The Organization of America States has condemned human rights violations committed by Nicaraguan forces, amid mounting international pressure to resolve the acute social and political crisis that has hit the nation.
The Republic of Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American isthmus, bordered by Honduras and Costa Rica. It has a population of 6 million, which includes multi ethnic people of indigenous, European, African, and Asian heritage. The mixture of cultural traditions has generated substantial diversity in folklore, cuisine, music, and literature. It is known as the “land of lakes and volcanoes” due to the number of its lagoons and lakes, and the chain of volcanoes that runs along its Pacific side.
The Organization of American States (OAS) is a continental organization founded in 1948 to promote regional solidarity and cooperation among its 35 member states. Headquartered in Washington D.C., USA its current Secretary General is Luis Almagro. It is the world’s oldest regional organization, dating back to the First International Conference of American States in 1889. Its four main pillars are –democracy, human rights, security, and development – through which it aims to strengthen the peace and security of the continent.
Nicaragua has been experiencing violence for several months, under the government of Daniel Ortega who been President since 2007. Re-elected in 2011 and 2016, his term has been tainted by corruption and increasingly authoritarian measures, economic dependence on Venezuela, and strong repression. In recent years, there has been a significant reduction in exports, a freeze on international aid and a reduction in remittances.
A wave of protests broke out in April after the reform of the pension system by Ortega in which individuals were expected to increase the contribution from their pension from 19 to 21 percent to the state. The government responded with severe repression including sackings and disappearances of citizens.
The OAS adopted a resolution Wednesday that condemned human rights abuses committed by Nicaraguan police and armed pro-government civilians since protests against Ortega began earlier this year. The resolution which was adopted 21-3, with 7 abstentions also criticized the harassment of Roman Catholic bishops. Catholic officials have criticized the government whilst mediating to find a peaceful solution to the clashes.
The resolution created by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru and the U.S. called on Ortega to support an electoral calendar agreed upon during a previous dialogue process. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of 10 American senators introduced legislation that sought to impose sanctions on Nicaraguan government officials responsible for protester deaths, human rights violations and acts of corruption. It also called for a negotiated political solution to the crisis.
“We can’t stay silent as Daniel Ortega targets his own people, as evidenced by the images of students being shot while seeking refuge inside of a church,” said Democratic Senator Bob Menendez who is one of the bill’s sponsors.
Demands for early elections were rejected by Ortega and he accused those who sought his exit of being “coup mongers”. In the past few weeks, his supporters have retaken the symbolically important neighborhood of Monimbo in Masaya in Western Nicaragua. It had become a center of resistance to Ortega’s government. Between 280 and 360 people have been killed since April with nearly 2,000 being injured.
The United Nations (UN) has accused the government of killings, torture and unlawful imprisonment of mostly peaceful protestors. "The great majority of violations are by government or armed elements who seem to be working in tandem with them," UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said. The European Union (EU) has offered to mediate, with top diplomat Federica Mogherini telling the Nicaraguan government that it expects “an immediate end of violence, repression and arbitrary detentions."
Last week, opposition leader Medardo Mairena was arrested and accused of being a terrorist. This was followed by lawmakers passing a new anti-terrorism law on Monday, which has been criticized for its vague definition of terrorism that could be used against peaceful protesters.
Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada called the resolution "illegal, illegitimate and unfair” and criticized the Organization for adopting it. He said, "We have working institutions, a rule of law, a Constitution. That's why it is not right that this permanent council becomes a sort of court that no one has authorized nor given power to pass judgment on Nicaragua."
Our assessment is that the resolution might revive the necessary dialogues required for finding a peaceful solution. We feel that international pressure is important to confront the grotesque human rights violations committed by government forces. We believe that the people of Nicaragua have the constitutional right to protest and remain free of suppression.