MANAGUA – The Nicaraguan court system has become more political than judicial, putting partisan interests above the law, according to human-rights activists who gathered in protest outside the Supreme Court of Justice Monday.
During the protest, held on International Human Rights Day, demonstrators waved signs and expressed misgivings about the government’s handling of key issues such as gender equality, labor rights, the Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs) and – perhaps the most politically charged human rights issue today –a woman’s right to a therapeutic abortion.
“Instead of moving towards putting forth a policy that would protect women, (the courts) have moved towards the Catholic Church,” said Marta María Blandón, a vocal member of the conglomerate of non-governmental organizations known as the Feminist Movement.
Bayardo Izabá, director of the NicaraguanCenter for Human Rights (CENIDH), said that the court system, particularly the Supreme Court, has become an increasingly politicized institution used by the Sandinista government to set policy to benefit the party instead of the citizenry at large.
According to Supreme Court President Manuel Martínez, a member of the opposition Liberal Constitutional Party, 80% of the country’s judges are Sandinistas, though Sandinistas claim the number is less.
Proponents of a long-stalled bill to professionalize the country’s judges also claim that eight of 10 judges are Sandinistas, mostly beneficiaries of life-time appointments by President Daniel Ortega during his first term in government in the 1980s.
Izabá met with Judge Martínez this week to voice his concern about a recent decision by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court to uphold Ortega’s controversial CPCs, neighborhood councils that the Sandinistas are organizing across the country as groups linked to the Executive Branch.
Martínez, too, has criticized the decision by three Sandinista judges, arguing that it was done illegally because the other three Liberal judges were not included in the decision process.
Izabá also decried the Supreme Court’s failure to rule on the issue of therapeutic abortion, which a group of 60 humanrights leaders took before the high court last January.While the therapeutic abortion issue has been before the Supreme Court for 11 months, Ortega’s CPC case was ruled on by Sandinista judges in less than two weeks.
Feminists claim the court’s quick ruling on the CPCs shows that the judicial system is more interested in politics than in rights issues of life and death, such as abortion.
Feminists Under Attack
Demonstrators at the Supreme Court and a separate group of feminist activists outside the State Prosecutor’s Office this week protested the government’s investigation of nine leaders of the women’s movement, some of whom have been accused criminally for their role in the 2003 case of a 9-year old rape victim known as “Rosita.”
The girl became the poster child for therapeutic abortion after undergoing a life-saving operation to terminate her complicated pregnancy.
Four years after the women’s movement rallied to defend Rosita, it was recently discovered that the young victim was again pregnant. A police investigation revealed that it was Rosita’s father who had been the aggressor all along, and after he was arrested and sentenced to 30 years in prison last month, the authorities set their sights on the women who they claim tried to cover it up.
The members of the Women’s Network against Violence claim they too were fooled by Rosita’s father all these years, but are now being charged with protecting a rapist and obstructing justice during the original investigation.
Some feminists fear the Sandinista government is using the Rosita case to seek revenge against the women’s movement for its support of the sexual-abuse charges filed against Ortega in 1998 by his stepdaughter, Zoilamerica Navaez (NT, Aug. 24).
In addition to the alleged persecution of the feminist leaders, activists claim that the Sandinistas’ support of the ban on therapeutic abortion is a violation of the rights of all women.
“Ninety women have died since therapeutic abortion was outlawed; 200 children are without their mothers,” Blandón told The Nica Times. “We’re here demanding that the Supreme Court of Justice justify its stance.”
Blandón’s sister, Maria Teresa Blandón, said the group is also disappointed with the government’s lack of a policy to prevent violence against women in what she called a “machista society.”
In Nicaragua, three of four women are victims of gender violence, according to a recent report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and Nicaragua’s Judicial Branch hasn’t been properly enforcing an 11-year-old law that punishes gender violence as a crime.
“The problem is a lack of implementation,” she said. “The problem is impunity.”