Nicaragua’s National Assembly has hastily pushed through a new law entitled: Regulation and Control of Non-profit Organizations. The new law prohibits these organizations from engaging in direct or indirect political activity, as well as using their facilities “to disturb the public order”, or to promote “destabilization campaigns” in Nicaragua. Essentially, the new law offers legal cover for measures already being employed by the Ortega regime, which has canceled the legal status of 143 NGOs since 2018.
The law was introduced by Gustavo Porras, an unconditional Ortega ally who serves as president of the National Assembly. It was approved on March 31, with 77 votes in favor from the dominant FSLN bloc and their allies; 12 abstentions, and 2 who declined to vote. The bill is made up of 12 chapters and 57 articles and includes the repeal of law 147 that formerly regulated the NGO’s.
In Article 36 of the new law, the regime prohibits civil society organizations from publicly identifying themselves with a name that differs from their registered title: they are also forbidden to carry out activities for their members’ personal gain or to realize activities that depart from their stated goals and objectives.
The law further notes that they can’t distribute to their members any dividends, profits, financial surpluses, donated materials, public contributions or overflow sums of any nature that have been obtained in accordance with their goals and objectives. Items 4, 8, and 10 explicitly prohibit the organizations from participating in political matters.
The above are provisions common to the regulation of non-profits in many countries. The Nicaraguan law, however, includes other provisions that open the way to closure and confiscation of any organization that doesn’t strictly toe a pro-government line.
“They cannot carry out any direct or indirect activities that imply political proselytism; the non-profit organizations cannot intervene in matters of party politics, nor violate the objectives with which they were created and registered in the country.” They’re restricted from “utilizing the organizational structure to disturb the public order, or to promote destabilization campaigns in the country by supporting, facilitating or inciting anything that affects citizen security and the legitimate exercise of human rights within Nicaraguan families,” the text reads.
The regime justifies the new legal document as responding to Recommendation #8 issued by the International Financial Action Group. The group recommended that countries review the suitability of their “laws and regulations regarding entities that can be unduly used to finance terrorism,” and that the new measures be focused on promoting transparency and greater confidence among the donor community and in the population in general.
The official introduction to the law continues: “The contents of this initiative promote practices of transparency in managing projects of a religious, charitable, civil, social, cultural and educational nature that are being carried out by non-profit organizations.” Excluded from this list are the NGOs that promote democracy and the defense of human rights. Since 2018, the Nicaraguan government has mounted fierce attacks against such organizations, including stripping them of their legal status, confiscating their property and, in some cases, arresting their directors under false charges of money laundering.
The new law was approved at a time when the Ortega regime has already cancelled the legal standing of 143 NGOs in the last four years (2018 – March 2022) and has confiscated the assets and properties of at least a half-dozen of the cancelled organizations. According to the government, there are currently 6,566 NGOs registered in the country.
Confiscations of NGOs property legalized
The new law authorizes the Nicaraguan government to confiscate the patrimony of the NGOs. This is a clear violation of Article 44 of the Nicaraguan Constitution, which prohibits the “confiscation of assets.” Article 47 of the new law indicates that the State will appropriate the properties of NGOs whose legal status has been cancelled for any of the following reasons:
- They’ve been utilized for illegal acts
- They’ve been utilized to alter the public order
- For hindering the control and oversight of the General Directorate for Registry and Control of NGOs
- For altering the goals and objectives for which they were created, according to their foundational documents and statutes
- For being out of compliance with the registry authorities for at least a year, thus failing to report their financial status and changes in the directive board
- For realizing activities contrary to the nature of their legal status, including the desire for profit.
- For utilizing their organizational structure to violate the public order, promote destabilization campaigns in the country, support, facilitate or incite any action that affects citizen security and the legitimate exercise of the human rights within Nicaraguan families.
- Due to administrative sanctions stemming from non-compliance with their obligations or realization of prohibited activities in accordance with the provisions established in the current law, and in its norms and regulations.
Organizations cancelled due to their “dissolution and liquidation” will be exempt from confiscation.
Amaru Ruiz, president of the Fundacion del Rio [River Foundation], a non-profit organization that was shuttered and confiscated in 2018, states that this law represents “legalized criminalization of civil society organizations, via a law to purge the organizations that they (the Ortega government) consider presenting some level of risk to the regime.” In addition, it contemplates “a massive confiscation of the assets the organizations possess, and those they’ve generated through the programs and development projects they’ve implemented.”
Before passing this law with a lightning stroke of a pen, the Interior Ministry had already justified the orders they’ve issued to cancel certain NGOs for failing to comply with the required reports of their financial status and the current composition of their directive boards. None of the NGOs canceled to date were presented with any warning or allowed to appeal; in most cases, the organizations made multiple attempts to deliver the required reports, but were turned away, because the Ministry “wasn’t yet ready” to receive them. Now, such alleged failure to comply is ruled a direct fault, allowing the government to confiscate the NGOs assets.
Article 25 of the repealed law stipulated that once the non-profit status of an NGO is canceled, their assets will be disposed of as specified in their statutes, and they would pass over to the government only if no such provisions had been established.