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Human rights defenders resist the regime’s onslaught

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

The cancelation of the legal non-profit status of the Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH) on April 20, and the forced exile of its directors – Marcos Carmona and Denis Darce – are the latest chapter in the Ortega-Murillo regime’s continued persecution of human rights advocates in Nicaragua. The sociopolitical and human rights crisis the country has been immersed in since 2018 has left at least 355 people murdered, over a thousand wounded and thousands imprisoned for their political beliefs. Of the latter, 180 remain locked up as political prisoners. Despite all this, the human rights advocates are determined to resist the assault.

The Ortega regime has closed all the NGOs that focused on human rights in the country, forcing dozens of advocates into exile in order to avoid being jailed for their work. Other human rights defenders were unable or unwilling to leave the country to avoid arrest. Human rights attorney Maria Oviedo of the CPDH has twice been found guilty and sentenced by the Ortega-directed justice system. In August 2019, she was declared guilty of supposed obstruction of public functions and sentenced to 30 days in jail. Then, in July 2021, she was again arrested and charged; in February 2022, she was declared guilty of “conspiracy to undermine the national integrity”. This time, she was sentenced to eight years in prison, where she remains.

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

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

In 2018, Cenidh “was the organization that was spearheading the human rights denunciations on a national and international level,” Nuñez pointed out. Therefore, for the regime, “it was essential to silence that voice, because it was the moment when they had to spread terror. And, to a certain point, they succeeded at that.”

After canceling and confiscating Cenidh, the regime went on to launch a series of threats against their human rights advocates, forcing many to go into exile to safeguard their freedom.

Ortega seeks to avoid any documentation and systemization

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

The threats, persecution and imprisonment that the human rights defenders suffer are “a true tragedy”, Guadamuz feels. This situation “limits the political rights” of the advocates, as well as the citizens. “The only public policy that can be observed [in all this] is to maintain Ortega in power,” the advocate added.

Marcos Carmona, executive secretary of the CPDH, declared at a press conference following the cancellation of his NGO that the regime’s all-out assault against those who defend human rights is because: “there’s no will on the part of the government to have human rights organizations documenting the abuses committed in this country.”

Carmona maintained that the NGOs cancelation affects all Nicaraguans, because, “in some way, the CPDH was the only institution left [legally] to document the arbitrary actions and the abuses committed by the different branches of state power and by the different functionaries.”

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

Advocacy continues despite the lack of legal status

Despite the cancelation of their organizations’ legal non-profit status, human rights defenders continue their work of denouncing the violations of Nicaraguans’ human rights. Cenidh carries out their work online; the Nicaragua Nunca + Human Rights Collective operates from Costa Rica; and the CPDH has established an office in Miami, Florida.

“Of course, the fact that we don’t have an office affects us, as does the fact that we’re persecuted through a vile and slanderous campaign of personal destruction, attributing all kinds of criminal conduct to us,” declared Vilma Nuñez. But the closure of the organization in no way signifies the end of their defense of human rights. “We continue on,” Nuñez assured.

The human rights defender stressed that, given the current repressive context in Nicaragua, “what’s left to us is the public denunciation as a mechanism for human rights defense. So that the whole world knows, and is made aware of the situation.” In addition, she said appeals can be made to the international protective mechanisms, such as the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights, the International Human Rights Court, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Human Rights Council.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times

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