Human rights defenders resist Ortega’s all-out assault

Exterior view of the office of the Permanent Human Rights Commission in Managua, Nicaragua. Photo: Jorge Torres/EFE

Threats, imprisonment, exile and the cancellation of their legal status are some of the Ortega-Murillo government’s strategies to silence human rights defenders.

By confidential

HAVANA TIMES – The cancellation of the non-profit legal status of the Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH) on April 20 and the forced exile of its directors – Marcos Carmona and Denis Darce – are the latest chapter in the continuation of the Ortega-Murillo regime. persecution of human rights defenders in Nicaragua. The socio-political and human rights crisis in which the country has been plunged since 2018 has left at least 355 dead, more than a thousand injured and thousands imprisoned for their political beliefs. Of these, 180 remain locked up as political prisoners. Despite all this, human rights defenders are determined to resist the onslaught.

Ortega’s regime shut down all NGOs that focused on human rights in the country, forcing dozens of activists into exile to avoid imprisonment for their work. Other human rights defenders were unable or unwilling to leave the country to avoid being arrested. CPDH human rights lawyer Maria Oviedo has been found guilty and sentenced twice by the justice system run by Ortega. In August 2019, she was found guilty of allegedly obstructing public office and sentenced to 30 days in prison. Then, in July 2021, she was again arrested and charged; in February 2022, she was found guilty of “criminal association with a view to undermining national integrity”. This time she was sentenced to eight years in prison, where she remains.

Ortega also expelled international human rights organizations from the national territory: the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua; the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts of the International Commission on Human Rights; and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Last March, they even expelled Thomas Ess, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Apostolic Nuncio Waldemar Sommertag.

Vilma Nuñez is president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh), the first human rights organization to be abolished. In addition to stripping the organization of its legal status in December 2018, the regime confiscated their offices. Vilma Nuñez claims that the persecution of those who defend human rights is part of the regime’s strategy of “sowing terror during the most critical moments of repression”.

In 2018, Cenidh “was the organization that spearheaded the denunciations of human rights at the national and international level”, Nuñez pointed out. Therefore, for the regime, “it was essential to silence this voice, because it was the moment when it was necessary to sow terror. And, up to a point, they succeeded.

After annulling and confiscating Cenidh, the regime launched a series of threats against its human rights defenders, forcing many of them into exile to preserve their freedom.

Ortega seeks to avoid all documentation and systematization

Carlos Guadamuz of Nicaragua Nonca + [“Nicaragua Never Again”] Human Rights Collective – founded in Costa Rica by exiled Nicaraguan human rights defenders – believes that the cancellation of human rights NGOs in Nicaragua is due to “[the regime’s] genuine interest in suppressing the documentation and systematization” of human rights violations that have been and are still being committed in the country.

The threats, persecution and imprisonment suffered by human rights defenders are “a real tragedy”, says Guadamuz. This situation “limits the political rights” of lawyers, as well as citizens. “The only observable public policy [in all this] is to keep Ortega in power,” the lawyer added.

Marcos Carmona, executive secretary of the CPDH, told a press conference following the cancellation of his NGO that the regime’s general assault on those who defend human rights is due to the fact: “that there is no will on the part of the government to have human rights organizations documenting the abuses committed in this country.

Carmona argued that the cancellation of the NGOs affects all Nicaraguans, because, “in a way, the CPDH was the only institution left [legally] document arbitrary actions and abuses committed by different branches of state power and by different officials.

Other human rights organizations that the regime has canceled include the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights.

Advocacy continues despite lack of legal status

Despite the cancellation of their organisations’ legal non-profit status, human rights defenders continue their work to expose violations of the human rights of Nicaraguans. Cenidh does its work online; the Nicaragua Nonca + Human Rights Collective operates from Costa Rica; and CPDH has established an office in Miami, Florida.

“Of course, the fact that we have no office affects us, as does the fact that we are persecuted through a despicable and slanderous campaign of personal destruction, attributing all kinds of criminal behavior to us,” said Vilma Nuñez. But the closure of the organization does not mean the end of their defense of human rights. “We continue,” assured Nuñez.

The human rights defender pointed out that, given the current repressive context in Nicaragua, “what we are left with is public denunciation as a human rights defense mechanism. So that the whole world knows and is made aware of the situation. In addition, she said, appeals can be made to international protection mechanisms, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the International Court of Human Rights, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Council.

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