MANAGUA – Nicaragua’s worsening crisis of governability, which has erupted into bouts of street violence in recent weeks, was cause for visits by three international human-rights and democratic watchdog groups, which came to Managua last week to take the pulse of the nation.
The World Organization against Torture, the U.S.-based CarterCenter and the International Federation of Human Rights all sent top-level fact-finding missions here to meet with government officials, opposition leaders and civil society representatives to investigate reports of rights abuses and deteriorating democracy under the government of President Daniel Ortega.
All three groups requested an interview with President Ortega, but none received a response.
Eric Sottas, secretary general of the World Organization against Torture, said upon the conclusion of his trip that his group has several concerns that need to be analyzed and discussed further with the government.
In addition to concerns about Nicaragua not protecting the right to free expression, the right to protest and the right to free association, Scottas said his organization also has serious reservations about the “passivity” of police, who consistently fail to intervene in instances of street violence.
Indeed, during Sottas’ visit here, he was witness to such an incident when university students clashed in the streets with rocks, mortars and guns, while the police did nothing to restore order (TT, May 14). He also expressed concern that government-affiliated groups that routinely terrorize protesters in the street seem to enjoy immunity, and that police allow the groups to use mortars despite a law banning their use.
“We have spoken to the police about our concerns,” Sottas said.
The rights activist also said his group is concerned about gender violence, labor violations, prison conditions and treatment of inmates. But perhaps his top concern is Nicaragua’s judicial system, which he called “dysfunctional.”
“The independence of the judicial authority is a central element to rule of law,” Sottas said.
He added, “There’s an obvious problem of dysfunction in the Supreme Court; they don’t even know how many magistrates there are.”
Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation of Human Rights, echoed many of Scottas’ concerns. On a positive note, she said Nicaragua has ratified many international conventions on human rights and has made an effort to remain part of the international rights community.
Vilma Núñez, president of the NicaraguanCenter for Human Rights (CENIDH), said ratifying international conventions is not enough when the government doesn’t do anything to protect rights at home.
“The government definitely doesn’t respect human rights or value what it means to sign treaties,” the veteran Nicaraguan rights leader said.
CENIDH, which this week celebrated its 20th anniversary, released a commemorative report last week detailing two decades of human-rights work in Nicaragua. The report highlights problems in all three previous administrations, but really rips into the current government.
The report reads, “Contrary to President Ortega’s promises to make a government of unity and reconciliation, three years since taking office the government is characterized by its aggression, intimidation and persecution of civil society, including CENIDH. It has once again polarized Nicaraguan society, elevating the situation to conflict. It’s also characterized by a level of corruption worse even than that of (former President Arnoldo) Alemán’s government, in that it has weakened all existing controls. And when the government can’t get a majority in congress to pass a law, it simply makes the decision on its own through presidential decree.”
The report accuses Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, of promoting “a cult of personality” and ruling the country in the style of a “pre-French Revolutionary monarchy, or like the Latin American dictators of the past century.”
Núñez warned the situation is only going to get worse next year when Ortega tries to push forward on his illegal attempt to perpetuate himself in power.
“The election year will be worse because there will be more violence,” Núñez told The Nica Times this week. “There is going to be more repression and persecution and all because they are willing to do anything (to remain in power).”
All three rights organizations that visited Nicaragua are expected to present their final reports in the coming weeks.