Following months of anti-government protests in Nicaragua, the Organization of American States (OAS) has called for human rights bodies to be allowed into the country to investigate alleged abuse against protesters. It is claimed that the Nicaraguan government has used torture, arbitrary arrest and unreasonable force in attempts to suppress the unrest.
The OAS’s comments were made Friday, at a meeting of its Permanent Committee. Luis Almagro, the organization’s Secretary-General, denounced what he described as a “criminal cocktail” of abuses in the country. He warns that the international community must hold the perpetrators accountable in order to avoid complicity. Almagro called the Nicaraguan government’s actions “totally incompatible with democracy,” going on to state that “human rights are being violated in Nicaragua.”
The recommendations of the OAS follow an Amnesty International report on Thursday which further condemns the Nicaraguan authorities for an “intensified strategy for repression.” Such retaliative action includes use of AK-style rifles and other weapons of war, against protesters. Although some protesters have brandished homemade mortars and firearms, the report concludes that the government has responded with an indiscriminate use of force. For this reason, Erika Guevara-Rosas the Americas director at Amnesty International, labelled this situation as Nicaragua’s “worst human rights crisis in decades.”
The Amnesty report also contains examples of extrajudicial executions and torture used against protesters. One case is that of 16-year-old Leyting Chavarría, a protester who, witnesses claim, was armed with a slingshot at a barricade in the city of Jinotega. Chavarría was fatally shot in the chest during an attack carried out by police and pro-government armed groups. In a separate case, police officer Faber López was killed the day after he informed his family of his resignation from the police force as well as suspicions that his colleagues were going to kill him. Although the government claimed ‘terrorist’ gunmen were culpable for López’s death, his family testifies that the body bore no gunshot wounds but many signs of torture.
Anti-government protests in Nicaragua initially began in April of this year in response to proposed pension reforms. This governmental proposition aimed to increase the contributions made by workers and employers towards the country’s social security system, while reducing payouts by five percent. These initial protests saw ten people killed in five days, including journalist Angel Gahona who was reporting the protests to a live Facebook audience.
While Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega later retreated on the proposed reforms, protests had already gained momentum as a broader anti-government effort calling for the resignation of Ortega, his wife, and Vice President Rosario Murillo. Since April, at least 300 people have been killed and thousands more injured.
President Ortega has claimed that ‘thieves,’ ‘terrorists’ and ‘coup-mongers’ lie behind the months of unrest. Since July, his government has failed to co-operate with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the body of the OAS concerned with human rights. In September, Ortega also ejected a United Nations human rights team tasked with investigating the government’s role in the violent repression of protests.
With Ortega unwilling to allow independent investigation into the practices used by government forces, it is difficult for human rights groups to discern the true extent of the treatment suffered by protesters or to formulate a plan of action. Although condemnation is mounting on Ortega and his government, the Nicaraguan authorities are showing no signs of easing their use of violent repression. A resolution presented by Nicaragua on Thursday, outlining a strategy for restoring peace, was rejected by the OAS. The following Sunday, Nicaraguan police used batons and stun grenades to disrupt a peaceful demonstration in Managua.
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