Washington, D.C.—Since April 18, more than 20 people have been killed during protests that were violently repressed by state security forces and rogue armed groups in Nicaragua. Thousands of Nicaraguans took to the streets to protest proposed changes to the national social security system, which would have substantially increased taxes and required citizens to contribute 5 percent of their pensions to the social security pool. Several independent news channels were blocked from airing reports on the unrest, while one journalist was shot and killed by police while covering the protests, according to human rights group the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH). According to a letter that the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) addressed to Nicaraguan Ambassador to the U.S. Francisco Campbell, it is of utmost importance that the Nicaraguan government respect their citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly while promptly investigating these attacks.
“The lack of restraint and excessive force used by the Nicaraguan security forces calls into question the government’s respect for human rights and tolerance for freedom of expression,” the letter states.
The letter notes that, in addition to reports of security forces violently repressing protests, human rights groups say that police officers stood by and did nothing while pro-government armed groups assaulted protesters.
“This violent retaliation against Nicaraguan citizens exercising their legitimate right to protest is appalling, particularly for a government whose origins lie in protest and social movements,” said Geoff Thale, Vice President of Programs at WOLA. “President Ortega’s government should promptly investigate and prosecute those responsible for cracking down on protesters, as well as those who ordered the police to stand down when protesters were being attacked by violent pro-government groups.”
On April 22, Ortega announced he would roll back the proposed social security reforms, citing the scale of unrest. He also said he would begin talks on a new round of proposed social security reforms, emphasizing the need to strengthen the country’s welfare system.
“We hope that such a dialogue will address the issues with Nicaragua’s social security system, and that the government upholds freedom of expression while demonstrating progress in investigating and prosecuting those responsible for attacking protesters and press freedoms. In our view, it must also acknowledge citizens’ desire for for consultation, engagement, and democratic participation in Nicaragua,” the letter to Ambassador Campbell states.