Amnesty International Report 2016/17 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Nicaragua

Conflict over land in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region sparked violent attacks against Miskitu Indigenous Peoples. Human rights defenders continued to experience threats and intimidation because of their work. Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities denounced violations of their rights to consultation and free, prior and informed consent in the context of the development of the Grand Interoceanic Canal. Communities and human rights organizations expressed concern at the potential negative impact of the Canal on their lives. A total abortion ban remained in place.


In November, Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) was re-elected President for a third consecutive term. Rosario Murillo, his wife, was elected Vice-President for the first time. According to media reports, the FSLN also increased their representation in the Congress.

Women’s rights

Impunity for gender-based violence against women persisted. A local observatory run by women’s rights organizations reported that between January and October there had been 44 gender-based killings of women, 30 of which remained unprosecuted.

Women living in poverty continued to be the main victims of maternal mortality, and Nicaragua had one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the Americas region. Abortion was banned in all circumstances, even when vital to save the woman’s life.

Grand Interoceanic Canal 

The proposal to build the Grand Interoceanic Canal continued to generate controversy, with civil society organizations reporting a number of potential human rights violations linked to the project. According to local organizations, if built, the Canal would lead to the eviction of tens of thousands of people and would directly affect the livelihoods of peasant farmer communities, Indigenous Peoples and others.

In April, members of the National Council for the Defence of the Land, Lake and National Sovereignty presented the National Assembly’s First Secretary a citizen-sponsored bill supported by nearly 7,000 signatories calling for the repeal of the law regulating the Canal. Also in April, the proposal was rejected on grounds of lack of competence.1 The issue was referred to the Supreme Court and a decision was pending at the end of the year.2

In February, leaders from affected Indigenous and Afro-descendant Rama-Kriol communities brought their case before a national court. They stated that officials had pressured communities to give consent to the project. According to the appeal, 52% of the Canal’s route would affect Indigenous and Afro-descendant Rama-Kriol communities.3

In May, authorities from the RamaKriol community brought an action before a Court of Appeal. The communal authorities alleged that the agreement of prior, free and informed consent for the implementation of the Grand Interoceanic Canal had been signed without an effective consultation process. In June, the Court of Appeal declared the petition inadmissible. In July, community leaders and authorities filed another appeal with the Supreme Court; a decision was pending at the end of the year.4

Indigenous Peoples’ rights

Violence flared in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region. Indigenous Miskitu Peoples were threatened, attacked, subjected to sexual violence, killed and forcibly displaced by non-Indigenous settlers.

Against this background of territorial conflict and a lack of effective protection measures from the state, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures in favour of Miskitu Peoples. In addition, in September the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the state to immediately adopt all necessary measures to end the current violence and guarantee respect of the right to life, personal and territorial integrity and cultural identity.

Human rights defenders

In June, a shelter run by the Civil Foundation for Support to Women Victims of Violence was raided. There was no evidence of a serious attempt by the authorities to investigate the incident.

In June, six foreign environmental activists were detained and expelled from the country. In the same context, several community members, who had publicly expressed their concerns about the Grand Interoceanic Canal's impact on their livelihoods, were briefly detained.

In August, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures in favour of human rights defenders at the Centre for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. According to the Commission, the defenders had stated that they had received death threats because of their work on Indigenous rights.

In October, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held a hearing in the case of Acosta et al. v Nicaragua. According to his family, Francisco García, who was killed in 2002, was targeted because of his wife's human rights work as director of the Centre for Legal Assistance for Indigenous Peoples. His relatives allege that the state failed to diligently investigate the attack.

In addition, the Co-ordinator of the National Council for the Defence of the Land, Lake and National Sovereignty, reported intimidation and harassment against her and her family. She had actively denounced the potential impact of the Grand Interoceanic Canal on Nicaraguan peasant farmer communities.

  1. Nicaragua: The state must guarantee the security and integrity of communities peacefully demonstrating their concerns over construction of the Canal (AMR 43/3887/2016)
  2. Nicaragua: Authorities must listen to those expressing concern over the Grand Interoceanic Canal (AMR 43/4744/2016)
  3. Nicaragua side-lines local communities over multi-billion dollar canal (News story, 9 February 2016)
  4. Nicaragua: El Estado nicaragüense no debe ignorar a las comunidades indígenas y afrodescendientes que demandan el respeto a sus derechos (AMR 43/4919/2016)