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Weekly Report - 27 February 2020 (WR-20-08)

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NICARAGUA: Indigenous attacks spark fresh human rights concerns

While human rights groups have been focusing on the crackdown which the government led by President Daniel Ortega has been carrying out on its political opponents since April 2018, attacks targeting indigenous groups have attracted fresh concerns from institutions such as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

The most recent attack denounced by the OHCHR, IACHR and local human rights groups took place on 16 February on the indigenous Miskitu community in Waspam municipality, in Nicaragua’s North Atlantic Autonomous Region (Raan), in which a 14-year-old girl was shot in the face. The attack was widely attributed to settlers from other parts of Nicaragua known as ‘colonos’, who invade indigenous land for illegal logging and cattle-raising. Just over two weeks earlier, on 29 January, an attack by dozens of armed men, also believed to be colonos, targeted the indigenous Mayangna community in the Bosawás biosphere reserve, also in the Raan. According to a 7 February press release by the OHCHR, this left four dead, two others injured, while 16 houses were burned down, forcing “hundreds of people from the village and surroundings” to flee.

These incidents have reignited concerns about violence targeting indigenous groups in Nicaragua, which, along with Afro-descendent peoples, currently occupy 31% of national territory. With most of these attacks perpetrated by colonos, the OHCHR notes that the State has granted land rights to these groups through the adoption of Law 445 in 2003, but highlights the State’s failure to protect these rights. Further underlining the vulnerability of this sector, figures from a local human rights NGO, Centro por la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua (Cejudhcan), show that since 2015, some 40 indigenous people have been murdered, 47 injured, 44 kidnapped, and four remain missing in cases related to the invasion of land.

  • Deforestation

In its 7 February statement, the OHCHR cites a joint assessment by a Danish NGO and the Mayangna Territorial Government which found that from 1999 to 2015, an average of 600 hectares of the Bosawás biosphere reserve were deforested per year, with the deforestation rate doubling from 2010 to 2015. In the area where the latest killings happened, the number of non-indigenous households doubled from 2009 to 2015, to almost 200.

So far the response by the national police (PNN) to the attacks has provided little reassurance to human rights groups. On 20 February the PNN issued a statement denying that the Miskitu attack took place at all, adding that, following an investigation, it had concluded that the girl’s injury was sustained as a result of an accident. Similarly, with regard to the Mayangna incident, it initially denied that the four deaths had occurred.

Bolstering the police

Criticism from local human rights groups regarding the PNN’s response to these latest attacks comes as the Ortega government announced further plans to boost the force which, along with government-sponsored paramilitaries, institutions like the OHCHR and IACHR largely hold responsible for the human rights violations committed during the ongoing crackdown.

On 18 February Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo announced that 708 new police officers would swell the ranks this year. The latest recruits bring the total number of PNN officials to 17,574, up steeply from 14,946 in 2018. The local investigative publication Confidencial claimed the government has been allocating more funds to the police, despite the economic slowdown as a result of the crackdown. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Eclac) forecast last December that GDP would contract by 5.3% in 2019 and by 1.4% in 2020.