Bianca Jagger joins UK MPs and peers in call for stronger action against Nicaragua regime

A cross party group of MPs and peers from Parliament has released the findings of a report into the oppression of religious leaders, media and political opposition in Nicaragua, writes William Kelly.

The group is calling on the UK government to take more direct action to prevent further atrocities being committed by the Nicaraguan government.

Authored by a consortium of three All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) – the APPGs on International Freedom of Religion and Belief,  International Law, Justice, and Accountability and Central America – the new report The Silencing of Democracy in Nicaragua charges that democracy in the strife-torn central American country is being torn apart “piece by piece”.

Yesterday David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) chaired the launch of the report, with contributions from Fiona Bruce MP ( a fellow member of the Inquiry team) and Bianca Jagger, Felix Maradiaga, Ambassador Sam Brownback and USCIRF Commissioner Steve Schneck.

The inquiry was launched under the auspices of three All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs), the APPGs on Central America, International Freedom of Religion and Belief, and International Law, Justice, and Accountability,” said Lord Alton.

“For anyone unfamiliar with the work of APPGs – often called the parallel Parliament –  they consist of cross-party parliamentarians, including from the government and opposition parties, along with independents, from both houses, who have expertise and interest in these areas.”

The Nicaragua Inquiry included leading parliamentarians working on human rights, including the Labour Peer,  Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws KC, the Conservative Peer, former Minister lawyer and Spanish speaker, Baroness Hooper, Mark Menzies MP the Conservative chair of the APPG on Central America  Brendan O’Hara MP the Scottish Nationalist  MP and member of the Foreign Affairs Committeee and chair of the APPG on International Law, Justice and Accountability, the Rt.Revd. Philip Mounstephen – Bishop of Winchester, member of the House of Lords and author of the Truro Independent Review into the Persecution of Christians), and Conservative MP, Fiona Bruce, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Vice Chair of the APPG on FORB Vice Chair of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance.

“The Inquiry was convened by me,” said Lord Alton.

“I sit as a Crossbench Peer and am a member of the Joint House of Commons, House of Lords Select Committee on Human Rights.

“Following disturbing reports of politically motivated targeting of the media, religious leaders, and the opposition in Nicaragua, our ad hoc Inquiry decided to collect evidence of the ever-growing targeting of anyone critical of the Nicaraguan government, including, opposition leaders, human rights defenders, journalists and religious leaders. And that with every attack democracy is being eroded piece by piece.

“Our report makes it very clear that anyone critical of the Ortega regime ends up as a target.

“This silencing of democracy in Nicaragua is manifested in atrocities that are classified by international experts, including the UN Group of Experts on Nicaragua, as crimes against humanity. They need to be addressed as such.

“We set out to collect evidence but also to identify practical and meaningful steps that can be taken by the UK Government, and other States, to  push this issue up the international agenda – not least because of the number of displaced people who have now been driven out of their homeland – simply adding to the 114 million people displaced worldwide – and also in time for the 2024  UN Universal Periodic Review of Nicaragua which has a deadline for stakeholders submissions on 8 April 2024.

“We hope our Report will help to inform that Review.”

Throughout February and March the group held several oral hearings and took evidence on line and in person from witnesses and experts at the Houses of Parliament. They called for written submissions and received more than 60 from individuals and organisations.

“We would like to thank all of those who generously gave their time to participate,” said Lord Alton.

“Our report would not have been possible without the tremendous help of our Secretariat, led by Dr. Ewelina Ochab and Emily Foale of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute and by the indefatigable Anton de Piro, who will make the report available via our Inquiry website as soon as this launch is concluded, and to David Campanale who has ensured that the Inquiry’s work was given international coverage.

“Let me also thank Geraldine Chacón V for her assistance with interpretations during the oral hearings and Professor Julie Cupples from the University of Edinburgh who is cited in the report but was good enough to review the draft report.

The report opens with two quotations: the courageous Bianca Jagger, who was the first witness to the Inquiry, says: “When you look at the crimes against humanity the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo are perpetrating in Nicaragua, you will realise, that their regime is probably one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.”

Carlos Fernando Chamorro says: “Under the de facto police state, there is no freedom of assembly or association, nor freedom of religion in Nicaragua. In 2021, the regime erased the possibility of holding free elections, and since 2022 and 2023 it has increased its relentless persecution against civil society, shutting down more than 3800 non governmental organisations.”

Among its recommendations the report is calling for:

• Criminal investigations into senior officials in the Nicaraguan government under the principle of universal jurisdiction;

• Exploration of  the options of bringing proceedings, unilaterally or jointly with other countries, against Nicaragua before the ICJ;

• The imposition of Magnitsky sanctions against all those responsible for human rights violations in Nicaragua, and encourage the uptake of these sanctions in coordination with other states, including the US;

• The provision of support and technical assistance for persons who have been victims of serious human rights violations in Nicaragua, including, those seeking redress;

• Support for independent journalists and media outlets conducting investigative journalism to ensure comprehensive coverage of the situation in Nicaragua;

• An examination of the implications for regional stability of the mass displacement of 1 million Nicaraguans to Costa Rica and in some cases to the Mexican border.

“And we also call for more detailed examination of  the ties between Nicaragua, Russia and China, identifying the risks involved, including the implications of foreign investment used to aid and abet human rights violations in the country,” said Lord Alton.

“We note that even since concluding our Draft we have seen reports that Russia will now train Ortega’s police and develop an intelligence and espionage system in Nicaragua with anew training center for “security and internal order” entirely run by the Russian Interior Ministry.

“We hope that our report The Silencing of Democracy in Nicaragua – which focuses on  politically motivated targeting of the media, religious leaders, and the opposition in Nicaragua – whilst by no means definitive or the last word – will encourage those who have suffered so grievously at the hands of the Ortega regime and encourage policy makers and governments to consider what more they can themselves do, and not to be mesmerised into indifference by the regime’s relentless propaganda campaign.”