Nicaraguan human rights defenders honored as finalists of 2023 Sakharov Prize

Strasbourg, 12 December 2023. In the framework of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2023 award ceremony, the Instituto Internacional sobre Raza, Igualdad y Derechos Humanos (Raza e Igualdad), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the EU-LAT Network commemorate the legitimate and essential work of Nicaraguan human rights defenders in contributing to democracy and the rule of law in the world’s most dangerous region for human rights defenders. They also denounce that human rights defender Vilma Núñez de Escorcia and Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, among the finalists for the Prize, continue to suffer serious human rights violations.

"The situation in Nicaragua continues to deteriorate seriously and total impunity persists for all crimes committed since April 2018, in particular crimes against humanity. It is therefore important that the support of the international community to independent civil society in Nicaragua does not cease. Being among the three finalists of this Award is a clear sign of this support and a recognition of the courageous work of Nicaraguan human rights defenders", declared Jimena Reyes, Director of the Americas desk at FIDH and who is in Strasbourg accompanying the awardees.

Dr. Vilma Núñez de Escorcia and Monsignor Rolando Álvarez are symbols of the struggle for freedom, the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in Nicaragua. Both remain in the country, in a condition of statelessness, stripped of their citizenship rights and exposed to serious violations of their human rights and personal integrity.

Vilma Núñez has a legacy of more than 60 years of human rights work and is currently Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and President of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), a 33 years-old organisation that has documented, denounced and accompanied multiple victims of the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. On December 12, 2018, the National Assembly withdrew the legal personality of the CENIDH. Subsequently, the National Police raided its facilities and confiscated its work equipment, documents and vehicles. In February 2021, the regime consummated the confiscation of CENIDH’s facilities by inaugurating the Zoila Aurora Galeano maternal home there.

In February of this year, the regime arbitrarily deprived Vilma Núñez of her Nicaraguan nationality, leaving her with the "country as a prison" and permanently violating her human rights.

Monsignor Rolando Álvarez is Bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa and Secretary of the Diocese of Estelí. He is considered one of the most critical voices of the regime and played a leading role in the mediation exercised by the Episcopal Conference during the dialogue process following the massive peaceful protests that occurred in April 2018. He has been under arrest since August 2022 for an alleged "conspiracy to undermine national integrity and the dissemination of false news."

In February of this year, the Ortega regime ordered his banishment along with 222 other political prisoners; however, he objected and was thus transferred to the Jorge Navarro Penitentiary Complex ("La Modelo"), where he remains, stateless, and total isolation, serving a 26-year sentence for alleged crimes considered "treason against the homeland".

As it is impossible for these finalists to leave Nicaragua, they were represented by delegates at the Sakharov Prize ceremony. Sara Henriquez, a Nicaraguan human rights defender in exile, and priest Uriel Vallejos, a member of the Diocese of Matagalpa who is in exile after days of siege and police confinement, participated in the plenary session of the European Parliament.

"This is an opportunity for the European Union to review the loans granted and/or pending aid with European funds either through regional and/or bilateral projects, or other financing modalities. It is necessary to establish a principle of due diligence to prevent any European funds from directly or indirectly having as beneficiaries persons or entities involved in cases of human rights violations in Nicaragua", said Marta Ibero of the EU-LAT Network

"We will not rest until crimes against humanity cease in Nicaragua! Ortega and Murillo must immediately release Monsignor Alvarez and the more than 90 people who remain deprived for political reasons in Nicaragua. Enough of laws that punish the defense of human rights, restore Dr. Núñez’s rights as a citizen, and stop the torture!", concluded Carlos Quesada, Director of Race and Equality.

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