San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Human Rights Issues Were Highly Politicized in ‘07

Nicaragua’s human-rights report card for 2007 depends largely on how one defines “the right to life.”
If one subscribes to the Vatican’s definition of life, as in life starts with conception, then 2007 was a shining example of humanrights progress, thanks to the National Assembly’s ban on therapeutic abortion.
But if one is inclined to think that a mother has an equal right to life as an unborn fetus, then the situation becomes slightly more glum.
Despite pressure from international rights groups, the European community and the international media, the majority of the country’s lawmakers stuck to their religious convictions and twice ratified the ban on therapeutic abortion, by first outlawing it in the new Penal Code and then shooting down a last-minute reform effort to sneak it back in under a different name.
The end product, according to the proud legislators from both the Liberal and Sandinista side of the aisle, was a “modern new Penal Code.” Rights activists, however, claim that it effectively turns back the clock more than 100 years on women’s rights in Nicaragua, because the previous Penal Code, passed at the end of the 1800s, allowed for therapeutic abortion – something that was considered “modern” back then.
Feminists and rights activists opened and closed the year with emotional protests against the National Assembly’s decision, which they are blaming in large part on the election-year pact formed last year between President Daniel Ortega and his former nemesis, Roman Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, considered the top religious authority in the country.
The women’s movement challenged the decision before the Supreme Court last January, but the magistrates – both Sandinista and Liberal appointees – haven’t gotten around to ruling on the case yet.
In the meantime, more than 87 women have died this year due to health complications relating to pregnancy.
Human rights also became an offensive weapon this year, when a little known rights group in León filed criminal charges against nine leaders of the feminist movement for allegedly covering up a rape case and obstructing justice by helping a 9-year-old girl known as “Rosita” to have a life-saving abortion here in 2003.
The infamous Rosita case came back to haunt everyone this year when it was revealed that the young girl, now 14, was again pregnant, and that it had been her father who had been raping her all along –something the women’s movement claims it didn’t know earlier.
After the father was arrested and sentenced to 30 years in prison in November, the authorities set their sights on the women who they claim tried to cover it up years ago.
The feminists claim that First Lady Rosario Murillo is behind the investigation.
Murillo, they claim, is seeking revenge against the women’s movement for its support of her daughter’s sexual-abuse case against Daniel Ortega in 1998.
At year’s end, human rights had taken on an extremely political tone, with even incarcerated former President Arnoldo Alemán claiming his human rights were being violated by being placed under house arrest again (see separate story).

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