WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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9 Feb 2023 | WOLA Statement

Release of Political Prisoners in Nicaragua: An Important Humanitarian Step in the Face of a Serious Human Rights and Democracy Crisis

Washington, D.C. – The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) applauds the release of 222 political prisoners in Nicaragua who were illegally detained by the Ortega-Murillo government due to their dissident voices and their work promoting human rights and democracy. While the release of these political prisoners is cause for celebration, there are several concerns and doubts that also need to be addressed. 

These political prisoners should never have been deprived of their liberty in the first place. During their detention, they were victims of serious human rights violations, such as torture; now that they have been released, the protection of all their rights should be restored. In this regard, it is alarming that after their release, they were exiled and their citizenship revoked by the Nicaraguan National Assembly, which is prohibited by international human rights norms. Family members and property of the prisoners who were released and exiled to the United States could be left in a vulnerable situation that requires both political and humanitarian support. In addition, it is important to note that at least 38 political prisoners have yet to be released in Nicaragua. 

On the other hand, the humanitarian situation of these political prisoners, who after emerging from an immensely traumatic situation were transferred to a foreign country, requires a lot of resources and coordination between the U.S. government and civil society. In the short, medium and long term, the victims need humanitarian, legal, psychological and political support.

Parallel to the efforts mentioned above should be comprehensive coordination on the part of the international community to urge an opening to dialogue and next steps toward a return to democracy in Nicaragua. The State Department stated today that the release of these prisoners “marks a constructive step towards addressing human rights abuses in the country and opens the door to further dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua regarding issues of concern.” The Biden administration should take advantage of this to continue to pursue avenues to restore democracy in the country and accountability for the gross human rights violations perpetrated by the Nicaraguan government in recent years. 

In the same vein, the international community must support Nicaraguan civil society, which, largely from exile, promotes human rights, access to independent and impartial justice, and a return to democracy. It is important to continue to support the work of the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua established by the United Nations Human Rights Council and the implementation of its recommendations when they present their report to the Council on March 2, 2023.