“Problematic,” an “offense” to democracy, or a “violation” of human rights are some of the adjectives that the recently submitted “Law for the regulation of foreign agents” has received in the international arena. The bill was introduced last week to the National Assembly by the Ortega government. Nicaragua jurists and constitutional experts say the law aims to “segregate” citizens into two categories: “legitimates” and “foreign agents.”
Twenty-one European Parliament Members (MEP) wrote to President Ortega, expressing their “concern” before the “imminent approval” of the legislation. They urge him to “reconsider” and “exhort” him to not ratify it.
The European parliamentarians warned that the legislation “can become a real limitation to political participation of movements, organizations, associations, which receive international funding for development projects.”
Such a situation, “is a serious violation of human rights” they said. “Above all in the context of growing polarization and a climate of intimidation and threats perceived by human rights defenders.”
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The MEPs added that the future law “is not based on any study or risk analysis and would violate, among other rights, the constitutional rights to privacy of information, the right to work and freedom of association.
Leave behind “dictatorship”
The bill, presented by the Ortega caucus, which holds an absolute majority in the National Assembly, orders that any natural or legal person who receives funds from foreign organizations, persons or governments, must register with the Ministry of the Interior, and report the resources they receive, including donors, and what they use them for.
The legislative proposal establishes exceptions to foreign pensioners, those who receive family remittances, foreign productive and commercial companies with subsidiaries in Nicaragua, factories and supermarket chains with foreign investment, and those who have commercial relationships under agreements, treaties or trade agreements in force.
The MEPs recalled that, during the last 40 years “the joint action of civil society in Nicaragua and Europe has been a basis of the social model that seeks to leave behind the dictatorship (of Somoza) experienced, so that it never returns.”
“This joint action is based on trust, confidentiality and freedom of expression and information,” they highlighted.
“We believe in a vigorous civil society, the need to discuss and debate, whether in agreement or disagreement. The repression of the opposition and the silencing of their voices is not the way to go. Dialogue is,” they mentioned. “We take note of the serious concern expressed by organizations and NGOs against this law. We hope their voice will be heard.”
Criticism on Twitter
One of the signatories of the letter, Spanish MEP Jose Ramon Bauza said this “Russian-style bill” by Ortega and Murillo marks the end of the democratic opposition in Nicaragua.”
“To stop it, I demand from the European Union: diplomatic condemnation, debate in the European Parliament, sanctions against the regime, plus the suspension from the Association Agreement” between the EU and Central America, if the law is approved, he added.
Meanwhile, the US Subsecretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Affairs, Michael Kozak, wrote that “Ortega’s Foreign Agents Law is an offense against democracy in Nicaragua.”
“Instead of protecting the sovereignty (of Nicaragua), this law seeks to criminalize independent media and pro-democracy groups. We are with the Nicaraguan people who resist this attack on freedom,” he said.
Different sectors of the Nicaraguan opposition, humanitarian organizations, business associations, among others, have expressed their rejection of this initiative. They maintain it seeks to control, neutralize and “criminalize” organized dissidence, NGOs, political parties, civil society, and the independent press.
The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) analyzed the proposed law. It said the Ortega initiative is “problematic” and “follows the same trend that we have analyzed in other countries such as Russia, Hungary, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, which have established legal restrictions on access to foreign funds” by civil society organizations.
The laws passed in these countries classify the beneficiaries of international cooperation as “agents” of their donors. They impose “stigmatizing and onerous requirements with severe penalties for technical non-compliance.”
The ICNL is a non-profit organization that provides global technical assistance, research and training “to promote more supportive legal environments” for civil society organizations. It has worked with partners in more than 100 countries.
The analysis determines that the proposed law “is problematic because it does not comply with the international standards that guarantee the exercise of the right of association, which establishes that States must promote and facilitate access by organizations to national and foreign cooperation funds, as well as to refrain from restricting their means of financing.”
The International Center listed the main obstacles and difficulties that Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) will face, with the approval of this law:
- Excessive and ambiguous restrictions on exercising the right to association and civic participation for people in Nicaraguan who work with or are beneficiaries of cooperation agencies or other similar foreign entities;
- Unjustified restrictions on the ability to request and use donations to carry out legitimate CSO activities;
- The stigmatization of CSOs by publicly labelling them as “foreign agents” and by defining them as entities “that respond to organizations that belong or are controlled by foreign government or entities;”
- Additional onerous information requirements that could result in a violation of the privacy of CSOs and their donors; and
- The establishment of a system of disproportioned penalties such as the cancellation of legal status and freezing of assets for administrative offenses.