Lottie Cunningham Wren (2020 Laureate)

Country: Nicaragua

Current status: Death threats, intimidation, land grabs, smear campaign

Lottie Cunningham Wren is a Miskito lawyer, indigenous rights activist and the President of the Center for Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN). Her organisation provides practical assistance and legal support to indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants living in the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, with the aim of promoting their collective, ecological and self-determination rights. Cunningham has been tirelessly working to defend their land rights by regularly documenting and reporting human rights violations by armed invaders. In fact, due to mining and massive deforestation by corporations, entire communities have been forcibly displaced. Kidnappings, killings and destruction of properties have been regularly taking place by armed settlers, encouraged by the Nicaraguan government itself. Because of her work as an environmental and human rights defender, Cunningham is facing constant intimidation and harassment.

  • 1997 – 2001: Lottie Cunningham represented the Awas Tingni people in their legal challenge in the case Awas Tingni vs State of Nicaragua before the Inter-American human rights system.
  • August 31, 2001: The Inter-American Court on Human Rights concluded that the State of Nicaragua had violated the rights of indigenous communities in Nicaragua by granting a concession for the exploitation of forest resources in their territory without their free, informed and prior consent.
  • January 2003: The Nicaraguan government was compelled to create Law 445 for the demarcation and titling of indigenous territories, in which Cunningham was instrumental. However, to date, the final phase known as “saneamiento,” which is the removal of unlawful tenants in autonomous territories who lack recognition from indigenous authorities, has not been implemented.
  • 2003: Cunningham created CEJUDHCAN, which then became the legal representative of 97 communal governments and 9 territorial governments.
  • 2014 onwards: Cunningham and her staff have been victims of escalating death threats, intimidation, defamation campaigns and criminalization of their work.
  • 2015: Armed settlers began to appear with military-grade weapons and false private titles to indigenous communal lands. They began to violently push indigenous people off their farmlands, thus threatening food self-sufficiency.
  • May 2015: Cunningham suffered a kidnapping attempt, and her colleagues received threatening phone calls warning them against speaking out.
  • October 2015: Cunningham persuaded the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that Precautionary Measures must be taken by the government of Nicaragua to protect indigenous people against the violent land grabs. As of 2017, CEJUHCAN secured protective measures for 12 Miskito villages and four human rights defenders receiving death threats, including herself.
  • February 28 – March 20, 2017: She received threatening messages on CEJUDHCAN’s Facebook page, demanding the organisation cease its activities.
  • October 15, 2020: Nicaragua passed the Foreign Agents law, restricting civil space and threatening the very existence of human rights organisations, including CEJUDHCAN.
  • October 20, 2020: In an interview for the US PBS NewsHour programme, Cunningham denounced that cattle ranchers in Nicaragua have resorted to aggressive measures against indigenous communities. Dozens have already been killed. As a result, she was the victim of a smear campaign in Nicaraguan media.
  • November 2020: Indigenous communities’ housing and food insecurity was exacerbated by Hurricane Eta, which destroyed their wooden homes and crops.

Protection and Advocacy

February 24, 2021: The Right Livelihood Foundation, jointly with CEJUDHCAN and CEJIL, delivered an oral statement at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council highlighting the increased attacks against indigenous communities and their defenders. 

February 2021: The Right Livelihood Foundation,  jointly with CEJUDHCAN and CEJIL, sent an advocacy brief to relevant Permanent Missions in Geneva urging them to include the challenges facing indigenous peoples in Nicaragua in the upcoming resolution on human rights in Nicaragua, adopted at the 46th session of UN Human Rights Council.  

November 24, 2020: The Right Livelihood Foundation sent an information briefing to Special Procedures, notably on the impact of Hurricane Eta on indigenous communities and the consequences of the Foreign Agents law on CEJUDHCAN. The latest personal threats to Ms. Cunningham were also explained in the report.