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To: Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch supports the call by 54 regional NGOs for the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to convene a special session on Nicaragua. The human rights situation has drastically deteriorated in the short period since demonstrations began earlier this year, and a Special Session is urgently needed to help stem the violence and contribute to UN and regional efforts to prevent further violence and abuses in the country.

In Nicaragua, police operating in concert with pro-government armed gangs have killed kidnapped, and tortured protesters and activists in a systematic effort to crush anti-government demonstrations that erupted in April. At least 317 people have been killed and more than 2,000 injured, in most cases by police officers and pro-government armed gangs.

Police and armed gangs have abducted or arbitrarily detained hundreds of people across the country. According to testimony gathered by Human Rights Watch, detainees have been subject to beatings, waterboarding, electric shocks, and rape.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in its report titled “Serious human rights violations in the context of social protests in Nicaragua,” found extensive evidence implicating the Nicaraguan police in a wide range of serious abuses, including excessive use of force, arbitrary detention, and torture. The commission concluded that the number of abuses strongly suggested “coordinated action” to repress dissent, detailing “patterns” of abuse, including excessive use of force against protesters that would indicate they were “systematic.”

In recent weeks, the Nicaraguan Health Ministry authorities has fired at least 135 doctors, nurses and other health workers from several public hospitals across Nicaragua, according to the Nicaraguan Medical Association. The dismissals appear to be in retaliation for health professionals’ criticism of the repression and follow government efforts to limit access for thousands of wounded anti-government protesters to medical treatment.

On August 9, a group of 11 UN Special Procedures, including the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, peaceful assembly and association, freedom of opinion and expression, health, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and the Working Groups on arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, issued a joint press release, urging the government of Nicaragua to end the “witch hunt” against dissenting voices, to immediately demobilise armed gangs and to investigate the extrajudicial executions, killings and reports of enforced disappearances.

The Human Rights Council should heed the rising chorus of regional and international concern, and urgently convene a Special Session on the human rights crisis in Nicaragua. At the Special Session, the Council should adopt a resolution that:

  • Expresses its deep concern about the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Nicaragua and the impact of the crisis on the Nicaraguan people, as well as about the targeted attacks on human rights defenders, journalists and their family members;
  • Condemns in the strongest possible terms the violence, human rights violations and abuses in Nicaragua, as well as the ongoing impunity enjoyed by perpetrators, including police and pro-government armed gangs;
  • Demands that the Nicaraguan authorities end these violations and abuses as a matter of critical and urgent priority, including by immediately halting killings and attacks on human rights defenders, journalists and real or suspected opponents and critics, and by conducting thorough, impartial and independent investigations with a view to bringing those responsible to justice and providing victims with redress;
  • Calls on the Nicaraguan authorities to fully cooperate with the OHCHR and Organization of American States (OAS) missions in the country, specifically with the work of the Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), including by allowing free access to all places of detention;
  • Requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to publish relevant information gathered by the OHCHR country office in conjunction with the OAS, to report to the Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, and to regularly brief the Human Rights Council on developments.

Consistent with its mandate to prevent human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies, the Human Rights Council should address the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Nicaragua as a matter of priority. We urge your delegation to actively support the holding of a Special Session of the Human Rights Council without delay and the adoption of a resolution that ensures meaningful attention to the situation with a view to stemming the abuses and ending impunity.

John Fisher
Geneva Director
José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director, Americas

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