranda and other FSLN leaders. In addition, the official media waged a smear campaign against the journalist, calling him for instance "a Mafia stealer of land".

Furthermore, the men and women who fought impunity and denounced exactions committed by the police and the authorities were also subjected to acts of reprisal. For instance, Mr. Marcos Carmona, Executive Secretary of the Permanent Commission for Human Rights (Comisión Permanente de Derechos Humanos – CPDH), has constantly received death threats since June 2006, when CPDH lodged a complaint with the General Prosecutor of the Republic against the leaders of the Sandinista Government of the 1980s, accusing them of being the presumed authors of crimes against humanity committed against the Miskita communities. In February and March 2007, Mr. Carmona received several death threats by telephone and e-mail.

Acts of harassment against defenders of environmental rights

In 2007, defenders of environmental rights were also subjected to repression. Mr. Pablo Antonio Centeno Madrigal, a member of the CENIDH "Padre César Jérez" Human Rights Promotion Network (Red de Promotores de Derechos Humanos del CENIDH "Padre Cesar Jerez"), and of the "Yes to Life" Environmentalist Movement in the city of León (Movimiento Ambientalista "Si a la Vida"), as well as a leader of the Sutiava indigenous community, was twice arrested, in January and July 2007, and prosecuted for "setting fire to the San Antonio sugar cane company", in connection with facts dating back to January 23, 2007. Mr. Centeno is known for his activities in favour of the right to the environment, and in particular for having denounced the damage caused to the environment and public health by the San Antonio company. Mr. Centeno was finally acquitted on August 13, 2007.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 Ms. Ana María Pizarro, Ms. Juana Antonia Jiménez, Ms. Lorna Norori Gutiérrez, Ms. Martha María Blandón, Ms. Luisa Molina Arguello, Ms. Martha Munguía Alvarado, Ms. Mayra Sirias, Ms. Yamileth Mejía Palma and Ms. Violeta Delgado Sarmiento.

2 ANPDH is an organisation chaired by Bishop Abelardo Matta, head of the Catholic Church and leader of the anti-abortion movement in Nicaragua.

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