Nicaragua

Last Updated 9 April 2021

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America by area, but its population density is relatively low. Nicaragua was first settled by the Spanish in 1522; it gained independence in 1838. It is majority Catholic (approximately 58.5%), however there is a growing evangelical Protestant population, representing 22.6% of the population according to the nation’s most recent census. Members of the Moravian Lutheran Church are largely concentrated in the North and South Carribean Coastal Autonomous regions. An estimated 15.7% of the population are non-religious.1https://www.inide.gob.ni/docu/censos2005/VolPoblacion/Volumen%20Poblacion%201-4/Vol.I%20Poblacion-Caracteristicas%20Generales.pdf; https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nicaragua/

Since the outbreak of protests against the government in 2018, Nicaraguan citizens and independent journalists have borne the brunt of human rights violations which have included the violent suppression of protest.2https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Nicaragua2018-en.pdf; https://www.oas.org/en/media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=E-105/19 Most recently, the Organization of American States expressed concern relating to legislation that seeks to limit the democratic participation of citizens.3https://www.oas.org/en/media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=E-127/20

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Article 14 of the Constitution of Nicaragua4https://www.poderjudicial.gob.ni/pjupload/archivos/documentos/LA_CONSTITUCION_POLITICA_Y_SUS_REFORMAS(3).pdf affirms that there is no official religion of the State, while Article 27 prohibits discrimination based on religion or opinion, among other bases.

However, the Constitution makes numerous references to the “Christian values” upon which the Republic of Nicaragua was founded following the end of the revolution in the 1980s. The preamble includes the following:

“In the name of the Nicaraguan people; of all the democratic, patriotic and revolutionary parties and organizations of Nicaragua; of its men and women; of its workers and farmers; of its glorious youth; of its heroic mothers; of the Christians who from their faith in GOD have committed themselves to the fight for the liberation of the oppressed; of its patriotic intellectuals…”5En Nombre Del pueblo nicaragüense; de todos los partidos y organizaciones democráticas, patrióticas y revolucionarias de Nicaragua; de sus hombres y mujeres; de sus obreros y campesinos; de su gloriosa juventud; de sus heroicas madres; de los cristianos que desde su fe en DIOS se han comprometido e insertado en la lucha por la liberación de los oprimidos; de sus intelectuales patrióticos…”, https://www.poderjudicial.gob.ni/pjupload/archivos/documentos/LA_CONSTITUCION_POLITICA_Y_SUS_REFORMAS(3).pdf

Article 5 recognizes “Christian values” among the many listed principles of the nation, outlining that:

Christian values ensure love for the other, reconcilliation of our Nicaraguan bothers, respect for individual diversity without discrimination, respect and equality of the rights of people with disabilities, and preferential treatment for the poor.”6“Los valores cristianos aseguran el amor al prójimo, la reconciliación entre hermanos de la familia nicaragüense, el respeto a la diversidad individual sin discriminación alguna, el respeto e igualdad de derecho de las personas con discapacidad y la opción preferencial por los pobres”

As such, the law “entrusts government-controlled, community-level action groups, known as Family Committees, with the responsibility for promoting “Christian values” at the community level.”7https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nicaragua/

Article 29 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, thought and to profess a religion, as well as the right not to do so, stating that no one “shall be obligated by coercive measures to declare his ideology or beliefs.”

Together Articles 30 and 69 of the Constitution grant citizens the right to freely express, individually or collectively, in public or private, their thoughts and religious beliefs. Notably, Article 69 emphasizes that “no one can avoid the observance of the law, nor prevent others from exercising their rights and the fulfilment of their duties by invoking their religious beliefs.”

All religious groups – with the exception of the Catholic Church, which has a concordat with the State – must register with the government as an association or organization in a process similar to that of other non-governmental organizations.8https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nicaragua/

Co-option of religion for political ends

Freedom House reports that:

“Faith leaders have criticized attempts by the Ortega administration to co-opt religious belief for political ends. The government has required public employees to attend government-sponsored religious festivals, making them miss official Catholic Church events.”9https://freedomhouse.org/country/nicaragua/freedom-world/2020

Indeed, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s March 2020 update on Nicaragua indicates that:

“The government has utilized religious language, sought to infiltrate parishes, and given money to support festivals for patron saints with the aim of gaining supporters among the devout.”10https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2020%20Nicaragua%20Country%20Update_1.pdf

The government’s 2018-21 Human Development policy11https://observatorioplanificacion.cepal.org/sites/default/files/plan/files/Nicaragua.EJES%20DEL%20PROGRAMA%20NACIONAL%20DE%20DESARROLLO%20HUMANO.pdf; https://observatorioplanificacion.cepal.org/es/planes/ejes-del-programa-nacional-de-desarrollo-humano-2018-2021-de-nicaragua establishes the promotion of religious and faith-based festivities as a key component of all government policy.

Decline in political freedoms

According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2021:

“Since taking office in 2007, the government of President Daniel Ortega has dismantled nearly all institutional checks on presidential power. The Electoral Council, stacked with his supporters, has barred opposition political parties and removed opposition lawmakers.”12https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/nicaragua

Education and children’s rights

Article 121 of the Constitution enshrines the right to education, making primary education free and obligatory for all. Secondary education is free at state institutions. Education is defined as secular under Article 124. However, the state grants groups the right to form private religious schools, which teach religion as an extracurricular subject.13“La educación en Nicaragua es laica. El Estado reconoce el derecho de los centros privados dedicados a la enseñanza y que sean de orientación religiosa, a impartir religión como materia extracurricular.” https://www.poderjudicial.gob.ni/pjupload/archivos/documentos/LA_CONSTITUCION_POLITICA_Y_SUS_REFORMAS(3).pdf The government provides subsidies to religious schools in communities which do not have access to public education.

Article 116 of the constitution states that “Education has as its objective the full and integral development of Nicaraguans; to provide them with a critical, scientific and humanist consciousness.”14“La educación tiene como objetivo la formación plena e integral del nicaragüense; dotarlo de una conciencia crítica, científica y humanista.” https://www.poderjudicial.gob.ni/pjupload/archivos/documentos/LA_CONSTITUCION_POLITICA_Y_SUS_REFORMAS(3).pdf

However, in 2013, Nicaragua implemented the new “Live Beautiful Plan” to reform the education system. The plan requires an obligatory education based on socialist and specifically Christian values.15https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nicaragua/

To realize the “Live beautiful plan” the government trained 45,000 public school teachers on the targets and techniques of the new education system.

Family, community and society

Sexual and reproductive health

Under the Penal Code,16https://www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/mesicic3_nic_codigo_penal.pdf abortion is prohibited in all circumstances and punishable by imprisonment, even when performed in the interests of preserving the mother’s life, and in cases of rape or incest. Women and girls who have abortions face prison terms as long as two years. Medical professionals who perform abortions face one to six years.

LGBTI+

Nicaragua’s LGBTI+ community faces intermittent threats and discriminatory treatment.17https://freedomhouse.org/country/nicaragua/freedom-world/2020

On 08 April 2015, the Family Code came into effect establishing that marriage is only “between a man and a woman” precluding same-sex marriage, access to fertility treatment, social security protection and inheritance, and also adoption as it stipulates that only heterosexual couples can adopt.18https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/102158/123413/F39376266/LEY%20870%20NICARAGUA.pdf; https://pridelegal.com/nicaragua-lgbt-laws/

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The right to freedom of expression, assembly and peaceful protest

In April 2018, protests sparked by reforms to the country’s social security system broke out across the country. As the protests gained momentum, the Nicaraguan authorities and pro-government groups systematically sought to suppress dissent through means of excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests, harassment, intimidation and stigmatization campaigns. Over 300 people are estimated to have been killed and a further 2,000 killed in the initial crackdown.19https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/nicaragua International observers found systematic patterns of violent repression perpetrated by the State,20http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Nicaragua2018-en.pdf and have subsequently been blocked from visiting the country.21https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nicaragua-protests-oas-idUSKBN1W00TG The government’s response has led to a political crisis and protesters calling for political reforms and the resignation of the President Daniel Ortega.

Members of the Catholic Church played a significant role in attempting to protect protestors and mediate with the authorities.22https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2020%20Nicaragua%20Country%20Update_1.pdf As a result, they have faced attacks from pro-government groups, threats and been placed under surveillance.23https://editorials.voa.gov/a/religious-persecution-in-nicaragua/4523423.html

A ban on unauthorized marches and demonstrations is thought to remain in force, with police reported to deny permits in order to prevent further protests. Further, a 2019 amnesty law that facilitated the release of political prisoners caught up in the 2018 protests, prohibits those released from participating in further actions that lead to “crimes”, thereby effectively prohibiting them from participating in anti-government protests.24https://freedomhouse.org/country/nicaragua/freedom-world/2020 However, according to Human Rights Watch, “[a]s of September 2020, OHCHR estimated that 94 perceived critics remained incarcerated.”25https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/nicaragua#

Non-governmental organizations promoting democracy, human rights and/or media freedom have faced accusations of being “coup plotters” and have had their registration cancelled, while others report being subjected to continued monitoring and surveillance.26 https://freedomhouse.org/country/nicaragua/freedom-world/2020; https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/nicaragua#
In October 2020, the government passed a “foreign agents” law that would require all journalists and other organisations receiving money from abroad to register as “foreign agents.”27https://cpj.org/2020/09/nicaraguan-ruling-party-legislators-propose-law-requiring-some-media-outlets-journalists-to-register-as-foreign-agents/

Also in October 2020, Nicaragua’s Congress adopted a cybercrime bill that criminalizes a wide range of online communications that publish or disseminate “false” or “distorted” information on the internet that is “likely to spread anxiety, anguish or fear,” for which the penalty is up to five years in prison.28https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/nicaragua#

Media freedom

A large proportion of the media landscape is directly owned and/or controlled by the ruling Ortega government and its allies; the authorities are also known to selectively pay for advertising in pro-government media outlets.29https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nicaragua-politics-ortega-specialrepo/special-report-ortega-media-enrich-his-family-entrench-his-hold-on-nicaragua-idUSKBN2831DD The proportion of independent media outlets has been waning as the Nicaraguan authorities continue to harass them.30 https://cpj.org/americas/nicaragua/; https://pen-international.org/es/noticias/nicaragua-control-de-papel-a-periodicos-confirman-la-critica-situacion-para-el-periodismo; https://freedomhouse.org/country/nicaragua/freedom-world/2020

Journalists covering the ongoing political crisis have been subjected to smear campaigns, legal action,31https://pen-international.org/news/nicaragua-pen-international-welcomes-the-release-of-journalists-luc%C3%ADa-pineda-ubau-and-miguel-mora threats, intimidation, harassment, arrest and physical attacks in the course of their work.32https://pen-international.org/news/nicaragua-end-crackdown-on-free-press-and-peaceful-protest; https://pen-international.org/news/nicaragua-pen-members-accused-of-terrorist-conspiracy
As a result, several journalists have been granted measures to ensure their protection by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.33https://freedomhouse.org/country/nicaragua/freedom-world/2020

References

1 https://www.inide.gob.ni/docu/censos2005/VolPoblacion/Volumen%20Poblacion%201-4/Vol.I%20Poblacion-Caracteristicas%20Generales.pdf; https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nicaragua/
2 https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Nicaragua2018-en.pdf; https://www.oas.org/en/media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=E-105/19
3 https://www.oas.org/en/media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=E-127/20
4 https://www.poderjudicial.gob.ni/pjupload/archivos/documentos/LA_CONSTITUCION_POLITICA_Y_SUS_REFORMAS(3).pdf
5 En Nombre Del pueblo nicaragüense; de todos los partidos y organizaciones democráticas, patrióticas y revolucionarias de Nicaragua; de sus hombres y mujeres; de sus obreros y campesinos; de su gloriosa juventud; de sus heroicas madres; de los cristianos que desde su fe en DIOS se han comprometido e insertado en la lucha por la liberación de los oprimidos; de sus intelectuales patrióticos…”, https://www.poderjudicial.gob.ni/pjupload/archivos/documentos/LA_CONSTITUCION_POLITICA_Y_SUS_REFORMAS(3).pdf
6 “Los valores cristianos aseguran el amor al prójimo, la reconciliación entre hermanos de la familia nicaragüense, el respeto a la diversidad individual sin discriminación alguna, el respeto e igualdad de derecho de las personas con discapacidad y la opción preferencial por los pobres”
7, 8, 15 https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/nicaragua/
9, 17, 24, 33 https://freedomhouse.org/country/nicaragua/freedom-world/2020
10, 22 https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2020%20Nicaragua%20Country%20Update_1.pdf
11 https://observatorioplanificacion.cepal.org/sites/default/files/plan/files/Nicaragua.EJES%20DEL%20PROGRAMA%20NACIONAL%20DE%20DESARROLLO%20HUMANO.pdf; https://observatorioplanificacion.cepal.org/es/planes/ejes-del-programa-nacional-de-desarrollo-humano-2018-2021-de-nicaragua
12, 19 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/nicaragua
13 “La educación en Nicaragua es laica. El Estado reconoce el derecho de los centros privados dedicados a la enseñanza y que sean de orientación religiosa, a impartir religión como materia extracurricular.” https://www.poderjudicial.gob.ni/pjupload/archivos/documentos/LA_CONSTITUCION_POLITICA_Y_SUS_REFORMAS(3).pdf
14 “La educación tiene como objetivo la formación plena e integral del nicaragüense; dotarlo de una conciencia crítica, científica y humanista.” https://www.poderjudicial.gob.ni/pjupload/archivos/documentos/LA_CONSTITUCION_POLITICA_Y_SUS_REFORMAS(3).pdf
16 https://www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/mesicic3_nic_codigo_penal.pdf
18 https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/102158/123413/F39376266/LEY%20870%20NICARAGUA.pdf; https://pridelegal.com/nicaragua-lgbt-laws/
20 http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Nicaragua2018-en.pdf
21 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nicaragua-protests-oas-idUSKBN1W00TG
23 https://editorials.voa.gov/a/religious-persecution-in-nicaragua/4523423.html
25, 28 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/nicaragua#
26 https://freedomhouse.org/country/nicaragua/freedom-world/2020; https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/nicaragua#
27 https://cpj.org/2020/09/nicaraguan-ruling-party-legislators-propose-law-requiring-some-media-outlets-journalists-to-register-as-foreign-agents/
29 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nicaragua-politics-ortega-specialrepo/special-report-ortega-media-enrich-his-family-entrench-his-hold-on-nicaragua-idUSKBN2831DD
30 https://cpj.org/americas/nicaragua/; https://pen-international.org/es/noticias/nicaragua-control-de-papel-a-periodicos-confirman-la-critica-situacion-para-el-periodismo; https://freedomhouse.org/country/nicaragua/freedom-world/2020
31 https://pen-international.org/news/nicaragua-pen-international-welcomes-the-release-of-journalists-luc%C3%ADa-pineda-ubau-and-miguel-mora
32 https://pen-international.org/news/nicaragua-end-crackdown-on-free-press-and-peaceful-protest; https://pen-international.org/news/nicaragua-pen-members-accused-of-terrorist-conspiracy

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