Not Free
PR Political Rights 5 40
CL Civil Liberties 18 60
Last Year's Score & Status
30 100 Not Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

The election of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega in 2006 began a period of democratic deterioration marked by the consolidation of all branches of government under his party’s control, the limitation of fundamental freedoms, and unchecked corruption in government. In 2018, state forces, with the aid of informally allied armed groups, responded to a mass antigovernment movement with violence and repression. The rule of law collapsed as the government moved to put down the movement, with rights monitors reporting the deaths of at least 325 people, extrajudicial detentions, disappearances, and torture. Since then, antigovernment activists report surveillance and monitoring, and Ortega has consolidated his power with sweeping arrests of his political opponents.

header2 Key Developments in 2021

  • Beginning in May, the Ortega administration arrested dozens of opposition presidential and National Assembly candidates and government critics. The Supreme Electoral Council annulled the legal status of parties that presented legitimate competition to Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)—including the Democratic Restoration Party (PRD) and Citizens for Liberty (CxL)—and ended the candidacy of Ortega’s rivals, banning them from running for or ever holding public office.
  • In November, the government announced that Ortega had been reelected with 75 percent of the vote; authorities reported that the FSLN had won 74 percent of the vote and 75 seats in the National Assembly. Authorities claimed voter turnout was 65 percent, but the local citizen-run election watchdog, Urnas Abiertas, recorded that turnout was likely close to 18.5 percent. Observation groups, who were barred from monitoring the polls, stated that the elections were neither free nor fair because of the crackdown on the opposition.
  • Authorities continued their campaign of repression against independent media outlets and journalists. In August, security forces raided the facilities of La Prensa and arrested its manager, Juan Lorenzo Holman. Fernando Chamorro, editor and founder of El Confidencial, fled to Costa Rica in June following the arrest of his sister, who was a presidential candidate.
  • In August, the National Assembly canceled the legal status of 15 organizations, including several that supported development projects for rural women. The Matagalpa Women’s Collective (Colectivo de Mujeres de Matagalpa)—which was shut down after providing care to women and children, libraries and community houses, and more for 31 years—stated that the government’s actions were intended to impose “fear and silence” for civil society groups in the country.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 0.000 4.004

The constitution provides for a directly elected president, and elections are held every five years. Constitutional reforms in 2014 eliminated term limits and required the winner of the presidential ballot to secure a simple plurality of votes. Daniel Ortega has been president since returning to power in 2006. His reelection in 2016 was through a severely flawed poll that was manipulated by the Supreme Court (CSJ) and Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), which are controlled by Ortega’s allies. Ortega’s wife, Rosario Murillo, also won reelection as vice president.

In December 2020, the FSLN-controlled National Assembly passed the Law in Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace, also known as the “Sovereignty Law,” which provides authorities a broad framework to arbitrarily detain, investigate, and ban individuals from running for or holding public office. Beginning in May 2021, the Ortega administration used this law to arrest dozens of opposition candidates, prominent opposition party members, and government critics. Among those arrested were significant challengers for president and vice president, including Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Félix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastián Chamorro, Miguel Mora, Medardo Mairena, and Noel Vidaurre. This wave of repression continued through October. The CSE also annulled the candidacy of Ortega’s rivals and banned them from running for or holding public office.

In November 2021, the government announced that Ortega had been reelected, allegedly taking 75 percent of votes, ahead of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) candidate, Walter Espinoza. Authorities claimed voter turnout was 65 percent, but the local citizen-run election watchdog, Urnas Abiertas, recorded that turnout was likely close to 18.5 percent. In October, the Organization of American States (OAS) stated that the November poll could not meet the criteria for free and fair elections due to the crackdown on Ortega’s challengers. OAS and European Union (EU) election observers and journalists were barred from monitoring the polls.

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because the government’s crackdown on opposition party candidates removed all credible competition from the presidential election.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 0.000 4.004

The constitution provides for a 92-seat unicameral National Assembly, with members chosen through proportional representation. Two seats in the legislature are reserved for the previous president and the runner-up in the most recent election. Legislative elections are held every five years.

Leading up the November 2021 parliamentary elections, the Ortega government initiated a wave of arrests of opposition candidates and party members, including those running for seats in the National Assembly. The CSE annulled the legal status of FSLN rivals, including the PRD and CxL. Political parties that remained to oppose the FSLN presented no real challenge to its control of the legislature. The government announced in November that the FSLN had won 74 percent of the vote and were assigned 75 seats in the National Assembly. Election monitoring missions were not allowed to observe the vote. The OAS had rejected the credibility of the poll a month before it took place, claiming that the actions of the Ortega government had precluded any possibility of a free or fair election.

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because the government’s crackdown on its political opponents left no legitimate opposition to compete in the year’s parliamentary elections.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 0.000 4.004

The CSE and judiciary generally serve the interests of the FSLN and have played a crucial role in strengthening Ortega and the FSLN’s power. In 2016, the CSE removed Eduardo Montealegre from the Independent Liberal Party’s (PLI) leadership and forced out 16 opposition lawmakers who protested that decision.

In early 2021, the FSLN-controlled National Assembly appointed to the CSE’s new governing committee individuals who all had ties to Ortega. The CSE also employed the Sovereignty Law to ban opposition candidates from running in the November elections and from ever holding public office. In May and August, the CSE annulled the legal status of the PRD (a member of the National Coalition) and CxL, respectively.

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because the government-controlled CSE prevented competitive opposition parties and candidates from participating in the year’s elections.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 0.000 4.004

Political parties face legal and practical obstacles to formation and operations. Party leaders are easily co-opted or disqualified by Ortega-aligned institutions, including the CSE. Membership in the FSLN is often required in order to hold civil service positions, discouraging people from registering as members of other parties. Under 2014 constitutional reforms, legislators must follow the party vote or risk losing their seats.

The Foreign Agents Law, passed in October 2020, requires anyone receiving funds from foreign governments, organizations, or individuals to register as a foreign agent, and prohibits such agents from engaging in political activities or holding public office. In December 2020, the National Assembly passed the Sovereignty Law, which empowers authorities to ban individuals arbitrarily designated as “traitors” from running for or holding public office for life. In the months before the 2021 election, the CSE relied on the powers provided by these two laws to end the legal status of opposition parties and prevent legitimate candidates from participating in the elections. Authorities then arrested dozens of candidates for president, vice president, and the National Assembly. Further, opposition candidates and activists are subject to surveillance and harassment at the hands of security forces, including the police and paramilitary groups.

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because the CSE ended the legal status of legitimate opposition parties and the government arrested dozens of opposition candidates in the run-up to the year’s elections.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 0.000 4.004

Nicaragua’s opposition lacks the opportunity of increasing its support or gaining power through elections. Few opposition figures hold legislative seats or other government positions. The police and progovernment armed groups employed lethal force in 2018 against peaceful antigovernment protesters, and the government has continued its campaign of harassment, arbitrary detention, and violence against any who would oppose it. In 2021, the CSE banned opposition party candidates from participating, effectively ensuring that only Ortega-friendly parties and candidates would challenge his presidency. Opposition candidates and activists were arrested en masse in the leadup to the November 2021 elections.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 1.001 4.004

President Ortega has consolidated all branches of government and most public institutions, as well as the country’s media, under his party’s control, allowing him and the FSLN great influence over people’s political choices. Public sector workers experienced pressure to keep away from the antigovernment protest movement in 2018, and hundreds of health professionals were dismissed from public hospitals for providing medical assistance to protesters, or for their alleged role in the demonstrations.

Police and state-allied armed groups were the primary perpetrators of violence during the 2018 crisis, and they have continued to attack perceived regime opponents. In a report released in December 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) identified a “revolving door” system of short-term arbitrary detentions intended to intimidate and disrupt regime opponents.

In November 2020, hurricanes Eta and Iota devastated sections of the country. As damage assessment and aid efforts commenced, accusations emerged that the government was prioritizing Sandinista-led areas, as well as hindering independent journalistic coverage of the crisis.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2.002 4.004

Minority groups, especially the Indigenous inhabitants of Nicaragua’s eastern and Caribbean regions, are politically underrepresented across parties and institutions, including the National Assembly. The government and FSLN largely ignore their grievances.

In 2021, George Henríquez sought to become the country’s first president of Afro-Nicaraguan descent with the CxL, though his candidacy was rejected shortly before the CxL was disbanded.

In practice, successful political advocacy by women is generally restricted to initiatives that enjoy the support of the FSLN, which has not prioritized women’s policy concerns. However, the World Economic Forum ranked Nicaragua in fifth place globally for the political empowerment of women in their 2021 Global Gender Gap Report.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 0.000 4.004

The FSLN dominates most public institutions, and the Ortega administration has co-opted other government bodies that may have served as a check on his power. The FSLN won an absolute majority of seats in the National Assembly in the 2021 elections, which were neither free nor fair. This enables the FSLN to determine policies without any credible claim to representing the people’s will.

Under 2014 constitutional reforms, President Ortega has a wide degree of discretionary powers to set policy. Executive dominance of the legislature results in a consistent lack of oversight.

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because both the president and the governing party in the National Assembly were not freely elected.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1.001 4.004

Corruption in Nicaragua is widespread but rarely investigated. Because the justice system is dominated by Ortega, allegations of corruption against government officials rarely see thorough investigation or prosecution. However, authorities commonly launch antigraft probes targeting opposition members, often forming part of a politically motivated scheme to delegitimize or arrest them. This trend has deepened under the new legal framework created by the Sovereignty Law.

The intermixing of the Ortega family, the FSLN, and government interests have long been criticized as presenting significant conflicts of interest and opportunities for corruption. Ortega’s sons and daughters have been appointed to prominent positions such as ambassador and presidential adviser. Several of the president’s sons are among the multiple Nicaraguan officials sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for alleged involvement in corrupt activities. The US government has in the past also sanctioned Ramón Avellán of the National Police, Lumberto Campbell of the CSE, and Roberto López of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (among others) for corruption and other abuses. In November 2021, the US government announced additional sanctions against Ortega’s family members and 100 people from the country’s political and judicial elite. In October 2021, the EU also renewed its sanctions from 2020.

International corruption watchdog Transparency International claimed that corruption was present in every aspect of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1.001 4.004

Government operations and policymaking are generally opaque. The 2007 Law on Access to Public Information requires public entities and private companies doing business with the state to disclose certain information. Government agencies at all levels generally ignore this law.

Ortega rarely holds press conferences. The Communications and Citizenry Council, which oversees the government’s press relations, is directed by Vice President Murillo and has been accused of limiting access to information.

In 2020, independent observers alleged that the government intentionally underreported the number of COVID-19 cases in the country, and the Pan-American Health Organization was denied access to Nicaraguan hospitals. Many people whose deaths were attributed to “atypical pneumonia” were nonetheless given express burials that family members were barred from attending. Health workers were reportedly prevented from using personal protective equipment (PPE) and implementing safety protocols in public hospitals, and dozens of nurses and doctors were fired for signing a letter criticizing the government’s response to the pandemic.

In 2021, doctors were harassed, threatened, or sometimes forced into exile for questioning the government’s response to the pandemic. Doctors who claim that the number of cases and deaths is far higher than the official data have been accused of “false news” and “health terrorism” by Vice President Murillo and other senior government officials.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 0.000 4.004

The Ortega regime has cracked down on free and independent media and journalists since Ortega returned to power in 2007. The administration has engaged in systemic efforts to obstruct and discredit media critics. The FSLN government has intimidated and arrested journalists, censored media outlets, and sought to deprive print media of essential supplies—including ink and paper. Such measures forced El Nuevo Diario and Metro to end their print publications in 2019. In 2020, the FSLN-controlled National Assembly passed the Special Cybercrimes Law, making it easier to criminalize dissent in traditional news outlets and on social media.

In 2021, the Ortega administration intensified its efforts to silence journalists. The FSLN government oversaw the closure or appropriation of 20 independent news outlets across 12 regional departments. The government suspended the transmission Confidencial Radio and Onda Local—two radio shows critical of the government—preventing them from airing, allegedly due to their links to a money laundering scheme. In August, the government seized the paper used to print newspapers La Prensa and Hoy, which forced them to cease their circulation. Also in August, security forces raided the facilities of La Prensa and arrested its manager, Juan Lorenzo Holman. Fernando Chamorro, editor and founder of El Confidencial, fled the country to Costa Rica in June following the arrest of his sister, who was a presidential candidate.

Government censorship also extended to foreign outlets in 2021. Authorities summoned María Lily Delgado, a freelance journalist of Univision, to testify in a politically charged case against presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro. The regime also prevented New York Times reporters from entering the country in June.

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because the government increased its campaign of censorship and persecution against media outlets and journalists.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2.002 4.004

Religious freedom was generally respected prior to the 2018 crisis, though some Catholic and Evangelical leaders had reported retaliation by the government, including the confiscation or delay of imported goods and donations, for criticism of the Ortega regime and providing refuge to protesters. Since the political crisis ignited, however, church officials have been denounced and smeared by authorities for accompanying or defending antigovernment protesters; progovernment mobs have attacked churches where protesters were sheltering; and members of the clergy have received threats and experienced surveillance. There have been reports that Ortega supporters have infiltrated parishes and harassed or intimidated parishioners during church services. These attacks continued in 2021. In 2020, Ortega accused local bishops of participating in a plot to overthrow him.

The Ortega regime has turned to Evangelical pastors to rally support, exploiting tensions between them and the Catholic leadership. Reports indicate that Ortega has rewarded loyal ministers with the deeds for valuable properties. Progovernment ministers played a fundamental role in bringing about the termination of the PRD, led by Evangelical minister Saturnino Cerrato.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 2.002 4.004

Prior to the 2018 crisis, academic freedoms were generally respected, although some academics refrained from open criticism of the government. Since then, teachers have reported being required to attend training that promotes government views and reaffirms the government’s version of the 2018 political crisis. They have experienced harassment from authorities and progovernment groups and must follow strict guidelines mandated by the Ministry of Education. In the public primary and secondary school system, there have been reports of students being required to attend progovernment rallies and of pro-FSLN materials being displayed in school buildings.

University students at the forefront of the movement demanding Ortega and Murillo step down from power have experienced extreme repression. Police and paramilitary groups assaulted and killed students participating in the 2018 protests and continued to harass and arrest them in 2021. Faculty members with ties to protestors or the opposition are subject to intimidation and retaliation—including losing their jobs.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 1.001 4.004

A campaign of repression and intimidation by state and progovernment forces continued to inspire a general climate of fear and terror that restricts free expression in Nicaragua. State and progovernment forces routinely monitor the activities of individuals who oppose the regime. The families of victims of regime violence and people who return from abroad are also monitored and surveilled. In 2019, the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) of the IACHR reported that state employees had experienced discrimination and retaliatory threats for disagreeing with or acting against state policy.

The 2020 Special Cybercrimes Law criminalized the spread of “false news” and targeted whistleblowing by government employees. The law also gives the government broad access to user data. Additionally, in January 2021, the National Assembly amended the constitution to allow for life sentences for hate crimes. Ortega has often referred to opposition actions as hate crimes, and analysts fear the law would be used to target political opponents.

The Ortega administration relied on the Sovereignty and Foreign Agents Laws extensively in 2021 to carry out its crackdown on the political opposition. The number of political prisoners arrested for their criticism of the government and free and legitimate political speech increased drastically, according to the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the government has increasingly monitored, harassed, and detained ordinary citizens to silence their political dissent.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 0.000 4.004

Freedom of assembly has severely deteriorated since the 2018 protests, when at least 325 people were killed in a brutal crackdown on that year’s antigovernment protest movement against the authorities’ security reforms; it soon turned into a broader antigovernment movement aimed at forcing the Ortega regime from power. Most abuses have been attributed to the national police and armed allied groups, which a UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) 2018 report claimed operated with “total impunity.”

Assembly rights continued to be severely restricted through 2020 and 2021. Attempts to gather in 2020 faced violent obstruction, and police routinely deny permits for public demonstrations and occupy public spaces to prevent protests.

In September 2021, the FSLN-packed Supreme Electoral Council prohibited in-person rallies of more than 200 attendees for campaigning purposes, ostensibly to spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, President Ortega held progovernment rallies for the 42nd anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution in July and the country’s bicentennial in September.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 0.000 4.004

Groups critical of the government or that focus on issues like corruption have operated within an increasingly restrictive environment under the Ortega administration, which, among other measures, has used registration laws to choke off sources of funding.

Authorities have targeted nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), accusing them of undermining the regime or acting as foreign agents. Human rights groups have reported continued monitoring and surveillance. In September 2020, a group of domestic and international human rights NGOS denounced a wave of activist repression, including sexual assaults of women activists. The government has also suppressed actions by NGOs and church groups providing public health assistance to protesters and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In August 2021, the National Assembly canceled the legal status of 15 organizations, including several organizations that supported development projects for rural women. Many of those shut down had long legacies of providing aid to communities around Nicaragua. The Matagalpa Women’s Collective—which was shut down after providing care to women and children, libraries and community houses, and more for 31 years—stated that the government’s actions were intended to impose “fear and silence” for aid groups in the country. Since 2018, the government has shut down 55 national and international organizations.

The Foreign Agents Law enacted in 2020 further impedes the operations of independent groups. Recipients of foreign funding who register as foreign agents must also provide monthly reports detailing their income, along with actual and planned expenditures.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2.002 4.004

The FSLN controls many of Nicaragua’s labor unions, and the legal rights of non-FSLN unions are not fully guaranteed in practice. Although the law recognizes the right to strike, approval from the Ministry of Labor is almost never granted. Employers sometimes form their own unions to avoid recognizing legitimate organizations. Employees have reportedly been dismissed for union activities, and citizens have no effective recourse when those in power violate labor laws.

Unions loyal to the Ortega regime shifted their stance on wage readjustments in early 2021, a blow to the strength of organized labor’s position. In January, the Sandinista Workers’ Center, which represents the leading public sector unions and has strong ties to the FSLN, said it favored a 5 percent wage increase. However, they quickly reneged this position and supported the 3 percent increase proposed by the government and its private sector allies. Further, FSLN-controlled unions have criticized what they viewed as foreign intervention by the United States and EU in Nicaragua’s domestic affairs. These unions endorsed Ortega’s reelection bid.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 1.001 4.004

Nicaragua lacks an independent judiciary. The executive branch strongly influences the nomination of judges, and loyalty to the ruling party determines their appointments. Local analysts estimate that over 70 percent of the country’s judges have ties to the FSLN. In the run-up to the 2021 election, the judiciary played a critical role in ordering the arrest of opposition members and upholding the cancelation of the legal status of opposition parties, as dictated by the CSE. Multiple foreign governments sanctioned members of the judiciary—including the Supreme Court—for undermining democracy and serious human rights abuses.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0.000 4.004

Since protests erupted in 2018, UN investigators and other human rights organizations have documented rampant violations of due process rights. These include widespread arbitrary and politically motivated arrests and detentions by police and allied progovernment forces, failure to produce search or arrest warrants, no discussion of detainees’ rights, no public registry of detainees or their location, and individuals being held incommunicado during initial detention. Repressive laws passed in 2020 continued the deterioration of due process rights.

The government announced in February 2019 that it would release political prisoners detained during the 2018 protests. Between March and June, the government released nearly 400 people, and another 91 were released in late December; most were placed under house arrest while charges against them remained active. Released prisoners were subjected to harassment and surveillance. Defense attorneys of political prisoners also reported being harassed. As of December 2021, the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners registered 160 political prisoners still in custody.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 1.001 4.004

The 2018 antigovernment protest movement—and protests since then—have been met with violent repression by police and informally allied armed forces. Reports from the OHCHR in 2018 and from the relatives of political prisoners in 2021 have documented severe abuses of detainees, including psychological and physical torture, sexual violence, forced confessions, disappearances, significant deterioration of prison conditions, and extrajudicial killings. In 2019, there were reports of dozens of antigovernment activists being killed in more remote parts of the country, allegedly by police and paramilitary groups.

As of April 2021, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that more than 108,000 Nicaraguans had fled the country since 2018 due to the violence, with two-thirds of them seeking refuge in Cost Rica.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 within prisons, the government released over 2,800 prisoners to house arrest in May 2020, but political prisoners were not among those freed.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1.001 4.004

The constitution and laws nominally recognize the rights of Indigenous communities, but those rights have not been respected in practice. Approximately 5 percent of the population is Indigenous and lives mostly in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN) and the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCS). While Indigenous populations have been granted legal rights and protections to land, the government does not enforce these laws.

Attacks against Indigenous populations and land incursions in recent years have been perpetrated with impunity. In August 2021, according to the Center for Legal Assistance to Indigenous Peoples and the Del Río Foundation, settlers killed 12 Miskito and Mayangna people and tortured others in the Bosawas nature reserve, where illegal mining and logging has been reported despite the areas’ protected status. In October, another Mayangna person was killed, and three others went missing after assailants, likely settlers, shot at them.

LGBT+ people are subject to threats and discrimination, and many, particularly transgender Nicaraguans, have been forced to seek exile.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2.002 4.004

The 2018 collapse of institutions, that year’s bloody crackdown on dissenters, the 2021 crackdown on political opponents, and continued surveillance and harassment at the hands of police and paramilitary groups have created a climate of fear and mistrust that discourages free movement. Poor infrastructure limits free movement in some majority-Indigenous areas.

In late 2020, two hurricanes—Eta and Iota—struck the country’s northeastern Caribbean coast, resulting in substantial damage that restricted free travel. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights claimed that the hurricanes killed at least 21 people and displaced over 160,000 people.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2.002 4.004

Property rights are protected on paper but can be tenuous in practice. Titles are often contested and individuals with connections to the FSLN sometimes enjoy an advantage during property disputes. Conflict over land in the RACCS and the RACCN between Indigenous residents and settlers continued in 2021, resulting in numerous deaths. The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) warned in a 2019 report that Miskito communities in the north could be at risk of extinction due to land invasions.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2.002 4.004

Gender-based violence has increased in recent years, and the Network of Women Against Violence has claimed that the rising rates of femicides have reached near-epidemic levels. According to Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Never Again, 716 femicides occurred between 2010 to 2020. Legislation introduced to address gender-based violence—the 2012 Comprehensive Law against Violence toward Women and subsequent amendments—have had little effect, and allows for mediation between the perpetrator and victim of sexual violence, despite concerns from rights groups. In January 2021, the National Assembly increased the punishment for femicide from 30 years to life imprisonment.

Abortion is illegal and punishable by imprisonment, even when performed to save the pregnant person’s life or in cases of rape or incest. Medical practitioners of and people who get abortions can be punished with eight-year prison sentences.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2.002 4.004

Nicaragua is a source country for women and children forced into prostitution; adults and children are also vulnerable to forced labor, notably in the agriculture and mining sectors, and as domestic servants. The Trafficking in Persons Report 2021 from the US State Department listed Nicaragua in Tier 3 for failing to meet the obligations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and lacking significant efforts to address the issue. The report also notes that Afro-Nicaraguans and Indigenous people are particularly susceptible to exploitation.

On Nicaragua

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  • Global Freedom Score

    19 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    42 100 partly free