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Nicaragua: Rights experts denounce shutdown of over 700 civil society groups

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“They were students, not criminals” reads a 2018 demonstrator’s placard in Managua, Nicaragua. (file)

The arbitrary shutdown of hundreds of civil society organizations in Nicaragua is deeply concerning and will have a chilling effect on activists and human rights defenders across the country, UN-appointed independent human rights experts said on Friday.

In a letter to the Nicaraguan Government last Monday, the group of 16 UN experts upheld that the action “represents a clear pattern of repressing civic space”.

The UN experts echoed a statement earlier this year by the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the crackdown.

They expressed shock over the extent of the shutdowns by the National Assembly at the request of the Government – counting more than 700 closures, 487 in just the past month.

Counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering legislation is being misused – UN experts

Bending laws

Even though room for non-governmental organisations to operate in has been reduced since political protests against the administration of President Daniel Ortega began in 2018, the recent enforcement of a 2020 Law on Foreign Agents and a 2022 Law on Regulation and Control of Non-Profit Organizations (NPO) has accelerated closures.

Ahead of the NPO Law that entered into force in May, the experts provided legal analysis along with their concerns.

Specifically, the 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 any response to their concerns.

“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, highlighting a global trend.

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Squashing rights

They maintained that 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 move has also impacted 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 marginalized 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.

Activists driven overseas

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

We urge the State to abstain from further closures and immediately reverse these severe restrictions on associations,” the experts said.

“A functioning, well-established and diverse civic and political space is key in any democratic country”.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.

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