The human rights crisis in Nicaragua is “significant”. Because of it, there’s a strong international consensus that “the situation leading up to the elections is extremely concerning.” These are the affirmations of Alberto Brunori, who represents the Central American and Dominican Republic office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
“In the years I’ve been in the United Nations, there’s never been a case of four presidential candidates detained in an eight-day period, just five months before the elections. It represents a grave attack and a failure to understand the recommendations of the UN High Commissioner and of the entire international community,” Brunori declared.
Brunori is skeptical about the process of investigation the Public Prosecutor’s office in Nicaragua has launched against the four presidential candidates. These candidates have been arbitrarily imprisoned under “a mechanism for their criminalization”. The aim appears to be hindering their official registration as candidates for the upcoming elections.
In the face of this repressive escalation and the intensification of the human rights violations, Brunori affirms that Daniel Ortega’s government is “going down an alley that Nicaraguans don’t deserve,” in an electoral year where there are no appropriate conditions.
In response to the human rights crisis in Nicaragua, Brunori hopes the reports from the UN Office of the High Commissioner can help resolve the crisis. “I believe that the international community is aligned behind the Human Rights Council’s resolution. This consensus will help increase international pressure.”
What’s the OHCHR’s assessment of this repressive escalation against freedom and human rights in Nicaragua?
The situation seems to us extremely concerning. The High Commissioner, as well as the regional office in Panama, have had to issue several public calls, urging the Nicaraguan government to reconsider several the actions they’ve taken.
As of this moment, four presidential candidates have been arrested, plus other opposition figures. There are over 120 prisoners of conscience who’ve been in prison for months, and even years. Have there been any other such flagrant violations of human, civil and political rights in the recent history of the region?
Those of us involved with Human Rights don’t really like to make comparisons between countries. Each country has its own context and history, and it’s difficult to compare tendencies. But, yes, I can tell you that the Nicaraguan situation obviously worries us very deeply. It concerns us that a country of six and a half million inhabitants had 300 deaths, 2,000 wounded and around 100,000 people who’ve asked for asylum in other countries – all in 2018. That’s a very high number for a country like that. Evidently, the situation is of great magnitude, in terms of human rights violations.
“In the years I’ve been at the United Nations, at least, I’m not aware of another case of four presidential candidates being detained over an eight-day period, with just five months remaining before the elections. Honestly, I’d never heard of anything like that. It represents a grave attack, and, especially, a failure to understand the recommendations of the High Commissioner and the entire international community.
There’s an international consensus that the situation is extremely worrisome. In view of the approaching elections, there are multiple calls out for [the Nicaraguan government] to reconsider their actions.
In a two-week period, the Public Prosecutor’s office has interviewed dozens of journalists and citizens for an investigation of alleged money laundering on the part of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation. They’ve also ordered preventive detention for prominent members of the opposition. What’s your assessment of the work being carried out by the Nicaraguan Public Prosecutor’s Office?
The [Violeta Barrios] Foundation is recognized nationally and internationally for the role it’s played in defending free expression. So, it certainly draws attention that just a few months before the elections, at a time when the Foundation has already ceased operations, the Prosecutors would be suddenly investigating them for illicit association.
In addition, I believe that the police declarations against three of candidates arrested appeared to be copies of each other. They speak of terrorism, of an attack on independence, on the country’s law of self-determination. (…) Opening such cases a few months before the elections generates suspicion.
Frankly, that’s why we’ve asked for them to be freed. It would all seem to be a mechanism to criminalize them, to avoid their official inscription as candidates. We understand that they have until July 28 to do so. Further, the reforms to the penal code have extended the deadline [for the accused] to be presented before the judge and have extended the investigation period. So, practically speaking, there are 90 days in which they can delay advancing, and absolutely nothing happens. Meanwhile, the people are being held. On top of that, they’re then prohibited from holding public office.
Can elections be held under these repressive conditions that you’ve documented?
We observe Rights. In conditions like these, we’ve detected many human rights violations. (…) I believe there’s a consensus in the international community that – if things continue in this direction – it’s very difficult to arrive at credible, transparent elections, as the High Commissioner has called for.
According to what I read and see in the international declarations, [the government] is heading into a dead end that I’m sure Nicaraguans don’t deserve. A change of policy is really necessary, an opening in view of the elections. Neither the OHCHR nor the UN interferes in political matters, but we work to guaranteeing that minimal conditions exist, so that the elections can satisfy the majority of the population.
When the UN Human Rights office presents a report on the Nicaraguan crisis, citizens here expect some international response to the crisis. What can the UN Human Rights Council do about Nicaragua?
The UN does whatever its member states manage to agree on. There’s been a very broad consensus on Nicaragua. The Council recently asked the Office and the High Commissioner to maintain a permanent alert, and to remain attentive to the Nicaraguan situation. There’ll be an oral report presented in a few days, and then another in September. A more complete report will be presented later, in February 2022.
So, the international community is paying attention, and increasing the pressure through these resolutions. The European Union issued a statement that was quite harsh. If there are no changes, they may even consider more drastic measures. We’ve seen other countries announce similarly drastic measures.
I believe that the international community is aligned behind the Council’s resolution, and we’ll see what the next steps are. The Human Rights Council can’t perform miracles, but the consensus of the international community certainly helps increase international pressure. I think that’s something positive for Nicaragua and its people.