Nicaraguan FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Nicaragua

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 12 April 2017

Introduction

Nicaraguan civil society organizations (CSOs) have formed in waves since the late 1960s, generally in response to a particular socio-political context from a waning dictatorship to revolutionary and post-revolutionary governments and, most recently, to a populist government headed by the former revolutionary leader.  Due to these politicized origins, the sector has traditionally been highly polarized. Notwithstanding a weak level of collaboration among CSOs, the sector is highly visible. Through a number of CSO networks and inter-sectoral alliances Nicaraguan CSOs have led massive protest marches as well as international advocacy campaigns. CSOs rely heavily on international financial assistance to fund activities that run the gamut from charity to self-help to advocacy. 

The legal framework that regulates CSOs in Nicaragua is rooted in Article 49 of the Constitution, which establishes the right to organize based on the free and participatory will of those who organize “…in order to ensure the realization of their aspirations, pursuant to their own interests, and to participate in the construction of a new society.”  The governing laws for CSOs are:

  • Law No. 147: General Law of Non-profit Legal Entities (1992), which addresses “…the constitution, authorization, functioning and termination of the civil and religious non-profit legal entities that exist in the country.”
  • Law No. 849: General Law of Cameras, Federations and Business Confederations of Nicaragua, which regulates “constitution, authorization, regulation, operation, dissolution, liquidation and cancellation of the legal status of national business associations, ... as well as federations, confederations, binational and mixed chambers.
  • Law No. 858: Law of Reforms and Additions to Law No. 522, "General Law of Sport, Physical Education and Physical Recreation", which regulates the constitution, obtaining of legal personality, registration and cancellation of national sports, physical education and physical recreation federations and its member associations.
  • Additional legal provisions are found in the Civil Code (1904) for so-called “simple civil or commercial associations, pursuant to the purposes of each institute.”

The implementation and enforcement of Law No. 147 is characterized by broad discretion. The law has many gaps and contradictions.  Its provisions do not clearly regulate the procedures and requirements that non-profit entities must follow for their constitution, authorization, functioning and termination.  Nor are there any implementing regulations to clarify procedures.  

With the election of President Daniel Ortega in 2007 and again in November 2016, the government has systematically attacked CSOs. His regime has enacted legal and quasi-legal strategies to hinder the work of independent civil society and severely restricted basic civil and political rights, such as freedom of expression, association, and assembly.

Amendments to the Constitution issued in February 2014 eliminated presidential term limits and allow current President Daniel Ortega to run for election indefinitely. The amendments also refer to Nicaragua as a state based on "socialist ideals and solidarity practices." There are concerns that these amendments signal the coming of more restrictions on democratic processes and civil society in Nicaragua. The national security forces have also been co-opted to create a surveillance and social control system that suppresses any expression of dissent, as exemplified by the Sovereign Security Law, which was approved in November 2015 and includes provisions that can be used to clamp down on civil society and restrict the media.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Associations, foundations, and federations and confederations (civil or religious)
Registration Body
  • Department of Registry and Control of Associations under the Ministry of Governance
  • Registry of Chambers, Federations and Confederations of Enterprises, as a dependency of the Ministry of Development, Industry and Trade MIFIC for its acronym in Spanish
  • Unified National Register of Sports, Physical Education and Physical Recreation Institutions, of the Nicaraguan Institute of Sports IND for its acronym in Spanish
Approximate Number 6,150
Barriers to Entry Excessive government discretion.
Barriers to Activities Excessive government discretion.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy Lack of enforcement of constitutional protections.
Barriers to International Contact None.
Barriers to Resources None.
Barriers to Assembly Counter-demonstrations in the same place and spontaneous assemblies of 20 or more people without prior notification are not permitted.

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Key Indicators

Population 5,966,798 (July 2016 est.)
Capital Managua
Type of Government Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth Total: 73.2 years
Male: 71.1 years
Female: 75.5 years (2016 est.)
Literacy Rate Male: 82.4%
Female: 83.2% (2015 est.)
Religious Groups Roman Catholic 58.5%, Evangelical 21.6%, Moravian 1.6%, Jehovah's Witness 0.9%, other 1.7%, none 15.7%
Ethnic Groups Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 69%, white 17%, black 9%, Amerindian 5% (2005 census)
GDP Per Capita $5,000 (2015 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2011.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale
(best - worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 125 (2015) 1 – 186
World Bank Rule of Law Index 28.8 (2014) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 35.5 (2014) 100 – 0
Transparency International 130 (2015) 1 1768
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Partly Free
Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: (2017)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Failed States Index 71 (2016) 178 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1980
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) Yes 1980
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2007
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1980
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1990
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1981
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women No --
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1978
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) Yes 2005
Key Regional Agreements Ratification* Year
Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights "Protocol of San Salvador Yes 2010
American Convention on Human Rights Yes 1979

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

On February 18, 2014, the text of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Nicaragua (the "Constitution") with Incorporated Reforms was published in La Gaceta (official journal). This text included new amendments to the Constitution, which was promulgated in 1987 by the Sandinista regime and amended in 1995 through a negotiation between the executive and legislative branches. Among other issues, the new amendments eliminate presidential term limits, thereby allowing current President Daniel Ortega to run for re-election indefinitely. Other new amendments to the Constitution, such as these Articles listed below, affect the freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly:

Article 2 defines the mechanisms of direct democracy, including participatory budgeting, popular initiatives, regional councils, sectoral Councils, and other procedures established by law.

Article 5 includes plurinationality within a unitary and indivisible state, Christian values, socialist ideals and solidarity practices.

Article 7 defines Nicaragua as a republic of direct, participatory and representative democracy.

Article 50 enshrines the right to full and active participation of the individual, family and community in the formulation, implementation, evaluation, control and monitoring of public and social policies and services.

Article 92 strengthens the role of the Army in the defense and national security.

Other relevant Constitutional provisions affecting freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly that were not affected by the new amendments to Constitution include the following: 

Freedom of Expression. Art. 30.- Nicaraguans have the right to express their thoughts freely in public or private, individually or collectively, in oral, written or any other form.

Effective Participation. Art. 48.- Paragraph 2: The State must eliminate any obstacles that impede in effect the equality among Nicaraguans and their effective participation in the political, economic and social life of the country.

Organization. Art. 49.- In Nicaragua, urban and rural workers, women, youth, agricultural producers, artisans, professionals, technicians, intellectuals, artists, members of religious orders, communities of the Atlantic coast and citizens in general, with no discrimination whatsoever, have the right to constitute organizations in order to ensure the realization of their aspirations, pursuant to their own interests , and to participate in the construction of a new society.  These organizations shall be formed according to the participatory and elective will of the citizens; they shall have a social function; and they may or may not have a partisan character, according to their nature and purposes.

Participation in Public Affairs and State Management. Art. 50.- Citizens have the right to participate, under equal conditions, in public affairs and in state management. By law, the people’s effective participation, nationally and locally, shall be guaranteed.

Demands, Complaints and Criticisms. Art. 52.-  Citizens have the right to make demands, denounce anomalies and make constructive criticisms, individually or collectively, before the powers of the state or any authority; to receive timely resolutions or responses; and to be informed of that result within the terms established by law.

Meeting. Art. 53.-  The right to meet peacefully is recognized.  The exercise of this right does not require prior permission.

Concentration (Assembly). Art. 54.-  The right of public concentration, demonstration and mobilization is recognized, pursuant to the law.

Information. Art. 66.-  Nicaraguans have the right to truthful information.  This right includes the freedom to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas, whether orally, in writing, graphically or by any other means of their choice.

Access to Communications Media. Art. 68.-  Paragraph 2: Nicaraguans have the right of access to social communications media, as well as the right to clarification when affected in their rights and guarantees.

Legal Standing. Art. 138.-  The following are powers of the National Assembly:
…5) To grant and cancel the legal standing of civil associations.

Rights and Guarantees Not Susceptible to Suspension. Art. 150.-  The following are powers of the President of the Republic:
9) Enact and enforce the suspension of rights and guarantees as provided by this Constitution, and send the corresponding decree to the National Assembly within no later than seventy-two hours for approval, modification or rejection.
(Article 186 of the Constitution provides, among other things, that the President of the Republic cannot suspend the legal status of individuals or associations, or their participation in public affairs and state management).

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

National-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include the following:
1) General Law on Non-profit Legal Entities. Law No. 147. La Gaceta #102, 29 May 1992 (Article 1 of Law No. 147 was modified by Law No. 858). 

2) General Law of Chambers, Federations, Confederations and Business Associations (February 25, 2014), whose purpose is "to regulate the establishment, licensing, regulation, operation, dissolution, liquidation and cancellation of national chambers of different economic activities ... as well as federations, confederations, and joint binational chambers organized under this law."

3) General Law of Sports, Physical Education and Physical Recreation, whose purpose is to "facilitate the process of establishment and operation of the various sports bodies, physical education and physical recreation entities, that are constituted as non-profits, regardless of their name and specialty, and through a more streamlined process to obtain their legal personalities."

4) Civil Code of the Republic of Nicaragua.  

5) Law of Citizen Participation. Law No. 475. La Gaceta #241, 19 December 2003; and its Regulations, La Gaceta #32, 16 February 2004. 

6) Labor Code. Law No. 185. La Gaceta #205, 30 October 1996.  

7) Law on Tax Coalition, No. 822, La Gaceta #241, December 17, 2012 and its Regulations, Decree No. 01-2013, La Gaceta #12, January 22, 2013.  

8) Tax Code of the Republic of Nicaragua, with incorporated reforms. Law No. 562. La Gaceta #227, 23 November 2005, and #177, 11 September 2006

9) Social Security Law and its reforms (Decree No. 974). La Gaceta #49, 1 March 1982; and its Regulations and their reforms (Decree No. 975). La Gaceta #49, 1 March 1982. 

10) Tax Rates Plan of the Municipality of Managua and its reforms (Decree No. 10-91). La Gaceta #30, 12 February 1991. 

11) Municipal Tax Rates Plan and its reforms (Decree No. 455). La Gaceta #144, 31 July 1989. Page 130. 

12) Property Tax Legislation (Decree No. 3-95). La Gaceta #21, 31 January 1995.  

13) Law Creating the Financial Analysis Unit

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. The Sovereign Security Act came into full effect on December 18, 2015. The President was supposed to issue a regulatory decree no later than February 18, 2016, but he never issued the regulatory decree. As a result, the legislature now has the responsibility to provide regulatory guidelines for the Act in the absense of a regulatory decree from the President. Until the legislature provides regulatory guidelines, however, the new Act can be interpreted and implemented with wide discretion by the authorities.

The Act replaces a 2010 Democratic Security Law by expanding its scope to "all areas of safety of the people, families, and the nation" and widening the definition of what constitutes a security threat. The Act's stated objective is to "preserve, promote, and maintain sovereign security" against threats that include transnational organised crime, international terrorism, foreign interference, criminality, rebellion, illicit acts against aviation and maritime navigation, attacks against cyber security and infrastructure, or "any illegal act that threatens against the existence of the Nicaraguan state and its institutions."

2. In April 2015, the Government of Nicaragua prepared a law to expand controls on the Internet through the creation of a state company that will manage broadband services in the Central American country, have the right to decide who will deliver concessions to offer services, and be able to demand information about Nicaraguan Internet users.

3. In addition, in July 2015, The Ministry of the Interior circulated a draft Amendment to the General Law on Non-profit Legal Entities.

If you are aware of other pending initiatives, write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

According to the provisions of Law No. 147, three types of civil or religious non-profit legal entities can be constituted: (1) associations, (2) foundations, and (3) federations and confederations.

The National Assembly is responsible for granting legal status to non-profit legal entities. The Constitution empowers it to "grant and cancel the legal status to civil associations" (Art. 138.5 Cn.)  Once granted legal personality, the Ministry of Interior is in charge of the implementation of Law No.147, which governs the operation of the associations: registration; stamping of books; submission of annual reports (grants and financial statements); imposition of administrative sanctions. Within the Ministry of Interior, the Department of Registry and Control of Associations (Departamento de Registro y Control de Asociaciones) is tasked with the implementation of Law No. 147.  The Department maintains the Registry of Non-profit Legal Entities, where all legal entities referred to in Law No. 147 must register. 

During 2014, two groups of organizations were removed from the scope of Law No. 147:

  1. Chambers, federations, confederations and business associations, which are licensed and regulated by the Ministry of Development, Industry and Trade MIFIC; and
  2. Associations, federations and confederations of sports, physical education and physical recreation, which are authorized and regulated by the National Council of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation Physics (CONADERFI), attached to the Nicaraguan Institute of Sports.

The first group was removed from the scope of Law No.147 when The General Law of Chambers, Federations, Confederations and Business Associations (Law No. 849) came into effect on December 18, 2013 with the mandate "to regulate the establishment, licensing, regulation, operation, dissolution, liquidation and cancellation of national chambers of different economic activities ... as well as federations, confederations, and joint binational chambers organized under this law."

The second group was removed from the scope of Law No.147 on April 8, 2014, when Law No. 858, which amended the General Law of Sport, Physical Education and Physical Recreation (Law No. 522), came into force with the purpose to "facilitate the process of establishment and operation of the various sports bodies, physical education and physical recreation entities, that constitute as nonprofit, regardless of their name and specialty, and through a more streamlined process to obtain their legal personalities." Law No. 858 amended Article(1) of Law No. 147 by adding a paragraph that references Law No. 522 as regulating "the constitution, acquisition of legal personality, performance and termination of associations, federations and confederations dedicated to sport, physical education and physical recreation."

Pursuant to the Civil Code, there may also be organizations that lack legal status but are considered simple civil or commercial associations, depending on their aims or purposes. Governed by the provisions of the Civil Code, these civil organizations should be legally constituted, establish bylaws and be registered in the Commercial Registry. 

Article 49 of the Constitution guarantees the universal right of association to all citizens and to the population in general, with no discrimination whatsoever, so that they may realize their aspirations in accordance with their own interests and participate in the construction of a new society.  This is a free and voluntary right, exercised in accordance with “participatory and elective will.”

In developing this constitutional precept, ordinary legislation stipulates that in their act of constitution, entities must define their aims or purposes. Only in the case of foundations does Law No. 147 state that the purpose must be to serve the common good.

Public Benefit Status

At the national level, the Law on Tax Coalition (Art. 32) establishes income tax exemptions on economic activities for churches, denominations, faiths and religious foundations with legal standing, with respect to income from all activities and assets employed toward their religious aims and purposes, as well as for artistic, scientific, educational and cultural institutions, labor unions, political parties, Nicaraguan Red Cross, Fire Corps; charity and social assistance institutions, indigenous communities, non-profit associations, foundations, federations and confederations with legal standing.  Exceptions (Art. 33) include when exempt subjects usually make economic profit activities with third parties in the market for goods and services.

According to Article 111 of the Law On Tax Coalition, churches, denominations, and religious faiths with legal standing are exempt from the Value Added Tax (Impuesto al Valor Agregado IVA), in terms of goods intended exclusively for their religious purposes.

In terms of municipal taxes, exemptions from payment of the income tax and property tax (Impuesto sobre Bienes Inmuebles IBI) are given to:

  • churches and religious faiths, with respect to temples and offices used for religious purposes;
  • non-profit charity and social assistance institutions;
  • cultural, scientific, sports and artistic institutions;
  • unions and associations of workers and professionals;
  • professional associations, as long as they are not for profit; and
  • non-profit civil associations, foundations, federations and confederations with recognized legal standing, with respect only to their assets and incomes related exclusively to the fulfillment of their own aims and purposes.

Barriers to Entry

No limits are established in terms of the constitutional right to organize.  Those who desire to associate may do so for any reason except to commit a crime or act against the constitutional order.

A non-profit legal entity (association, foundation, federation or confederation) is constituted by means of a public deed, with the minimum involvement of five natural or legal persons who have the capacity to assume obligations and comply with bylaws implied in the entity’s constitution. Business chambers also require five members; and sports associations require a minimum of 15 natural persons. The law does not restrict foreign individuals from taking part in these organizations. However, it does establish limits for minors (under 21 years old) who do not have the capacity to assume obligations.

Legal status is granted by the National Assembly for CSOs under Law No. 147. The registration process is carried out in the Department of Registry and Control of Associations of the Ministry of Governance, which has established the following list of registration requirements:

  1. Letter requesting registration and the assignment of a perpetual entity number, addressed to the Office Director and listing the entity’s address, telephone and fax numbers and email address
  2. Copy of La Gaceta in which the decree of legal standing granted by the National Assembly was published
  3. The entity’s deed of constitution
  4. Bylaws (if not included in the deed of constitution)
  5. Photocopy of the entity’s purpose statement or brief historical summary
  6. List of members of the Board of Directors, including their names, positions, addresses, telephone numbers, identification card (cédula) numbers and original signatures
  7. List of all members of the entity with the right to speak and vote in the General Assembly, including their names and identification card (cédula) numbers
  8. Four legal required institutional records: two of minutes, one daily ledger and one general ledger
  9. Payment of a fee of one thousand and fifty Córdobas (about US$50.00)
  10. In the case of a foundation, federation or chamber, an initial balance sheet must be submitted in addition to the requirements above

The Ministry of Development, Industry and Trade (MIFIC) authorizes business chambers and the Nicaraguan Institute of Sports (IND) (CONADERFI) authorizes sports organizations. They carry out registration processes with similar requirements.

When the above-mentioned requirements are met, the Department of Registry and Control of Associations will proceed with review and registration, a process that takes an average of ten days (although the period is not stipulated by law). Because the National Assembly is the body that grants legal standing, the procedures for an entity’s registration are completed without much difficulty.  In general, however, the documentation is checked meticulously, and corrections or adjustments are often required.

In order to carry out activities in Nicaragua, organizations with legal status abroad must also be authorized by the Department of Registry and Control of Associations. These organizations are registered after verification that their nature and objectives correspond with the nature of Law No. 147.  If they operate by virtue of international instruments, then they shall be governed according to said instruments.  The Ministry of Foreign Relations has established an information system on non-governmental cooperation (SysONG).

If registration is denied by the Department of Registry and Control of Associations, an appeal for review (Recurso de Revisión) may be filed before the same authority that issued the administrative denial.  A subsequent appeal (Recurso de Apelación) may be filed with the higher authority, in this case the Minister of Governance.  This would exhaust the administrative alternatives for appeal, leaving open the alternative of filing for judicial protection (Recurso de Amparo).

Barriers to Operational Activity

As an administrative sanction, Law No. 147 authorizes the Ministry of Governance to impose intervention for the period strictly necessary to resolve any irregularities caused by violations of Article 13 (which establishes the obligations of Non-profit Legal Entities) or previous offenses.

The CSOs subject to Law No. 147 must submit general balance sheets upon conclusion of the fiscal year.  As complementary information, some CSOs also submit activities reports, clarifying the relation between implemented actions and the fund amounts managed. However, the presentation of such activities reports is not required by law or by the Ministry of Governance.

Law No. 147 establishes fines as administrative sanctions if any obligations contained in Article 13 are violated or in the event that foreign organizations fail to comply with the law’s requirements.  However, the parameters for determining fine amounts are not specified, which in practice allows for discretion among officials in setting the amounts.

Cancellation of the legal status of organizations governed by Law No. 147 is also done by the National Assembly and is implemented by means of the same procedures for the granting of legal status, after prior consultation with the Ministry of Governance.  The causes for cancellation are established in Article 24 of the law.

An association’s legal status may be cancelled:
a)    when used in the commission of unlawful acts; 
b)   when used to violate public order; 
c)    membership of the Association declines to under the minimum number fixed by this Act; 
d)   Its activities do not correspond to the purposes for which it was formed; 
e)    It obstructs the control and supervision of the Department of Registration and Control Office, and has previously been subject to Article 22 sanctions;
f)    At the request of its highest governing body in accordance with its bylaws.

CSOs subject to Law No. 147—like any other natural person or legal entity— are subject to governmental inspection in order to ensure the fulfillment of their legal obligations.  However, since 2008, various government offices have carried out official acts that demonstrate a particular focus on organizations that have openly opposed state policies.  In addition, discretionary application of the requirements of Law No. 147 and other legislation (including the Social Security Law and certain tax laws and regulations) has been perceived.

The so-called mass organizations created in the 1980s during the first period of the Sandinista government have now been strengthened and molded into “a new type of relationship between civil society and the state, established by the current government through Citizens’ Power Councils (CPCs) and Citizens’ Power Cabinets (CPGs) from the local level to municipal, departmental, regional and national levels, under the direction of the Presidency.  In the government’s Human Development Plan (2007-2012) and sectoral policies, the CPCs and CPGs are noted as the sole representatives of Nicaragua’s civil society.  This has been criticized because there is a diversity of civic organizations that feel excluded, and because the CPCs and CPGs have been superimposed over other legally-established coordination entities… [4] 

“…this model of Citizens’ Power not only limits the capacities for relations and collaboration with other existing modalities of community organization and citizen participation in the country, but it also restricts the rights of others to take part in public management. (…) This restricts the margins within which civil society can take action in its different roles and, particularly, in its restriction of state power, in ‘the autonomy of representative social actors who are aware of their own interests,’ and in the development of a citizens’ awareness that contributes to the common good and is imposed over the interests of individuals.” [5]

As of the end of 2009, the Ministry of the Interior continues to exercise great discretion in its capacity as administrative agency in charge of oversight of NGOs. Examples of abuses of discretion by the Ministry of the Interior include:

  • Insistence on changes to NGO by-laws that are not required by law;
  • Demanding inclusion of information in an NGO's assembly minutes that are not required by law;
  • Withholding official recognition of an NGO's compliance with the law for reasons not established by law.

[4] La sociedad civil en Nicaragua (II) [“Civil Society in Nicaragua”]. Luis Serra. El Nuevo Diario, 29 September 2008.

[5] Consejos del Poder Ciudadano y gestión pública en Nicaragua [“Citizen’s Power Councils and Public Management in Nicaragua”]. Roberto Stuart Almendárez, Research Coordinator. Centro de Estudios y Análisis Políticos (CEAP). Managua, July 2009.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

There are no legal provisions that restrict the rights to free speech or to the free exercise of political rights, including the defense of issues such as democracy and human rights.  On the contrary, the legal framework guards and protects such rights.  Nevertheless, implementation of the model of Citizens’ Power places de facto obstacles against the free exercise of these constitutionally-guaranteed rights.

Barriers to International Contact

No type of legal obstacle currently exists. However, there are concerns that the current government may have intentions to tighten its control in this area.

Barriers to Resources

Indeed, in order to ensure their self-sustainability, some organizations constituted as Non-profit Legal Entities are completely free to carry out activities characteristic of economic entities.  However, it is important to note the current government’s veiled interest in controlling areas susceptible to financing from international NGOs. This became evident in September 2015, when the government of President Daniel Ortega informed the diplomatic corps and representatives of international organizations that NGOs will not be able to directly receive resources from abroad. Resources will instead be channeled through government institutions. The first result of this change was the removal of a Uruguayan representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the closure of at least five projects.

Barriers to Assembly

The Constitution of Nicaragua protects the freedom of assembly through the following provisions:

Meeting. Art. 53.-  The right to meet peacefully is recognized.  The exercise of this right does not require prior permission.

Concentration (Assembly). Art. 54.-  The right of public concentration, demonstration and mobilization is recognized, pursuant to the law.

Nonetheless, according to a report from Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH), in 2015 various sit-ins and protests were restricted, hindered and even repressed with violence to discourage and criminalize the exercise of freedom of assembly. On several occasions, the government used "shock troops" that intimidated and, in some cases, brutally assaulted participants during demonstrations. Not only protests that seek to influence the electoral system and electoral reform have been attacked, but also protests convened to make claims against the extractive industry and even those that demand better conditions for persons suffering chronic medical conditions.

More specifically, the below sub-sections explain the restrictions on the freedom of assembly in Nicaragua.

Advance Notification

According to the Constitution, the right of assembly does not require authorization from the government for gatherings of less than 20 people. However, according to the country's Manual for Individual and Political Rights, when more than 20 people are expected to gather together, then prior notice is required. 

The purpose of the notification requirement is to avoid one gathering conflicting with another previously scheduled to take place in the same route or physical space. As such, neither counter-demonstrations nor spontaneous demonstrations of more than 20 people are permitted.

Time, Place, Manner Restrictions
Article 89 of the Elections Act empowers the Supreme Electoral Council to act in coordination with the appropriate agencies so that gatherings of a “non-partisan nature” do not interfere with electoral campaigning.

Enforcement
There have been a number of instances where civil society organizations have accused the police of using excessive force against demonstrators.

For example, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) issued a press release in February 2013 regarding “Violence and repression against residents in [the municipality of] Santo Domingo, [Province of] Chontales.” It said:

the authorities did not comply with their duty as public officials, in the sense of following the law and respect for citizens’ rights and guarantees as provided for in our Political Constitution, such as the right to due process (Article 34), the right to individual freedom (Article 25), equality before the law (Article 27), the right to counsel (Article 34), the right to freedom of movement (Article 54) and [the right to] social protest.

Criminal Penalties
Title II of the “Penal Code” on “misdemeanors against public order and peace” includes six criminal misdemeanors (Articles 528 through 533): disobedience of authority; refusal to assist an authority, public official or public employee; hindrance of authority, public official, or public employee; and refusal to self-identify. These aforementioned misdemeanors may be applied against organizers or participants in peaceful demonstrations.

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Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports 19th Session 2014
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Nicaragua
European Parliament Resolution The situation of human rights and democracy in Nicaragua – the case of Francisca Ramirez (February 16, 2017)
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes Not available
U.S. State Department

Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports (2010)
Human Rights Report (2010)
 
Human Rights Report (2013)

Failed States Index Reports Foreign Policy Failed States Index
Amnesty International 2015/16 Report
IMF Country Reports

Nicaragua: 2005 Article IV Consultation, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Reviews Under the Three Year Arrangement Under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility, Requests for Rephasing and Waiver of Performance Criteria, Financing Assurances Review, and Request for Extension of the Arrangement - Staff Report
Joint Staff Assessment of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper Annual Progress Report
Nicaragua: Staff Report for the 2013 Article IV Consultation

International Commission of Jurists Not available
Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH) Human Rights: 2015 (Spanish)
CIVICUS Civil Society Index Reports Nicaragua
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Nicaragua
Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) 9th Report on Human Rights and Conflict in Central America 2013-2014

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News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News

European Union calls for respect for democracy and human rights in Nicaragua (February 2017) (Spanish)
The European Parliament has issued a resolution condemning the lack of protection of human rights defenders in Nicaragua and calls for the cessation of the harassment of the Government of Nicaragua.

Amnesty International Annual Report 2016/17 (February 2017)
Conflict over land in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region sparked violent attacks against Miskitu Indigenous Peoples. Human rights defenders continued to experience threats and intimidation because of their work. Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities denounced violations of their rights to consultation and free, prior and informed consent in the context of the development of the Grand Interoceanic Canal. Communities and human rights organizations expressed concern at the potential negative impact of the Canal on their lives. A total abortion ban remained in place.

Carlos Fernando Chamorro denounces intimidation and political espionage (October 2016)
The editorial staff of Esta semana and Confidencial have been the victims of an escalation of intimidation "instigated by official policy that seeks to restrict freedom of information and expression in Nicaragua."

Civil society organizations punished (August 2016)
Civil society organizations carried out a self-assessment of their current situation in the context of the government of president Daniel Ortega's punishment of CSOs that have a critical position of his administration.

Civil society marchers harassed by government shock forces (August 2016)
A march conducted by civil society organizations to demand the convening of new elections with opposition participation concluded in the city of Masaya but it was sieged by government shock forces.

Deterioration of Human Rights in Nicaragua (August 2016)
According to surveys conducted in the Nicaraguan community, there is unanimous confirmation that there is legal uncertainty and a constant deterioration of human rights in the country, and that citizens are totally defenseless.

Deterioration of human rights in Nicaragua (June 2016) (Spanish)
CENIDH executive director Mauro Ampié considers that the deterioration of the human rights of Nicaraguans somehow reflects "a political design that is oriented to the permanence of an authoritarian government." The most restricted rights are legal security, physical integrity, access to justice, the guarantees of due process, and individual liberty and property.

AI denounces threats to indigenous human rights defenders in Nicaragua (February 2016) (Spanish)
Amnesty International denounced "threats" and "intimidation" in Nicaragua suffered by the human rights activists, particularly indigenous groups opposed to the Interoceanic Grand Canal. In its 2015 report on the situation of human rights in the world, Amnesty International also criticized the "harassment" suffered "some media and civil society" in Nicaragua.

CENIDH Appeals Unconstitutional Security Act (February 2016) (Spanish)
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) presented Thursday before the Judiciary an appeal of unconstitutionality against the law of 'Sovereign Security of the Republic of Nicaragua', as it believes that it "seeks to silence" critical voices against the government of commander Daniel Ortega. The legislation was approved in December 2015 and establishes a national system of military coordination that integrates all state institutions to "investigate threats and security risk sovereign" country.

Freedom House Latin America Director Denied Entry to Nicaragua (February 2016)
In response to Nicaragua’s expulsion of Latin America Programs Director Carlos Ponce, Freedom House issued the following statement: "We are appalled by the Nicaraguan government's decision to deny entry to Carlos Ponce, and its broader strategy of persecuting human rights defenders," said Mark P. Lagon, president. "Barring the representative of a human rights organization signals the deteriorating protections for civil society in Nicaragua.” Ponce traveled to Nicaragua to meet with local civil society organizations, and diplomatic and government officials. He was denied entry to the country February 2, held overnight, and forced to return to Washington. Nicaraguan officials said he was denied entry due to an “administrative decision.”

The government does not like people to organize (January 2016)
Members of the Civil Coordinator made an evaluation of 2015, calling it the year of the social movements, but also confirmed that during the two consecutive periods of government of Daniel Ortega the impact of civil society organizations (NGOs ) critical government was crushed by diverting foreign aid they received.

Human rights situation in Nicaragua is negative at the end of the year (December 2015)
More than 1,500 complaints of civil rights violations records the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, an organization that went onto the streets in the international Human Rights Day to demand respect and for constitutional guarantees of people are met.

La guerra de Ortega contra las ONGs (October 2015) (Spanish)
In an extraordinary meeting held on September 22 at the Chancellery of Nicaragua, the government of President Daniel Ortega informed the diplomatic corps and representatives of international organizations that henceforth NGOs will not be able to directly receive resources from abroad. Resources will instead be channeled through government institutions. The first result of this change was the removal of the Uruguayan representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the closure of at least five projects.

UNDP to close projects (October 2015) (Spanish)
The UNDP will have to close 11 projects after the decision of the government of President Daniel Ortega to control all cooperation funds. 11 more projects are under review, said a source. The government called a meeting at the Foreign Ministry with agencies and bilateral donors to inform them of the decision and to implement a change in the guidelines for cooperation. They noted that they preferred to deal directly with donors. In this move, the biggest loser is UNDP, which has acted as an intermediary.

Circulation of Draft Amendments to the Law of Non-profit Legal Entities (July 2015) (Spanish)
The Ministry of the Interior circulated a draft Amendment to the General Law on Non-profit Legal Entities. According to sources, the new law will double the number of articles of the current legislation. Under the guidance of the Department of Civil Registration and Control of Associations of the Ministry of the Interior, officially, there are currently in operation about 6,150 non-governmental not-for-profit organizations.

Government Deports Lawyers of CEJIL (July 2015) (Spanish)
Immigration agents of Augusto C. Sandino Airport refused entry into the country to lawyers from the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Luis Carlos Buob and Marta González. Buob is one of the lawyers who accompanied the Nicaraguan organizations that reported at the 154th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) about violations of human rights related to the Interoceanic Canal project in Nicaragua.

Report on Human Rights and Conflicts in Central America: Nicaragua Recedes in Citizen Participation (April 2015) (Spanish)
The Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) presented the ninth "Report on Human Rights and Conflicts in Central America 2013-2014" about the outlook for human rights in the region. Nicaragua "showed some progress in citizen participation it is facing setbacks from constitutional and legal forms."

Government Creates Law to Control Internet (April 2015) (Spanish)
The Government of Nicaragua has prepared a law to control the Internet through the creation of a state company that will manage broadband services in the Central American country, have the right to decide who will deliver concessions to offer services, and be able to receive information about Nicaraguan Internet users.

Carter Center Blasts Nicaragua's Electoral System (June 2014)
The Carter Center released a statement lamenting the Sandinista government's recent renewal of its scandal-plagued electoral authorities, calling the move a "significant lost opportunity for this country to strengthen its battered electoral institutions." The electoral watchdog group, which has observed national elections in Nicaragua since 1989, called on the Sandinista-dominated National Assembly to “undertake their patriotic duty to the Nicaraguan people to conduct a serious, thorough review of the Nicaraguan electoral system with the participation of all of the political parties so that, for the good of Nicaraguan society and its democracy, decisions and events such as these never occur again. We also ask the international community to make sure it keeps its eyes on the status of democracy in Nicaragua in order to encourage and facilitate the return of free, fair, and transparent elections..."

Regression in human rights in Nicaragua (Spanish) (June 2014)
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) confirmed that there is an alarmingly high percentage of complaints for violation of human rights in the country. Ampié Mauro, Executive Director of CENIDH, considers the human rights situation in the country to have reached new levels of complexity and urgency.

Delegation from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) visits Nicaragua (August 2013)
A delegation from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) visited Nicaragua to explain the requirements that must be met for the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a mechanism that assessed the situation in the country in this area, to be held in 2014.

Protecting Human Rights through comics (November 2012)
El director del organismo Hagamos Democracia, Róger Arteaga, dijo que durante los comicios municipales del pasado cuatro de noviembre se violaron los derechos humanos, incluso existieron muertos por diferencias políticas y doble voto. "Si no respetan los derechos humanos estamos condenados a sufrir. En esta última experiencia del cuatro de noviembre se revelaron muchas violaciones", indicó Arteaga.

Private sector gives "votes of confidence" for new UAF head, despite concerns about the UAF as a tool for repression (October 2012)
Private sector leaders are giving guarded votes of confidence to President Daniel Ortega’s appointment of a soldier and a police officer to head the controversial new Financial Analysis Unit (UAF), but they are still concerned that the UAF could be used as tool for political repression. Advertised as a government initiative to combat money laundering and terrorism financing, the UAF was approved unilaterally last June by Sandinista lawmakers, who completely disregarded the concerns raised by opposition lawmakers, civil society and the business sector.

NGOs worried about security in Central America (September 2012)
The high levels of criminality in Central America are making it hard for NGOs to operate because of the increased risks faced by their employees.  In Guatemala, community leaders have been killed for doing their work, but increased violence has also been seen in Nicaragua, as noted by the participants of an NGO forum on security held in Managua.

A more active civil society is necessary (August 2012)
"Basically what we want is to guide civil society activists in Nicaragua to become more active, more vibrant, more useful, "said Marcos Carrillo, who was providing advice to youth groups and organizations interested in participating in civil society.

NGOs disagree as to whether to mobilize to get out the vote  (August 2012)
Local NGOs have conflicting positions about whether to carry out activities to get out the vote in the upcoming municipal elections to be held in November.  Sectors of the population distrust the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE). Groups mobilizing to get out the vote argue that despite these doubts, voting is a right that should be exercised by the citizens of Nicaragua. 

Youth protesters attacked while protesting electoral fraud (July 2012)
Young protesters who were assembled in front of the Supreme Electoral Council to protest electoral fraud claim that they were attacked by about 100 government supporters. Some of the attackers were wearing clothing identifying them as municipal government employees.

The current problem in Nicaragua is the Unit of Financial Analysis UAF, says expert (July 2012)
According to a Mexican expert on countering money-laundering, the new Unit of Financial Analysis, if left as is, would have so much discretion that “all citizens” would be potential subjects of investigation of possible money laundering operations. The expert considered this to be extremely “risky” for the Nicaraguan people.

Nicaragua to expel USAID? (July 2012)
Nicaragua was one of the countries in the coalition of the Bolivarian Alternative for the peoples of the Americas (ALBA) that signed a document urging other members to expel from their territories USAID. They claimed that USAID is "a disturbing factor which threatens the sovereignty and political stability" of their countries. The text of the document was also signed by the governments of Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Dominica and Venezuela.

Consultation held on Bill to Reform the Law on Municipalities (June 2012)
The Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development (Red Local) has led a consultation process with its membership, partner organisations and experts in municipal and local development to produce a series of proposals for the Bill to Reform the Law on Municipalities. Text in Spanish here.

Civil society groups support political negotiation between Montealegre and Ortega (March 2012)
The Democratic Citizens' Union, a group of 19 civil society organizations that promote democracy and human rights in Nicaragua, has backed a proposed negotiation between opposition leader Eduardo Montealegre and current President Daniel Ortega. Montealegre says that what Nicaragua needs is a "national accord to set a certain path to follow for political and economic policy, social policy and institutional policy that goes beyond a single government." He also seeks to restore Nicaragua's constitutional rule of law by appointing new Supreme Court justices and electoral magistrates.

News archive

Civil society calls for protests against electoral fraud (November 2011)

Civil society organizations promote freedom of association (October 2011)

Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council accepted President Daniel Ortega registration to run for re-election (April 2011)

Civil Society Organizations called the attention of the international community (March 2011)

More funding required for rural potable water - NGO (January 2011)

President Ortega received a summons (September 2010)

Report presents serious concern regarding the situation of human rights defenders in the region (September 2010)

The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner organization in Nicaragua.

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