On Tuesday, June 22, Human Rights Watch, an international NGO headquartered in New York, urged the United Nations to assume a more active role in opposing Daniel Ortega’s “campaign for violence and repression” in Nicaragua.
With less than five months remaining before the general elections, the Ortega-Murillo government has launched a fierce assault on opposition leaders. They’ve jailed five presidential candidates and continue paving the way for “eliminating the political competition”.
The high-profile arrests of government critics and other serious violations of human rights “seem to form part of a government strategy to eliminate political competition, repress dissent and facilitate the reelection of President Ortega for a fourth consecutive term,” the NGO warned. These remarks came during the presentation of their report: “Assault on Critics: Persecution and detention of opposition leaders, human rights advocates and journalists, with an eye towards the elections in Nicaragua”.
Between June 2nd and June 20th, the Ortega-Murillo regime arbitrarily detained and leveled criminal charges against five presidential candidates: Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Felix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, and Miguel Mora. They’ve also arrested and jailed two former diplomats; two dissenting former Sandinista guerilla leaders; a former business association leader; a banker; four activists; three former employees of an NGO; a sports columnist and an ex-congresswoman.
“Given the seriousness and the intensification of the brutal repression of critics and members of the opposition on the part of the Ortega government in the past weeks, international pressure must be redoubled,” declared Jose Miguel Vivanco, who directs Human Rights Watch’s Americas division.
Security Council intervention requested
Given these circumstances, Human Rights Watch has asked UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierres to invoke Article 99 of the UN Charter, in order to call a meeting of the UN Security Council. The justification for such a meeting would be the threat Nicaragua’s actions presents to maintaining international peace and security.
HRW believes that the Nicaraguan crisis “has alarming repercussions on a regional level”. Over 108,000 Nicaraguans have been forced to flee their country since the government repression began in 2018. Two thirds of them have sought shelter in Costa Rica, according to data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerability and needs of the Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers.
In the same way, HRW directly urges members of the Security Council to include the Nicaraguan crisis on their agenda and to implement specific sanctions against those responsible for the human rights violations. They asked the US, the EU, Canada and Latin America to impose or maintain sanctions against high functionaries of the Nicaraguan government, including Daniel Ortega, his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo, and other members of his cabinet and security forces.
In addition, members of the UN Security Council “should request that the Secretary General and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issue special reports on the situation in Nicaragua,” the organization added.
The last time the Security Council met to discuss the alarming human rights situation in Nicaragua was in September 2018, at the request of the United States. At that time, Human Rights Watch urged the UN member countries to exert pressure on Nicaragua to stop the brutal repression of protestors, dissolve the armed government-allied groups, and take legal action against those responsible for human rights violations.
Report documents arbitrary detentions
The HRW report was prepared between January and June 2021. The NGO interviewed 46 victims of harassment or arbitrary detention. Those interviewed declared that members of the police and paramilitary posted guard outside their homes to keep them from leaving. This occurred under circumstances that constitute arbitrary detention in the view of Human Rights Watch. The organization also documented three cases of women who suffered sexual harassment and aggression during their arrest.
The elections scheduled for November 7, 2021, will be the first since Nicaragua was shaken by waves of protest in 2018. That crisis left hundreds imprisoned, dead or missing, and over 103,000 people exiled, according to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.