GENEVA (27 April 2018) – UN human rights experts* have said they are appalled by the violent response by Nicaraguan security forces to protests opposing social security reforms, and called on authorities to ensure the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly are respected.
At least 30 people have been killed, most of them university students, as well as a journalist and two police officers, and dozens injured during the nationwide protests against reforms announced by President Ortega on 18 April. Dozens more people have been detained and a number registered as disappeared.
Violent clashes erupted between protesters, security forces and groups affiliated with the governing party, and police responded by firing live ammunition at protesters.
“The high number of deaths of protesters is a clear indication that excessive force was used in violation of the principles of necessity and proportionality as required by international law and standards to make the use of force legal,” the experts said. “If confirmed, this will qualify the deaths as unlawful killings with the Government incurring international responsibility.
“We are appalled by the security forces’ response. Violence can never be the answer to people’s social and political demands, it can only pave the way for further violence, leading to social and political unrest.
“We are further outraged that State officials have openly stigmatised protesters, calling them ‘vandals’ and accusing them of ‘political manipulations’. We’re also concerned by reports of smear campaigns, threats and intimidation against human rights defenders for their advocacy and monitoring role during the protests.”
The experts said they were also gravely concerned by reports that journalists were attacked while covering the protests. The Government reportedly ordered several television channels be blocked. The attacks on journalists and broadcasting organisations must end immediately.
“We recall that the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest are the cornerstone of democratic societies, without which there cannot be a peaceful and durable solution to conflicts,” they said.
“We urge the State of Nicaragua to provide civil society with sufficient space to operate freely, with respect for international law, in order to set the stage for a fruitful and inclusive dialogue with all stakeholders.
“We also call on Nicaragua to carry out independent and transparent investigations without delay and to prosecute those responsible for the deaths of these individuals.”
The experts have been in contact with the authorities to seek clarifications.
*The experts: Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voulé, is Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mr. Michel Forst, is Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.