By: Gavin Gretsky
Impunity Watch News Staff Writer
NICARAGUA – The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom and Expression (RELE) of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) recently released a statement expressing concern over the repression of indigenous communities along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. RELE and the IACHR expressed concern over violence by settlers against native communities, the shutdown of indigenous radio stations, and the YATAMA party having its status revoked.
Settlers encroaching into indigenous communities has been an ongoing issue for indigenous communities in Nicaragua, however the encroachment and violence has escalated recently. The land inhabited by the Mayanga and Miskito along the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua is traditionally used for small scale farming, hunting, and fishing. According to community leaders, settlers forcibly occupy these lands for the purpose of commercial exploitation of natural resources. This occupation is often combined with violence, resulting in property destruction, kidnappings, and murder. Despite this violence, there has been no action by the government to prevent further conflict. While the IACHR has directed the Nicaraguan government to protect these communities the government has not responded despite Nicaragua’s acceptance of the IACHR’s jurisdiction.
The closure of indigenous radio stations also concerned the IACHR and RELE. In the coastal Caribbean region, there were two indigenous radio stations that had been in operation for over two decades, run by the YATAMA opposition party, and were primarily used to advocate for and spread indigenous culture, often in indigenous languages. The Nicaraguan telecommunications regulator stated that the radio stations were confiscated by the government due to operating without the proper permits. However, local leaders state that this was done to silence opposition to the government. The IACHR and RELE are concerned with the closure of the radio stations because they served an important role in facilitating public debate and their closure creates “silence areas” where only state run media is available.
Lastly, the IACHR and RELE brought attention to the legal status of the YATAMA party being revoked. YATAMA was a political party in opposition to the governing FSLN party and is rooted in the Miskito people, the largest indigenous community in Nicaragua. The Supreme Electoral Council announced the revocation came because YATAMA “misrepresented reality in the country” in violation of Act 1055. Prior to its revocation, YATAMA was the only political party that could challenge the FSLN in the coastal regions of Nicaragua. The revocation also comes on the eve of regional elections, which advocates state was done to create a single-party system.
Additionally, YATAMA leaders have also come under attack from the government. Former party leaders, Brooklyn Rivera and Elizabeth Henriquez were both arrested with no reason given by the government and their whereabouts are currently unknown according to IACHR. The IACHR stated that this restriction on political opposition would violate many rights and freedoms, including the freedom of expression and association.
In its conclusion, the IACHR and RELE called on the Nicaraguan government to end its repression against indigenous peoples, against YATAMA, and to provide the location and health conditions of those arrested.
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