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UK arms exports to Nicaragua 2012-2022


Located in Central America, Nicaragua has a population of 6.5 million. In 2006, Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was elected president, marking his return to power since his earlier presidency in the 1980s. Ortega’s presidency was marked by political polarization, consolidation of power, and controversy. Critics accused his government of authoritarian tendencies, eroding democratic institutions, and limiting press freedom. Protests erupted in 2018 against proposed social security reforms but quickly escalated into broader anti-government demonstrations. The government’s response led to violent clashes and human rights abuses.

Nicaragua is not member of the ATT.

How many licenses for the sale of arms to Nicaragua did the UK government issue between 2012 and 2022?

Between 2012 and 2021, 7 licenses from the UK government were granted to Nicaragua. One of them being a limited-value standard license, and six being unlimited-value open ones.

What is the total value of those exports in GBP?

Between 2012 and 2021, there was £125k worth of military arms exports reported from the UK to Nicaragua. All of these were exported in 2020 alone, as there are no numbers available for the remaining years.

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2023

What are the top 10 types of arms export licenses Britain is selling to Nicaragua?

Top 10 military items exported from the UK to Nicaragua between 2012-2022Total number of licenses
components for military support aircraft4
military aircraft ground equipment3
technology for military support aircraft3
military aircraft pressure refuellers2
military support aircraft2
general military aircraft components2
military aircrew breathing equipment2
components for military aero-engines2
aircraft military communications equipment2
aircraft military communications equipment2
Top military export items from the UK to Nicaragua between 2012-2022 by valueValue in GBP
ML15 ‒ Imaging equipment£125k
Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2023

All limited licenses were spent in one year, 2020 on only imaging equipment.

Why should British citizens be concerned about arms sales? 

1)  UNODC said in one of its reports that “Nicaragua, in particular, has a disproportionately large number of guns relative to its number of soldiers, and the country continues to import weapons……..Nicaragua runs the highest weapons surplus in the region, it

2)      has also been the destination of illicit weapons shipments.”

3)  In the demonstrations over social security system reforms in 2018, Nicaragua used ‘weapons of war to kill protesters, according to an Amnesty International investigation. 

What has the British government said about these concerns?

Rita French, the UK’s Global Ambassador for Human Rights, stated in March 2022, “We are increasingly concerned at political repression in Nicaragua, controls on free expression and peaceful assembly, and the arbitrary detention and politicized trials of people who opposed President Ortega in the contrived elections last November. We call on Nicaragua to respect its international obligations.”

What evidence is there of human rights violations committed by the Nicaraguan government since 2012?

In 2012, Nicaragua’s parliament approved a package of constitutional reforms that removed presidential term limits and strengthened the hand of the Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega.
The Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) received 419 complaints against the Nicaraguan National Police (NNP) in the first nine months of 2015 for excessive force, arbitrary detention, and cruel or degrading treatment, including in prisons. Torture claims were made against agents of the Directorate of Judicial Assistance (DAJ), particularly during high-profile arrests related to organized crime.

In mid-June 2017, authorities began what was dubbed a “clean-up operation,” in which anti-riot police and pro-Government armed elements and mobs worked together to forcefully dismantle roadblocks and barricades erected by residents as a means of protection from armed forces

After protests over social security system reforms began the following year in April, , at least 322 people have been killed and 2,000 others have been injured in clashes with police and government-dispatched counter-demonstrators, mostly by police and pro-government paramilitary groups. Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director, said: “Not only did President Ortega deploy police to arbitrarily arrest and torture demonstrators, but he also used heavily armed pro-government groups to kill, wound, and intimidate all those brave enough to stand up to his repressive strategy.“

During the last quarter of 2020, the legislature enacted several laws that appeared to threaten the freedom and fairness of the election process. One law made it illegal to disseminate news that had not been authorized by the government, and another prohibited “traitors” (broadly defined) from running for or holding public office.

Since popular street protests turned against Ortega’s government in April 2018, Nicaragua’s Sandinista-controlled congress canceled more than 400 non-governmental organizations. The Paris-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders commented “These cancellations have the objective of eliminating all social and political vision that differs from that established by the regime”. The 2022 HRW report confirms this, reporting on dozens of critics, journalists, and human rights having been arbitrarily detained remain behind bars.

 Despite this catalog of harm, the UK still deems it acceptable to sell weapons and arms to the Government of Nicaragua.

Human rights abuses continue.