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On Friday Nicaragua’s President, Daniel Ortega, ordered the expulsion of the United Nations human rights team posted in the country. This demand takes place only two days after the team published a report that condemned the government’s violent response to the ongoing political conflict.
Since mid-April, demonstrators in Nicaragua have taken to the streets. Protests were initially in reaction to the government’s planned budgetary cuts to social security systems. While the government has cancelled these austerity measures, the protest have not ceased. Since April, the activist have expanded their cause. They have called for Ortega to step down as President and for the release of political prisoners. During these months of political turmoil, more than 300 people have been killed, 2,000 injured, and 23,000 Nicaraguans have turned to Costa Rica for refuge from the violence.
The UN report describes many human rights abuses. These include arbitrary detentions of civilians, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, rape, and torture. Journalist critical of the government and human rights defenders have also been criminalized. On the streets, protesters have been fired upon with live ammunition.
The murder, torture, and sexual violence has been conducted by both State authorities and paramilitary forces. That is, civilians loyal to the Sandinista party, whom President Ortega represents, have organized into “shock forces” or “mobs.” These groups work in coordination with the National Police, and act with impunity.
The Nicaraguan government denied the accusations detailed in the UN document. They called the report “subjective, slanted, prejudiced and notoriously biased, drafted under the influence of sectors linked to the opposition.” The government’s statement also said that the demonstrators are not social protesters. Instead, they are “an attempt at a coup d’état aimed at breaking the constitutional order” and are working with foreign interests. In the courts, some arrested protesters face terrorism charges.
The government defends their actions by pointing to the 22 officers killed thus far in the conflict. They use these deaths as evidence that protests have not been peaceful. According the UN report, it is true that some demonstrators were violent, but they are a minority. Moreover, in cases of protester violence, the use of lethal force to repress non-lethal threats is a violation of international human rights.
The UN team was situated in Nicaragua as an unbiased, watchdog body to monitor the ongoing events. The expulsion of the UN human rights team is a blatant indication of malicious intent by the government. Now more than ever, the world must pay attention to the crisis in Nicaragua. International leaders must stay aware of the situation as it continues to unfold and support asylum seekers.