Nicaragua Leaves the OAS, but the OAS Doesn’t Leave Nicaragua

The U.S. announces it will maintain political pressure on the regime. The exit will not affect the link with other bodies of the Inter-American system

Salida de Nicaragua de la OEA

22 de noviembre 2023


Nicaragua left the Organization of American States (OAS) on Sunday, November 19, 2023, becoming the second Latin American country to voluntarily leave the organization; the first was Venezuela. Nicaragua's exit will increase the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship's self-isolation from the international community. However, representatives of the OAS and member states maintain that they will not end their monitoring of the human rights situation in the country. Nicaragua will also continue to be linked to the inter-American system through the autonomous and specialized bodies of the oldest regional institution in the world.

Nicaragua's withdrawal from the OAS comes two years after the Ortega-Murillo regime denounced the organization's Constitutive Charter. The dictatorship said the regional organization exhibited "constant interfering attitudes" related to its approval of resolutions condemning the violations against the Nicaraguan people. In the intervening two years, Nicaragua was required to comply with all its political and financial obligations with the OAS, although in practice it simply excluded itself.

Since the civic protests of April 2018, the OAS Permanent Council has approved 12 resolutions on Nicaragua. In all of them, it condemned the repression and in seven it demanded the release of political prisoners. Five of those 12 resolutions were approved in the two years since the dictatorship announced its departure. The last resolution was approved by consensus, on November 8, 2023, indicating that Nicaragua's exit "does not leave without effect" its legal obligations and the requirements of the Inter-American conventions the country has ratified.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs of the U.S. State Department Eric Jacobstein, believes that "Nicaragua's decision [to leave the OAS] is a flagrant move to undermine OAS efforts to hold the regime accountable for its continued human rights abuses."

In an interview with the Voice of America on November 17, the official added that the United States and the coalition of member states in the OAS continue to evaluate how they can "work to pressure Nicaragua to cease repression and restore democracy." A day earlier, U.S. President Joe Biden reaffirmed that the dictatorship is a "threat" to the United States, and extended for another year the validity of Executive Order 13851, which establishes sanctions for Ortega's officials and operators.

Jacobstein stated that he could not prescribe exact formulas for removing sanctions on the Ortega dictatorship. "But certainly," he added, "steps must be taken with respect to democracy, human rights, and also with respect to the troubling relationship between the Ortega regime and Russia."

Apart from what is happening inside the OAS, during the last two years the regime has hardened its stance towards the regional organization. In April 2022, the National Police –under the command of Ortega and Murillo–- took over the OAS offices in Managua by military force. Then the offices were confiscated by the Attorney General's Office, and a year later, in February 2023, the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN-Managua) inaugurated the building as a study center called the Father Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann Sovereignty House.

OAS will continue to monitor Nicaragua

Costa Rican international affairs analyst, Carlos Murillo Zamora, explains that once the withdrawal is formalized, "Nicaragua loses all its rights and benefits in the OAS. It cannot participate in the organization's meetings, and it cannot claim anything that is discussed in the forums."

However, Murillo Zamora says that this fact doesn't change the current situation, given that Nicaragua "has practically not had a relationship with the regional organization" since the end of 2021.

The former Nicaraguan ambassador to the OAS, Arturo McFields, considers that with this "political move," the regime is further isolating itself from the Inter-American community, but at the same time he affirms that the organization "has made a commitment to not forget the Nicaraguan people."

In the latest OAS resolution on Nicaragua, the Permanent Council expressed that it "will continue to pay special attention to the situation in Nicaragua, making its best efforts to promote and encourage Nicaragua's full respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all citizens of the country."

By withdrawing from the OAS, the binding effect of the organization's future resolutions or declarations on Nicaragua is lost, but "it's possible to continue issuing them," the former ambassador points out. However, he warns that "if before [the OAS] wasn't able to have an impact on Nicaragua, now that it has withdrawn, it will have much less."

In addition to the resolutions in the Permanent Council, the OAS General Assembly of Foreign Ministers has also addressed the situation in Nicaragua. Since the civic protests of April 2018, this main authority of the regional body has approved six resolutions on the crisis in Nicaragua.

Regime is required to comply with resolutions

Despite its departure, Nicaragua is still obliged to respect all human rights reflected in established norms, such as the human rights contained in the multilateral human rights conventions to which it is a party, and the general principles of international law that ensure the universal protection of human dignity. In addition, Nicaragua must comply with all the resolutions it has ignored over the years. 

The denunciation of the OAS Charter "does not render ineffective the other legal obligations for which [Nicaragua] is responsible by virtue of its ratification of other inter-American conventions, in particular, but not exclusively, those related to the promotion and protection of human rights," the latest OAS resolution states.

Nicaragua was one of the founding members of the OAS in 1948. It ratified the American Convention on Human Rights in 1979 and accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 1991.

Since 2018, the representative bodies of the Inter-American Human Rights System have issued more than 140 decisions with regards to Nicaragua: 118 precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and 28 provisional measures by the Inter-American Court (IACHR Court).

Three contentious cases against Nicaragua are also pending before the IACHR Court: Carrión et al. v. Nicaragua; The Rama and Kriol Peoples, the Monkey Point Community and the Black Creole Indigenous Community of Bluefields and their members v. Nicaragua; and Gadea Mantilla v. Nicaragua. In these cases, the State has obligations to respond in a comprehensive manner.

All the pending lawsuits "must continue," explains Murillo Zamora. This is because they began when Nicaragua was a signatory to the OAS Charter and therefore, the government is obliged to respond.

Still part of the the IDB or Pan American Health Organization, despite departure

The denunciation of the OAS Charter has no repercussions on Nicaragua's continued membership in the specialized organizations of the OAS and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), of which Nicaragua is a founding member. However, it is possible that these entities will "take note" of what has happened and take it into consideration when providing technical cooperation or approving loans for the country.

"The IDB is an independent organization and therefore, it is foreseeable that, while its governors will take note of the fact that Nicaragua is no longer part of the OAS, any action they might assess or consider will be something they will have to adopt and approve within the statutes of the OAS," explained attorney Harold Rocha, an expert in international law and member of the Nicaraguan diaspora in the United States, during an interview on the program Esta Semana.

Nicaragua can rejoin at any time it wishes

When Foreign Minister Denis Moncada denounced the OAS Charter, he insisted it was a "permanent" decision. However, analysts agree that the country could be reincorporated into the regional organization when there is a change of Administration.

While there are no precedents of countries that have withdrawn from the OAS and then applied for reinstatement, the example of Cuba is interesting. In 1962 the island was expelled from the regional organization; in 2009 the expulsion resolution was eliminated. 

In the case of Nicaragua, Murillo Zamora signals that "the most likely scenario is that if there is a change –however that happens–, and the Ortega-Murillo regime disappears, everything indicates that [Nicaragua] will return to the Inter-American system as a full member."

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.


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Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.