By Chris Lang
The Nicaraguan government is stripping non-governmental organisations of their status. Since 2018, President Daniel Ortega’s government has revoked the legal status of several organisations that are defending the lands, livelihoods, and lives of Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples in Nicargua.
This process seems to be accelerating. In a recent press release, the Oakland Insitute points out that the government has revoked the legal status of 29 NGOs in recent weeks. Two of the organisations were founded by Indigenous and Afrodescendant Nicaraguans to defend their rights.
Foreign Agents Law
In February 2021, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project reported that a series of NGOs advocating freedom of speech in Nicaragua had closed down as a result of the “Foreign Agents Law” that required NGOs receiving international funds to register as foreign agents.
Under the law, NGOs receiving foreign funding must report monthly income and expenditures. They must notify the Ministry of the Interior before receiving or using money from foreign governments, political parties, organisations, or individuals.
In January 2021, the government started demolishing properties of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) after seizing the organisation’s property in December 2018. CENIDH saw its legal status cancelled along with nine other human rights NGOs in the country.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights put out a press release condemning the destruction of assets of civil organisations in Nicaragua:
The measures, both legal and administrative, of cancellation of legal personality through illegal and arbitrary processes, as well as the de facto occupation, destruction or alteration of the facilities of organizations for the defense of human rights constitute one of the most severe restrictions of the freedom of association.
Increasing attacks on Indigenous Peoples
On 18 March 2022, the Nicaraguan National Police seized the offices of two NGOs on the Caribbean coast. Since 2015, settlers have killed more than 60 Indigenous people on the Caribbean coast. On 14 March 2022, Sálomon López Smith, a Mayangna leader was found dead a week after being reported missing. His body showed signs of torture, documented in a statement by the Mayangna Territorial Government of Sauni Arungka.
The NGO Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) told Associated Press that the invasion of Indigenous territories could lead to the extermination of more than 300 Indigenous communities on the Carribean coast.
In a 2021 report the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urges the State of Nicaragua to “restore the legal status of civil society organizations, as well as to cease the repression against the media, human rights organizations and individuals considered to be members of the opposition.”
The Oakland Institute supports this call, and notes “the particular importance of doing so in the case of NGOs defending the lives and lands of Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples”.
No rights, but REDD anyway?
“No rights, no REDD” was a slogan in the early days of REDD. If Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ rights were not in place, then REDD was out of the question, went the argument. As an attempt to secure Indigenous Peoples’ rights this was largely unsuccessful, and completely ignored the fact that REDD is carbon trading mechanism that would allow business as usual for the fossil fuel industry.
The decision came despite warnings from the World Rainforest Movement, and others, that the REDD project risks conflict, criminalisation, and repression of critical voices.
In June 2021, the Green Climate Fund’s Independent Redress Mechanism (IRM) received a complaint about the Bio-CLIMA project. Because the complainant(s) requested confidentiality the complaint was not published on the IRM’s website.
After six months of “problem solving” under the facilitation of the IRM, the “parties were unable to reach an agreement” the IRM reports.
On 17 January 2022, the IRM “referred the complaint to compliance review for further processing”. On 3 March 2022, the Green Climate Fund Secretariat produced a response and on 24 March 2022, the IRM published a compliance appraisal report.
The IRM concluded that the following three issues are central in the compliance appraisal of this case:
- Will indigenous and vulnerable populations face increased violence, including gender-based violence, from non-indigenous settlers throughnon-compliance with GCF Interim Environmental and Social Safeguards, GCF Environmental and Social Policy, GCF Indigenous Peoples Policy and Updated Gender Policy?
- Have the rights of indigenous communities to “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” been violated or will such rights be violated in the future by non-compliance of the project with GCF’s Interim Environmental and Social Safeguards, GCF Environmental and Social Policy, and GCF Indigenous Peoples Policy?
- Will afro-descendent and indigenous communities face increased usurpation of lands titled to themand restrictions to access natural resources due to non-compliance of the project with GCF Interim Environmental and Social Safeguards, GCF Environmental and Social Policy, and GCF Indigenous Peoples Policy?
The IRM has now started a compliance investigation “to further assess the three issues set out at the end of the compliance report and reach a final finding on the issues”.
One of the concerns about the Green Climate Fund’s REDd project is that it is undermining Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities rights to Saneamiento. This refers to Nicaraguan Law 445, the 2003 Communnal Property Law that sets out a five-step process for Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities to obtain formal titles to their land.
The final step of this process required the Nicaraguan state to carry out a process of Saneamiento, which literally means “cleaning up”. This process involves the removal of non-indigenous settlers and corporations from Indigenous and Afro-descendant territories.
Instead of upholding Law 445, the Green Climate Fund REDD project will push Indigenous and Afro-descendant into signing “peaceful cohabitation” agreement with the settlers who are threatening their land, livelihoods, and in some cases taking their lives.