Nicaragua: UN experts denounce arbitrary shutdown of civil society organisations

GENEVA (29 July 2022) – The arbitrary shutdown of hundreds of civil society organisations in Nicaragua is deeply concerning and would have a chilling effect on activists and human rights defenders across the country, UN experts* warned today.

In a letter (*) addressed to the Nicaraguan Government on Monday, UN experts said the cancellation of the legal personality of hundreds of associations “represents a clear pattern of repressing civic space.”

The experts echoed a statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier this year regarding the crackdown on civil society in Nicaragua.

They expressed shock about the wide extent of the shutdowns by the National Assembly at the request of the Government. They counted the closure of more than 700 organisations, 487 of them only in the past month.

Even though the closure of civic space has been observed since the political unrest in 2018, the closure of organisations has accelerated as a result of a 2020 Law on Foreign Agents and a 2022 Law on Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organizations (NPO), which was recently enforced.

Ahead of the NPO Law entering into force in May, the experts provided their legal analysis and expressed their concerns. Specifically, the NPO Law imposes burdensome administrative and registration procedures, the disclosure of data of beneficiaries, and significantly restricts foreign funding. To date, the experts have not received a response to their observations.

“We regret to see that, once again, counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering legislation is being misused to unnecessarily and disproportionately restrict the activities of civil society and fundamental freedoms,” the experts said, pointing to a global trend.

They said the shutdowns have not only affected human rights organisations, including those working towards the rights of women and indigenous people, but also those that promote democratic values and counter the negative effects of climate change.

The shutdowns also impact associations that provide humanitarian aid and medical services as well as educational, cultural and artistic institutions, and religious foundations.

“This situation will have even more devastating consequences for marginalised individuals and groups who rely on those services for their survival, for instance, rural and indigenous communities, children and youth, women, migrants and asylum seekers,” the experts said.

The UN experts expressed concern about the deterring effect that these shutdowns have on members of civil society. Hundreds of activists have already fled the country and sought refuge in neighbouring States due to fear of reprisals, they said.

“We urge the State to abstain from further closures and immediately reverse these severe restrictions on associations. A functioning, well-established and diverse civic and political space is key in any democratic country,” the experts said.

(*) Allegation letters from Special Procedures mandate holders are available to the public after 60 days they have been sent to Member States, in the following database:

*The experts: Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; The Working Group on discrimination against women and girls: Melissa Upreti (Chair), Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić, and Meskerem Geset Techane; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights;

The Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.