Women human rights defenders were intimidated and harassed because of their work defending sexual and reproductive rights. The law criminalizing all forms of abortion, including in cases where the woman’s life is at risk or where the pregnancy is a result of rape, came into effect. Allegations of electoral fraud and excessive controls over civil society organizations raised concerns about curbs on freedom of expression and association. The government formally recognized the rights to their ancestral land of the Awas Tingni community.
In June 2008, the Nicaraguan Supreme Electoral Council announced that two opposition parties, the Sandinista Reformist Movement (Movimiento Renovador Sandinista) and the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador), were no longer legally registered and could not nominate candidates for election. In October, the government also refused to allow national or international observers to monitor the November municipal elections.
The Liberal Constitutional Party (Partido Liberal Constitucionalista) rejected the announcement that the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, FSLN) had won the elections, alleging fraud and a lack of transparency. FSLN and opposition supporters clashed violently in Managua in the weeks following the elections. Many people were wounded, but no official figures were available. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed concern at the violence and requested permission from the Nicaraguan authorities to send a Rapporteur to investigate. By the end of the year the government had not responded to the Commission’s request.
"In the weeks following the municipal elections, at least 20 journalists were physically attacked..."
Sexual and reproductive rights
Nine women human rights defenders remained at risk of legal proceedings. The accusations against them included incitement to commit a crime and concealment of a crime, and were believed to have been brought because of their human rights work and campaigning activities on the right of women to access safe and effective sexual and reproductive health services. By the end of the year, the Attorney General had yet to rule on whether the complaint, brought in November 2007, would be dropped or whether charges would be formalized.
- In September, a government publication carried an article making a series of allegations against several female journalists, human rights defenders and political activists, including claims that they practised “black magic”. The article criticized the women for supporting sexual and reproductive rights. Among those named in the publication was Patricia Orozco, a journalist and women’s human rights defender. Following the publication of the article, Patricia Orozco received death threats and threats of sexual violence by phone and text (SMS) message.
The revised Criminal Code came into effect in July, criminalizing abortion and providing for lengthy prison sentences for women and health professionals convicted of carrying out or assisting women to have an abortion, even in cases where continued pregnancy endangered the life of the woman or where the pregnancy was the result of rape. No one was prosecuted under this legislation during 2008.
The UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in October and November respectively, recommended that the Nicaraguan government reform its laws on abortion.
Violence against women and girls
Some 30 per cent of all criminal complaints filed with the police in the first three months of the year were of sexual violence. According to police figures, the vast majority of the victims of sexual violence were girls aged 18 or under, although in many cases the abuse had not come to light for several years.
- A teenage girl interviewed by Amnesty International said that she had been raped by her uncle when she was nine. She told her mother, who advised her she had to keep quiet because the family was economically dependent on the uncle. Feeling unsafe in her home, the girl left, dropped out of school and turned to prostitution at the age of 14 in order to survive. The rejection by her community and prevailing social attitudes which blame the victim rather than the perpetrator had a profound effect on her ability to deal with her experience and on the possibility of bringing her attacker to justice. The uncle has never been prosecuted for this crime.
Freedom of expression and association
In the weeks following the municipal elections, at least 20 journalists were physically attacked; many were beaten. The majority of the attacks were carried out by groups of FSLN supporters. The premises of at least five independent media outlets were vandalized.
The documents of several national and international organizations working on issues ranging from development to governance and transparency were seized by police, apparently pending an investigation into their financial management. By the end of the year, the organizations had not been told the nature of the investigation or when their documentation would be returned.
- In October, police raided the offices of the Autónomous Women’s Movement (Movimiento Autonomo de Mujeres, MAM), an organization which had been involved in promoting women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights for more than 10 years. Documents and computers were taken. By the end of the year, MAM had not been informed of the legal reasons for the investigation and the documents taken had not been returned, seriously hampering their work.
Indigenous Peoples’ rights
In 2001, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had demanded that the Nicaraguan government legally recognize the land rights of the Awas Tingni Indigenous community. In a welcome move in December 2008, the community formally received legal recognition of their rights to land, in accordance with the judgement.
Amnesty International visitsAmnesty International delegates visited the country in June and November.
Amnesty International reportsDefending women’s right to life and health – Women human rights defenders in Nicaragua (9 October 2008)
Nicaragua: Submission to the United Nations Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights 41st Session, 3-21 November 2008 (1 October 2008)