27 January 2009. Johannesburg, South Africa
A fact-finding cum solidarity mission to Nicaragua undertaken by CIVICUS with the support of its members, the Coordinadora Civil (CC) and the Red Nicaraguense por la Democracia y el Desarrollo Local (RNDDL), has found evidence of pressure being applied by the authorities on independent civil society groups. Nevertheless, talks with officials have been positive raising hopes for better government-civil society relations.
The mandate of the mission included: (i) expressing solidarity with civil society groups in Nicaragua who have had to contend with decreasing space to carry out their legitimate activities through 2008-2009 and, (ii) persuading the authorities to protect civil and political freedoms in the country, particularly the right to express democratic dissent.
The mission members met with a number of civil society groups, including members of the women's movement who have had to face restrictions in recent times as well as parliamentarians and government officials. The mission noted the positive strides made by the government in providing health care and education resulting in an increase in the overall literacy rate.
The mission observed that although government-civil society relations at the municipal level were often quite good, there were some outstanding issues in need of redress at the national level. Notably, the mission welcomed the willingness of parliamentarians and government officials to consider the concerns communicated to them by national civil society groups.
The following are the major areas of concern:
(a) launch of motivated prosecutions against activists expressing dissent against official policies, (b) ostracising and blacklisting of certain civil society groups particularly those working on accountability matters, (c) marginalisation of independent civil society groups through the creation of government organised NGOs (GONGOs) supported by federal funds, (d) blocking of access to information by official bodies, (e) harassment of independent media groups particularly radio and television outlets critical of official actions and, (f) de facto implementation of the draft law on international cooperation that places restrictions on support to local civil society organisations from international groups.
"Our talks with key officials have been open and positive," feels Anabel Cruz, chair of CIVICUS' board who headed the mission. "We call upon the Government of Nicaragua to consider civil society as partners in national development and hope that the concerns will be addressed."
CIVICUS urges the Government of Nicaragua to protect and safeguard the space for civil society in accordance with international, regional and constitutional commitments. A comprehensive report on the mission is being prepared and will be released shortly.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. The Civil Society Watch (CSW) programme of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world.