Organizaciones civiles por la democracia

Organizaciones civiles por la democracia - 21 Oct 2008

Observadores de derechos humanos hacen llamado a Ortega

For Immediate Release

Nicaragua: End Intimidation of Rights Defenders

Investigations into women’s groups raise due process concerns

(Washington, DC, October 21, 2008) – The Nicaraguan government should stop intimidating women’s rights defenders by respecting due process guarantees in cases involving civil society groups, investigating reports of harassment, and ensuring that prosecutions are not politically driven, Human Rights Watch said today.

Over the past year, Nicaraguan officials have opened investigations into several women’s rights leaders who oppose the state’s abortion ban. Nicaraguan law even bars therapeutic abortions, which are undertaken when the health of the mother is at risk. The inquiries involve a range of allegations, including that of improperly transferring funds to a social movement and that of “apology for the crime” in one case involving abortion. Though the government maintains that these investigations are justified, deficiencies in due process raise the suspicion that the probes may be politically motivated.

“These investigations risk causing a chilling effect on legitimate activities by civil society groups,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. “A government may, of course, conduct investigations, but these must be done properly and should be related to substantiated suspicions of illegal activity,” he added.

Recently, the government raided the offices of the Communications Research Center (CINCO) and the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM), confiscating files and computers containing financial records. The search warrant did not specifically state what suspected violations underpin the investigation, referring only vaguely to supposed irregularities involving “funds from foreign sources.” Repeated attempts by CINCO and MAM to clarify the nature of the investigation have reportedly been fruitless. However, state media outlets have reported that the government is looking into whether collaborations between CINCO and MAM were financially improper because the latter is a social movement rather than a registered NGO. Carlos Fernando Chamorro, director of CINCO, has denied wrongdoing and stated that no objection had ever been raised over the 13 years in which the organization openly carried out partnerships with other groups, including social movements.

Public statements by officials raise doubts as to the government’s true motivation behind the investigations. Chief Inspector of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Armando Juárez, recently expressed concern with finding CINCO receipts for T-shirts that bear the motto “Democracy, yes, dictatorship, no.” Such T-shirts have reportedly been used at anti-government rallies in past months. Juárez also recently accused MAM of “an apologetic attitude of incitation abortion” because of their protests calling for the decriminalization of therapeutic abortion.

This is not the first time the government has made vague accusations against women’s rights groups for their work on the issue of abortion. In fact, in late 2007 the Nicaraguan government charged nine prominent women’s rights activists with “cover up of the crime of rape,” obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and “apology for crime” in an abortion case involving a nine-year-old rape victim who required a therapeutic abortion in 2003. Now, one year later, despite repeated requests and numerous interrogations, the public prosecutor has reportedly refused to provide further formal information about the investigation. The theory of the government’s case remains unclear given that therapeutic abortion was legal in 2003, and the girl’s health need was certified by a three-doctor panel.

Over the past two months, reports of intimidation against women’s rights defenders have escalated to include personal harassment. Some groups have reported receiving threatening calls concerning the issue of abortion. MAM has stated that in September, its members were threatened by groups affiliated with the ruling party during a demonstration in León. That same month in León, the house of human rights defender and president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Centro Nicaraguense de Derechos Humanos, CENIDH), Dr. Vilma Nuñez, was paint-bombed with red and black, the colors of the governing Sandinista party.

“The troubling nature of these investigations and acts of harassment targeting women’s rights leaders threaten to raise a cloud of political intolerance in Nicaragua,” stated Vivanco. “When the government conducts its investigations, it should ensure transparency, independence, impartiality, and thoroughness.”

For more information on the effects of the abortion ban on women’s rights in Nicaragua, please see:

Over Their Dead Bodies: Denial of Access to Emergency Obstetric Care and Therapeutic Abortion in Nicaragua,

For more information, please contact:

In Washington, DC, Jose Miguel Vivanco (Spanish, English): +1-917-519-8363

In New York, Angela Heimburger, (English, Spanish): +1-646-407-2216

In New York, Marianne Mollmann, (English, Spanish, Danish): +1-347-244-0090