A protester holds a Nicaraguan flag over a building during a spontaneous protest against Daniel Ortega's government in Managua on June 1, 2018. Photo: Carlos Herrera / DPA / PA Images. All rights reserved.
On Wednesday December 12 the National Assembly of Nicaragua voted to cancel the legal registration of Centro Nicaraguense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH). After the announcement Vilma Nuñez, 80 years old, the president of CENIDH and one of the most recognized human rights defenders in the region declared "We have done our work with conviction and we will continue doing it until Nicaragua is really free”.
Just a week earlier I met Doña Vilma, as she is known, in Washington DC when she came with a delegation of human rights organizations from Nicaragua to participate in a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and present their testimony about the continuous repression in the country.
Her strength and commitment to the protection of civic freedoms in her country are remarkable. However, her voice had a sadness tint when talking on how the situation continues to deteriorate in Nicaragua.
During the hearing the activists from Nicaragua provided updated information to the Commission on how the human rights crisis in Nicaragua has evolved and the serious consequences for people in the country.
The organizations denounced how the State of Nicaragua continues to discourage and punish social protest and political dissent, despite the incessant calls to terminate the violence.
The threats to civic space in Nicaragua are not new. Civil society in the country has been facing growing restrictions as political power has increasingly concentrated in recent years and civic space has become completely repressed.
However, the situation has worsened since April 2018 when proposed regressive changes to the social security system sparked widespread, mass protests across the country. The government violently repressed the demonstrations. Since that more than 300 people have been killed and more than 600 remain in detention.
Abuses and violations to civic space in Nicaragua vary from violent repression of social protest, violence against journalists and censorship of the media, and arrest and criminalization of activists to the introduction of restrictions to civic space through the legislative framework.
The repression has been accompanied by disinformation efforts (for example, regarding the number of people injured or killed) and the censorship of the media to keep the situation out of the focus of attention.
While large-scale protests have diminished, the government continues to silence its critics using its state forces. The repression, moreover, has been accompanied by disinformation efforts (for example, regarding the number of people injured or killed) and the censorship of the media to keep the situation out of the focus of attention.
More recently the government decided to start canceling the legal registrations of civil society organizations. Four of them, including CENIDH, have already seen their registrations canceled. The Nicaraguan government even striped from the Nicaraguan nationality and deported the director of one of those organizations, Ana Quiroz, a Costa Rican by birth who had lived and worked in Nicaragua for more than 40 years. The panorama is extremely worrying.
The situation of CENIDH is just a sample of the harassment, persecution and repression that Human rights defenders face in the world. There is a pressing need for the international community to recognize the right to defend rights and commit with its protection. And moreover, to provide a safe space for defenders to do their work.
Last week in DC, Doña Vilma talked to us about her 60 years working for human rights protection. She talked about the hard times of the Somoza dictatorship. She talked about the hope that the Sandinist revolution had brought to the country and how it had all vanished in the last years.
She talked about her big disappointment that after a lifetime dedicated to human rights protection her country is now immerse in a repression that has left hundreds of people dead, injured and exiled. But she also talked about hope for the future and that she would keep working for human rights protection.
I know that despite the obstacles CENIDH will continue to denounce the repression and support the victims of human rights violations in Nicaragua. Doña Vilma will be at the front, as she already declared that she will persist in her work as a human rights defender until “her body allows it”.
We, from the outside, will continue to support their struggle, and admire her and all the team of CENIDH for her invaluable commitment with democracy and civic freedoms.