Nicaragua

Last updated: 29 September 2019

Introduction

Nicaraguan civil society organizations (CSOs) have formed in waves since the late 1960s in response to a socio-political context that has evolved 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. Despite weak 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.

Working relationships between CSOs and state entities have been disappearing or are prevented from functioning by the state’s political decisions. CSOs’ activities require good relations with the state, particularly at the local level, although they frequently encounter obstacles. Nicaraguan law recognizes the freedoms of assembly and association, but in practice respect for these rights has been problematic. For example, although CSOs are active, they have faced harassment and occasional violence in recent years.

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.”  Several laws govern CSOs:

  • 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.
  • The Civil Code (1904) contains additional legal provisions 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, as the law has many gaps and contradictions. Its provisions do not clearly regulate the procedures and requirements that not-for-profit entities must follow for their constitution, authorization, functioning, and termination.  Nor are there any implementing regulations to clarify procedures. In addition to these specific laws, as legal entities CSOs must comply with other Nicaraguan laws, including labor, social security, fiscal, and municipal laws.

The election of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega in 2006 began a period of democratic deterioration that continues today, affecting political rights and civil liberties and seeing government efforts to silence journalists and academics with opposing views. The government has systematically attacked CSOs and enacted legal and quasi-legal strategies to hinder the work of independent civil society.

February 2014 amendments to the Constitution eliminated presidential term limits and allow Ortega to run for election indefinitely, paving the way for him to win a third consecutive term in November 2016. There are concerns that these amendments, which refer to Nicaragua as a state based on “socialist ideals and solidarity practices,” signal the coming of more restrictions on democratic processes and civil society. The national security forces have been co-opted to create a surveillance and social control system that suppresses any expression of dissent, as exemplified by the November 2015 Sovereign Security Law, which includes provisions that can be used to clamp down on civil society and restrict the media.

More recently, on April 18, 2018, the state and its parastatal forces violently repressed a peaceful protest, resulting in human rights violations. In the ensuing months, the socio-political crisis in the country has led to an unprecedented human rights crisis. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a preliminary report after its visit to the country on May 17-21, 2018, which included the following recommendations:

1.    Cease immediately the repression of the demonstrators and the arbitrary detention of those who participate in the protests.
2.    Respect and guarantee the full enjoyment of the right to protest, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and political participation of the population.
3.    Create an international investigation mechanism on the acts of violence that occurred, with guarantees of autonomy and independence to ensure the right to the truth and to properly identify those responsible.
4.    Guarantee the life, integrity and security of all the people who are demonstrating and exercising their rights and public liberties and suffering the consequences of the environment of repression, especially students, children and adolescents.
5.    Offer effective guarantees to protect the people who gave testimony to the IACHR or who in some way participated in its activities in the country; and refrain from taking or allowing retaliation against them.

Pressure from the international community has continued to mount. In November 2018, for example, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued an Executive Order that demonstrated it “is committed to holding the Ortega regime accountable for the violent protests and widespread corruption that have led to the deaths of hundreds of innocent Nicaraguans and destroyed their economy.” In addition, the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018 directs the U.S. President to instruct U.S. executive directors of international financial institutions to use U.S. influence to oppose any loan for the Government of Nicaragua’s benefit unless the Department of State certifies that Nicaragua is taking effective steps to:

  • hold free elections overseen by credible domestic and international electoral observers;
  • promote democracy and an independent judicial system and electoral council;
  • strengthen the rule of law;
  • respect the right to freedom of association and expression;
  • combat corruption, including investigating and prosecuting corrupt government officials; and
  • protect the right of political opposition parties, journalists, trade unionists, human rights defenders, and other civil society activists to operate without interference.

The Act, however, would not affect basic human needs or democracy promotion. Nevertheless, it further requires the U.S. President to direct the U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States to use U.S. influence to advocate for an Electoral Observation Mission to be sent to Nicaragua in 2017 and obligates the State Department to report on the involvement of senior Nicaraguan government officials in acts of public corruption or human rights violations.

The European Parliament also approved a resolution on the situation in Nicaragua that:

  • Underlines that Nicaragua is suffering from a serious breach of democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law as a result of the events that took place in April and May 2018;
  • Reiterates the importance of its resolution adopted on May 31, 2018; and
  • Condemns all repressive actions of the Nicaraguan Government.

Chapter IV of the IACHR Annual Report 2018, released on March 21, 2019, includes a section for Nicaragua that recommends declaring null and void all measures obstructing the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. It also includes specific recommendations on freedom of expression and human rights defenders and incorporates the report of the IACHR on “Grave violations of human rights in the context of social protests in Nicaragua.”

Lastly, on March 19, 2019 the UN Human Rights Council issued a resolution expressing concern over the increasing restrictions on civic space and expressions of dissent in Nicaragua, including the closure of independent media outlets and the cancellation of legal registration and seizure of assets and goods of a number of CSOs, particularly human rights organizations. This preceded the the third review of Nicaragua in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process held on May 15, 2019. The final report of the UPR Working Group contained 259 conclusions and/or recommendations that were submitted by 90 delegations and called on Nicaragua to respect civil society, freedom of association, and peaceful demonstration, among other human rights.

Please see the “News Items” section below in this report for more details.

Organizational FormsAssociations, 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 Number6,150
Barriers to EntryExcessive government discretion.
Barriers to ActivitiesExcessive government discretion.
Barriers to Speech and/or AdvocacyLack of enforcement of constitutional protections.
Barriers to International ContactNone.
Barriers to ResourcesNone.
Barriers to AssemblyCounter-demonstrations in the same place and spontaneous assemblies of 20 or more people without prior notification are not permitted.
Population6,025,951 (July 2017 est.)
CapitalManagua
Type of GovernmentRepublic
Life Expectancy at BirthTotal population: 73.5 years
Male: 71.3 years
Female: 75.8 years (2017 est.)
Literacy RateTotal: 82.8%
Male: 82.4%
Female: 83.2% (2015 est.)
Religious GroupsRoman Catholic 51.6%, Evangelical 33.9%, other 1.5%, unspecified 12.9%, none 0.2% (2016 est.)
Ethnic GroupsMestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 69%, white 17%, black 9%, Amerindian 5% (2005 census)
GDP Per Capita$5,500 (2016 est.)

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

Ranking BodyRankRanking Scale
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index124 (2016)1 – 186
World Bank Rule of Law Index30.29 (2016)100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index30.05 (2016)100 – 0
Transparency International157 (2017)1 176
Freedom House: Freedom in the WorldStatus: Partly Free
Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: (2018)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Failed States Index74 (2017)178 – 1

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International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International AgreementsRatification*Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)Yes1980
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)Yes1980
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)Yes2007
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)Yes1980
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)Yes1990
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)Yes1981
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against WomenNo
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)Yes1978
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)Yes2005
Key Regional AgreementsRatification*Year
Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San SalvadorYes2010
American Convention on Human RightsYes1979

* 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 were 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 affect the freedoms 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 recognizes political pluralism within a unitary and indivisible state, Christian values, socialist ideals, and solidarity practices as principles of the Nicaraguan state.
• 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 were not altered by the new amendments to Constitution:
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.
Association. 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 (Assembly). 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.
In addition, Article 186 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

A number of national-level laws and regulations affect civil society:


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).

There is an amendment to Article 1 in this Law, which states:

El objeto de la presente Ley es regular la constitución, autorización, funcionamiento y extinción de las personas jurídicas civiles y religiosas que sin fines de lucro existan en el país y de las que en el futuro se organicen.

La constitución, obtención de la personalidad jurídica, funcionamiento y la cancelación de las asociaciones, federaciones y confederaciones dedicadas al deporte, la educación física y la recreación física, se regirán por lo dispuesto en la Ley No. 522, “Ley General de Deporte, Educación Física y Recreación Física” y su Reglamento.

According to an unofficial translation, this states that:

The purpose of this law is to regulate the constitution, authorization, operation and extinction of civil and religious legal entities that exist for not-for-profit purposes in the country and those that will be organized in the future.

The constitution, obtaining legal personality, operation and cancellation of associations, federations and confederations dedicated to sport, physical education and physical recreation, will be governed by the provisions of Law No. 522, “General Sports Law, Physical Education and Physical Recreation” and its Regulations.

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.”

There is an amendment to Article 39 in this Law, which states:

Todas las entidades empresariales, de naturaleza gremial que tienen personalidad jurídica otorgada conforme la legislación vigente al momento de su otorgamiento y que están inscritas en el Departamento de Registro y Control de Asociaciones del Ministerio de Gobernación como asociaciones sin fines de lucro, deberán inscribirse en el Registro de Cámaras, Federaciones y Confederaciones Empresariales del MIFIC a más tardar el dieciocho de febrero del dos mil quince, debiendo de modificar sus estatutos, cuando sea necesario, de conformidad a lo dispuesto en esta Ley.

Por ministerio de la presente Ley, las entidades empresariales consignadas en el párrafo anterior y que no ostenten en su denominación los vocablos de cámara, federación o confederación podrán conservar y continuar usando sus nombres originales, sin detrimento o perjuicio legal alguno, siempre y cuando respeten la estructura funcional y organizacional establecida en la presente ley. Dichas entidades podrán registrar sus nombres originales en el Registro del MIFIC para salvaguardar sus derechos.

Solamente podrán usar los términos “Cámara de Comercio”, “Cámara de Industria”, sus similares o sus combinaciones, las entidades a que se refiere la presente ley.

According to an unofficial translation, this states that:

All business entities of a union nature that have legal personality granted in accordance with the legislation in force at the time of their organization and that are registered in the Department of Registration and Control of Associations of the Ministry of the Interior as not-for-profit associations, must register in the Register of Chambers, Federations and Business Confederations of MIFIC no later than February eighteenth of two thousand and fifteen, having to modify its statutes, when necessary, in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

By virtue of the present law, the business entities consigned in the previous paragraph and that do not have in their denomination the words of chamber, federation or confederation may keep and continue to use their original names, without detriment or any legal harm, as long as they respect the functional and organizational structure established in this law. These entities may register their original names in the MIFIC Registry to safeguard their rights.

Only the terms “Chamber of Commerce”, “Chamber of Industry”, their like or their combinations, and the entities referred to in this law may be used.

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, Law No. 562, La Gaceta #227, 23 November 2005, and its reform, Law No. 598, La Gaceta #177, 11 September 2006.

9) Social Security Law (Decree No. 974) and its Regulations (Decree No. 975). La Gaceta #49, March 1, 1982Reforms and additions to Regulations (Decree No. 25-2005). La Gaceta #82, April 28, 2005.

10) Tax Rates Plan of the Municipality of Managua and its reforms (Decree No. 10-91, La Gaceta # 30, 12 February 1991. Page 144).

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 of the Financial Analysis Unit (Law No. 976), La Gaceta #138, July 28, 2018, and its Regulations (Decree No. 14-2018)La Gaceta #190, October 3, 2018.

14) Law against Money Laundering, Financing of Terrorism and Financing to the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (Law No. 977), La Gaceta #138, July 28, 2018and its Regulations (Decree No. 14-2018). La Gaceta #190, October 3, 2018.

15) Sovereign Security Law, La Gaceta No. 41, December 18, 2015.

16) Special Law No. 722 on Potable Water and Sanitation Committees and its regulations in Decree No. 50-2010.

17) General Law No. 499 of Cooperatives and its regulations inDecree 91-2007

18) Decree No. 55-97 on Regulations of Trade Union Associations and its reform in Decree No. 93-2004.

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

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

Organizational Forms

Civil society can be formally organized, as described below, or it can be more informal, such as social movements.

According to the provisions of Law No. 147, four types of civil or religious not-for-profit legal persons can be established: associations, foundations, federations, and confederations. The law is very general and lacks detail, however. As a general requirement, it states that a non-profit entity is established with a constitutive act, a notarial document, and at least 5 people with the capability to be legally bound by it. Articles 3, 4, and 5 of the law give additional details on three of the types of non-profit entities:

a) Foundations are not linked to the existence of members, and their founders can be natural or legal persons. A foundation must be created to promote the public good, have a system for regulating how its assets are managed, and have an objective of serving a public purpose.
b) Federations are composed of two or more associations with similar objectives and have their own legal personality.
c) Confederations are composed of two or more federations and with similar objectives, and they also have their own legal personality.

Article 8 of Law No. 147 details the requirements for the founding document of not-for-profit entities. The constitutive act must define the entity’s aims or purpose. Only in the case of foundations does the purpose have to serve the public good.

Establishing a not-for-profit entity requires a three-step process:

  1. The organization must provide all documents required by Law No. 147 (a constitutive act, a notarial document, and proof of 5 founders able to be legally bound) to the National Assembly.
  2. The National Assembly grants legal status to the entity, under its Constitutional power to “grant and cancel the legal status to civil associations” (Art. 138.5 Cn.).
  3. The entity registers with the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Registry and Control of Associations (Departamento de Registro y Control de Asociaciones), which is tasked with the implementation of Law No. 147.

In 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), and attached to the Nicaraguan Institute of Sports. The first group was removed 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 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 are constituted as not-for-profit, 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.”

In addition, several other Nicaraguan laws provide for additional organizational forms. For example, there are Potable Water and Sanitation Committees (CAPS) under Law No. 722 on Potable Water and Sanitation Committees, which was approved in June 2010. It is regulated by Decree No. 50-2010, which aims to “establish the provisions for the organization, constitution, legalization and operation of the Potable Water and Sanitation Committees” (CAPS). This law defines the legal framework of the CAPS and their operation, attributing to them the characteristics of not-for-profit legal entities.

There are also Cooperatives, which are governed by Law No. 499 on Cooperatives, which was approved in September 2004. It “establishes the set of legal norms that regulate the promotion, constitution, authorization, operation, integration, dissolution and liquidation of cooperatives as persons of cooperative law and common interest and their interrelations within that sector of the national economy.”

Law No. 645 on Promotion, Development and Development of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (LEYMIPYME) designated the Ministry of Family, Community, Cooperative and Associative Economy (MEFCCA) as the only entity primarily responsible for “Formulating, coordinating and executing policies, plans, programs and projects for the strengthening of the family, community, cooperative, associative economy and other forms of organization of the family economy.”

Lastly, there are Trade Union Associations, which are regulated by the legal framework of Title IX of Law No. 185, the Labor Code. Article 203 states, “The establishment of unions does not need prior authorization. For the purposes of obtaining their legal status, unions must register in the Registry Book of Trade Union Associations of the Ministry of Labor.” Trade Union Associations are also regulated by Decree No. 55-97 on Regulations of Trade Union Associations, which was approved in September 1997.

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 must be legally constituted, establish bylaws, and be registered in the Commercial Registry. Such organizations may be for-profit.a

Public Benefit Status

At the national level, Article 32 of the Law on Tax Coalition provides income tax exemptions for three categories of institutions:

  1. 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;
  2. Artistic, scientific, educational and cultural institutions, labor unions, political parties, Nicaraguan Red Cross, and Fire Corps; and
  3. Charity and social assistance institutions, indigenous communities, non-profit associations, foundations, federations, and confederations with legal standing.

All three categories are exempt from payment of income tax. However, Article 33 of the Law on Tax Coalition states that when exempt entities “habitually carry out profitable economic activities,” then “the income from such activities will not be exempt from the payment of this tax.”

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) for goods intended exclusively for 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 person (association, foundation, federation or confederation) is established by means of a public deed, with a minimum of five natural or legal persons with the capacity to assume obligations and comply with the bylaws in the entity’s constitution. Business chambers also require five members, while 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 non-profit legal persons 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 a 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); and
  10. In the case of a foundation, federation, or chamber, an initial balance sheet.

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 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 grants legal standing, the procedures for an entity’s registration are completed without much difficulty.  In general, however, the Department of Registry and Control of Associations checks the documentation meticulously, and the entity seeking registration is often required to make corrections or adjustments.

To carry out activities in Nicaragua, organizations with legal status abroad must also be authorized by the Department of Registry and Control of Associations and can be 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 these 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 Department.  A subsequent appeal (Recurso de Apelación) may be filed with a 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

Supervisory Powers
Law No. 147, the General Law on Non-Profit Legal Persons, establishes the obligations of non-profit legal persons (Article 13) and defines the supervisory powers of government. Specifically:

  • Non-profit legal persons must submit general balance sheets upon conclusion of the fiscal year. On a voluntary basis, some CSOs also submit activity reports, but the submission of such reports is not required by law or by the Ministry of Governance.
  • In the case of violations of Article 13 or previous offenses, Law No. 147 authorizes the Ministry of Governance to intervene for a period strictly necessary to resolve any irregularities.
  • Law No. 147 also establishes fines as administrative sanctions if any Article 13 obligations are violated or if foreign organizations fail to comply with the law’s requirements. However, the amounts of the fines are not specified, which therefore allows for discretion among officials in setting the amounts.
  • Non-profit legal persons are subject to governmental inspection to ensure the fulfillment of their legal obligations. Since 2008, however, various governmental departments have carried out official acts that demonstrate a particular focus on organizations that have openly opposed state policies.

Cancellation
The legal status of Non-Profit Legal Persons can be cancelled by the National Assembly through the same procedures as for granting legal status, after prior consultation with the Ministry of Governance. Article 24 of Law No. 147 lists the grounds for cancellation:

a)   when the association is used in the commission of unlawful acts;
b)   when the association is used to violate public order;
c)   when membership of the association declines below the minimum number fixed by this Act;
d)   when association activities do not correspond to the purposes for which it was formed;
e)   when the association obstructs the control and supervision of the Department of Registration and Control Office, and the association has previously been subject to Article 22 sanctions;
f)    at the request of its highest governing body in accordance with its bylaws.
The so-called mass organizations created in the 1980s during the first period of the Sandinista government have now, according to Luis Serra in El Nuevo Diario on September 29, 2008, 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…” (see La sociedad civil en Nicaragua (II) [“Civil Society in Nicaragua”].

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

Nine not-for-profit organizations had their legal personalities cancelled in November and December 2018. In some cases, their assets were confiscated, and their bank accounts were deactivated. Similar actions can be expected against other organizations that have denounced the abuses of the government and its violations of human rights in general. The IACHR, OHCHR, and the European Union condemned the December 2018 cancellations.

Wide Discretion
The Ministry of the Interior continues to exercise great discretion in its capacity as administrative agency in charge of oversight of non-profit legal persons. 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, demands to include information in an NGO’s assembly minutes that is not required by law, and withholding official recognition of an NGO’s compliance with the law for reasons not established by law.

New Laws in 2018
On July 20, 2018, two new laws were published in La Gaceta, the official newspaper, that have raised concern about their ability affect the operations and resourcing of non-profit legal persons. Law No. 976, Law of the Financial Analysis Unitwhose purpose is to regulate the organization, attributions, faculties, and functioning of the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF), authorizes the UAF to:

a) request directly from non-profit legal persons financial or legal information related to money laundering, financing of terrorism, and financing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as well as crimes associated with money laundering; and
b) perform operational and strategic analyses on the information obtained.

Law No. 977, Law against Money Laundering (LA), Financing of Terrorism (FT) and Financing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (FP) requires:

a) public entities that engage in the regulation, supervision, and sanctioning of non-profit legal persons to prevent LA, FT and FP; and
b) non-profit legal persons to preserve financial and accounting documentation for at least 10 years, although the general obligation is only four years under the current Tax Code.

Law No. 977 also establishes a definition of non-profit legal persons, which did not previously exist in Nicaraguan legislation, and leaves open the possibility that any non-profit legal person or other public or private natural or legal person can be required to report to the UAF. In addition, the broad definitions of “terrorist” and “terrorist act” create a risk that the law will restrict the enjoyment of protected rights and freedoms and violate the principles of necessity and proportionality. This law also modified two articles of the Criminal Code, which define the crimes of “terrorism” and “financing of terrorism.” The inclusion of a special chapter on non-profit legal persons suggests a legislative intention to impose excessive regulations, which is likely based on a misinterpretation of Financial Action Task Force Recommendation 8.

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 such issues as democracy and human rights. On the contrary, the legal framework guards and protects such rights. However, with the implementation of the Model of the Citizen Power, 2007, the State has hindered the free exercise of these rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution. Furthermore, the last Constitutional reform in 2014 established a limited model of citizenship, stating that “the Nicaraguan State recognizes the person, the family and the community as the origin and end of their activity”. This neglects that citizen activities transcend the national, regional and international domains and extends to universal human rights.

Barriers to International Contact

Currently there are no legal obstacles. However, there is concern that the current government may have the intention to exercise its authority in this area. The concern stems from broder government actions that have restricted the legal environment for not-for-profit organizations, which reflects the government’s record in weakening democratic institutions in Nicaragua.

Barriers to Resources

The Nicaraguan government appears to be interested in controlling the financing from international organizations. This became evident in September 2015 when the government of President Daniel Ortega informed the foreign diplomatic corps and representatives of international organizations that they would no longer be able to directly receive resources from abroad. Resources instead would have to be channeled through government institutions. The first result of these changes was the removal of a Uruguayan representative of the United Nations Development Programme and the closure of at least five projects.

Additional restrictions on non-profit legal persons can be found in Law No. 976 (Law of the UAF and Law against Money Laundering, Financing of Terrorism) and Law No. 977 (Law on the Financing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction). Section VI, Article 37 of Law No. 977 states that the government entities that regulate non-profit legal persons will develop specific functions to prevent or identify money laundering, financing of terrorism, and financing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction-related activities. However, because of the new broad definition of “terrorism,” these laws can be interpreted on a discretionary basis and can be used against non-profit legal persons that are critical of the government. In addition, according to Law No. 977, non-profit legal persons must:

  • Realize financial operations through regulated financial channels;
  • Verify all beneficiaries, associated nonprofits, and suppliers;
  • Maintain formal accounting records;
  • Fulfill donation requirements as mandated by supervising entities;
  • Maintain complete financial records for at least 10 years;
  • Deposit corporate and accounting books with the regulatory entity with the not-for-profit is dissolved.

In addition, non-profit legal persons are required to cooperate fully with both supervising and regulatory entities that may request to review documents or specific transactions at any time.
Lastly, according to Article 33 of the Law on Tax Coalition, “When the exempt subjects habitually carry out profitable economic activities with third parties in the market of goods and services, the income from such activities will not be exempt from the payment of this tax.” For example, if an organization works in health rights and has a training facility, any fees from renting out the facility or providing training services are not tax-exempt. Instead, the organization would be better advised to create a commercial company that sells these services and allocates its profits to finance the organization.

Barriers to Assembly

The Constitution of Nicaragua protects the freedom of assembly.  Article 53 states that, “The right to meet peacefully is recognized.  The exercise of this right does not require prior permission.” Article 54 declares, “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, 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. Protests that seek to influence the electoral system and electoral reform, convened to make claims against the extractive industry, and that demand better conditions for persons suffering chronic medical conditions have been attacked.

Advance Notification
According to the Constitution, the right of assembly does not require authorization from the government for gatherings of fewer than 20 people. According to the country’s Manual for Individual and Political Rights, prior notice is required when more than 20 people are expected to gather together. 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. In addition, since November 25, 2018, the right to peaceful assembly has been limited pursuant to Resolution 029-2018 of the National Police, which stipulates that the police will not authorize the “public mobilization for people, associations or movements that participated and are being investigated for their actions in the failed coup attempt.” Resolution 30-2018 of December 9, 2018 reiterated this stipulation.

Enforcement
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) issued a press release in February 2013 regarding “violence and repression against residents in Santo Domingo, [Province of] Chontales.” The press release stated, “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.”

On April 18, 2018, a peaceful protest was violently repressed by the state and other parastatal forces. According to reports from the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH), 448 people were murdered, an additional 2,830 injured, and at least 718 missing in 100 days of government repression of protests against Daniel Ortega’s government from April 19 to July 25, 2018. The Permanent Commission for Human Rights (CPDH) also registered more than 400 political prisoners, and CENIDH, in a report on July 25, 2018, noted that “state terrorism” had left 302 people killed in 100 days of repression, at least 400 people arrested throughout the country, around 2,000 injured, and an unknown number missing as a result of attacks by police and parastatal units. CENIDH concluded that:

1. The serious actions of the Ortega and Murillo regime led to an aggravation of the human rights situation in Nicaragua, which went from a situation of repression of protests to generalized persecution and extermination with the objective of terrorizing and annihilating the population. This situation of widespread terror and persecution caused a massive exodus of Nicaraguans abroad and the elevation of the situation in Nicaragua to the international level of concern, which is reflected in the reactions of different countries in the region and the world.

2. The government of Nicaragua has continued engaging in massive violations of human rights, the use of the administration of justice to criminalize social protest, and the persecution of thousands of people who participated in legitimate protests.

3. Due to the gravity of the brutal repression against the people of Nicaragua, the data collected in CENIDH’s report is only a sample of the widespread persecution throughout the country.
A European Parliament Resolution on May 31, 2018 also condemned the brutal repression and intimidation of peaceful protestors and disappearances and arbitrary arrests and called for electoral reform. It also urged full participation of the opposition, restoration of full media freedom, and the fight against rampant corruption. In addition, in November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions pursuant to an Executive Order to demonstrate it “is committed to holding the Ortega regime accountable for the violent protests and widespread corruption that have led to the deaths of hundreds of innocent Nicaraguans and destroyed their economy.”

Criminal Penalties
Title II of the Penal Code, which covers 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 misdemeanors can be applied against organizers or participants in peaceful demonstrations. For example, since 2018 this became an indisputable reality. According to the GIEI (Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts) Report of December 21, 2018, the “Criminal justice system – comprised of the Office of the Public Prosecutor and the Judiciary – has played an additional role in the scheme of human rights violations observed in Nicaragua, through the criminalization of civilians who participated in the protests. These judicial processes improperly charged students, rural and social leaders with crimes such as terrorism and organized crime, among others, in order to persecute and punish legitimate acts of opposition against the government. The GIEI corroborated the existence of a pattern of judicial criminalization, in which there is no correlation between the facts and the codified criminal conduct.”

In addition, the National Police Press Release No. 115-2018 on September 28, 2018 stated that “The National Police blames the organizations and persons who have summoned these illegal activities that are not at all peaceful for any threat, damage, or risk to life to the dignity of the person or damage to private or state property. The conveners are responsible and will answer before the justice for the threats, criminal actions and aggressions that appear in the conduct of these activities.” This was the first in a series of six Press Releases starting in September 2018 that limited the constitutional rights of peaceful assembly and demonstration.

International Pressure
IACHR and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have named Nicaragua as a violator of the right to peaceful assembly, among others, and have reminded the country of its obligations.

A June 21, 2018 Inter American Comission on Human Rights (IACHR) report stated, “In this context, the Commission reiterates its appeal to cease acts of violence committed by third parties, and recalls that respect for human rights is for everyone. In this regard, the IACHR stresses that Article 15 of the American Convention applies only to pe