Berta Valle, Nicaraguan Journalist, Human Rights Defender | Nicaragua
Berta Valle is a recognised Nicaraguan activist, journalist, and human rights defender. With fifteen years of experience as a senior television anchor and station manager working with top morning shows in Nicaragua, Ms. Valle is one of the most-recognized broadcasters in the country. In 2016, she was nominated as an independent to represent Managua in the National Assembly by the Independent Liberal Party as part of its National Coalition for Democracy. However, Nicaragua’s Supreme Court, controlled by Ortega loyalists, disqualified the party’s electoral coalition and Valle was blocked from running. Since 2018, Valle, her daughter and mother-in-law have been living in exile due to the political persecution faced by her husband Félix Maradiaga and his family. Maradiaga was forcibly disappeared by the regime in June 2021 after announcing his intention to run against Daniel Ortega in November’s presidential elections.
|Event Title: SDGs Conference 2023||Date: Sept 20, 2023|
Berta Valle, Human Rights Defender, Nicaraguan Journalist, Nicaragua
Keeping a spotlight on human rights defenders in distress and advocating for the release of political prisoners
I stand before you today as a human rights defender from Nicaragua, as a woman, the wife of a former political prisoner, and as a mother, but also as someone who has dedicated over 20 years to working alongside journalists and media outlets. Over the course of my career, I have had the privilege of hosting television programs and serving as a general manager for a prominent television channel in Nicaragua. However, the most impactful chapter of my journey has been my involvement with “Voces en Libertad” over the last five years.
“Voces en Libertad” was founded by a group of journalists in exile, aimed at supporting those who are fleeing persecution under Daniel Ortega’s regime. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to shed light on a matter that is often overlooked: the personal sacrifices made by human rights defenders who courageously stand on the front lines to protect our liberties, rights, and democracy in the face of increasing authoritarianism. I want to be very clear that journalists are human rights defenders – even though they might not always be recognized as such. Today, the contributions of journalists are more important than ever.
Nicaragua is rapidly turning into a totalitarian regime, bringing with it death, destruction, and poverty. This authoritarian decline, which gained momentum in 2018, seeks to eliminate any space where democracy could survive, both in public and private spheres, similar to North Korea and Cuba. This model has taken the lives of over 350 citizens, injured thousands, and forced hundreds of thousands into exile. In February of this year, the regime stripped the nationality from another hundred people it sees as threats – including me – leaving us de facto stateless.
Additionally, more than 1200 people have been imprisoned and tortured for political reasons. My husband Félix was arrested by Ortega’s regime in June 2021. Although many political prisoners were released in February of this year, including Félix and more than 200 others who were expelled to the United States, it is essential to remember that there are still more than 80 political prisoners in Nicaragua’s jails, including Bishop Monsignor Rolando Alvarez.
Despite the tremendous efforts of the global community, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo continue to commit severe human rights violations and crimes against humanity that surpass even those experienced during the civil conflicts of our recent history. This is a painful reality to witness, and urgent action is necessary to bring an end to these atrocities.
The Ortega regime has engaged in extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention, and all manner of violations of our civil and political rights. Especially severe have been the regime’s attacks on the Catholic Church, including closing private universities like the Jesuit Order’s Central American University and others, arresting priests for their sermons, and depriving over a million Nicaraguans of the philanthropic and humanitarian services offered by more than 3000 civic organizations represents an inhumane act of monumental proportions.
In the last 16 months, over 20 private universities have been closed and seized, and media outlets face censorship, leaving no free space to express oneself anywhere in the country, whether public or private. Those who dare to dissent face repression, confinement, or exile; being a journalist and covering a religious event can result in an 8-year prison sentence. Anyone can be jailed or exiled for publishing a tweet or making any public or even private denunciation on social media, which are obsessively monitored by the regime.
The totalitarian model has taken a further step, as the confiscation and theft of properties from individuals, businessmen, and private parties have become commonplace throughout the country; any attempt at protest can be met with death, exile, or imprisonment.
Nicaragua is at a turning point. With the right international intervention, the regime could be pressured to make changes and avoid an economic collapse. However, the plight of the Nicaraguans largely goes unnoticed, especially by international agencies and development banks that continue to fuel the government’s totalitarian state agenda and project.
My country is grappling with a severe human rights crisis. But I am not here just to speak about the specific challenges we face in Nicaragua. I wanted to shed light on a global issue that threatens the very essence of democracy and human rights worldwide. An aspect of great concern that is not discussed enough is the enormous danger faced by human rights defenders who are on the front lines of denouncing authoritarian regimes. Never in recent history has being a human rights defender been such a perilous profession. International treaties that uphold and protect the role of human rights defenders are increasingly being ignored, and these defenders often become the primary targets of totalitarian regimes. Consequently, the decision to take on the challenging role of a human rights defender is an exceedingly difficult one. Many defenders are forced into exile, leaving a significant portion of the population defenseless. This same reality applies to the role of journalists working in dangerous areas or where all civic spaces are closed. For instance, in Nicaragua, journalists like Victor Ticay from Canal 10 are imprisoned for covering a religious event in a public space. Even religious figures are being arrested for speaking from the pulpit, as is the case with Monsignor Rolando Alvarez and Father Jaime Montesinos, who are among the six priests in prison.
One aspect that I want to emphasize today is the critical role of keeping a spotlight on human rights defenders in distress. These brave individuals risk their lives daily to stand up for justice, democracy, and the rights of their fellow citizens. They are the guardians of human dignity and the last line of defense against the erosion of our most fundamental rights.
In Nicaragua, as in other autocratic regimes, arbitrary detention and the persecution of human rights defenders have become disturbingly commonplace. While speaking out against my husband’s imprisonment, the regime labeled me a traitor to the homeland. It is not just about silencing dissent; it’s about dismantling the very institutions and values that underpin democracy and human rights. But Nicaragua is not an isolated case. Similar stories are emerging from every corner of the world, from Venezuela to Belarus, from Myanmar to Russia.
The rise of authoritarian regimes and their united front poses a grave threat to global peace. When dictators collaborate and support each other, they not only perpetuate suffering within their own countries but also export their tactics, undermining the foundations of democracy and human rights everywhere. The world cannot afford to ignore this perilous trend. Allowing one dictator to abuse the rights of his citizens with impunity shows other dictators around the world that they can do so, too.
We, as human rights defenders, and advocates, must work together to ensure that the world does not turn a blind eye to the plight of those who stand for freedom and justice. We must amplify the voices of those in distress and hold autocratic regimes accountable for their actions. It is our collective responsibility to keep the spotlight on human rights defenders in peril, for they are the beacon of hope in these troubled times.
By shining a light on their struggles, we not only empower them but also send a clear message to autocrats: that the world is watching, and that their actions will not go unnoticed or unchallenged. We must leverage our collective strength to pressure governments, institutions, and international bodies to take a stand for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
In conclusion, the widening gap between the erosion of democracies and the rise of autocracies is a global crisis that demands a united response. We must recognize that the dramatic increase in transnational crimes is not confined to the borders of any one nation; it threatens the peace and prosperity of the entire world. By keeping a spotlight on human rights defenders in distress, we can raise awareness, build solidarity, and take concrete actions to protect the values we hold dear.
We know we are strongest when we stand together to confront the obstacles we face. Let us remember that the struggle for human rights is not confined by borders or political ideologies. It is a shared responsibility, a universal cause that unites us all. Together, we can be a powerful force for change, working tirelessly to ensure that democracy, freedom, and human rights prevail over autocracy and oppression.