UN Indecisive on Nicaragua’s Deadly Unrest
On April 18, Nicaraguan demonstrators took to the streets to protest President Daniel Ortega’s social security reforms that would decrease benefits and increase taxes. Met with an armed crackdown from authorities, 26 people were killed.
The government repression incited further protests against President Ortega and the government. Five months later, the unrest and anti-government protests continue with the death toll climbing to more than 300 (including some police officers) and another 2,000 wounded. Protesters are mostly made up of youths and university students participating in strikes and barricades.
President Ortega, who took office in 2007, refuses to step down or allow for early elections. He points to protesters’ use of mortars and other homemade weapons to bolster his claim that the protesters are terrorists, and that allowing for early elections or leaving office would lead to anarchy. He further stated that there has been “a campaign of lies, terrible lies, to try to hurt the image of Nicaragua and its government.”
The report noted disproportionate use of police force, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, tortures, and violations of expression and assembly. The report divides the last five months into three phases.
Phase one saw the initial repression by police and pro-government armed mobs. The second phase, known as the “clean-up,” lasted from June to the end of July, and marked a continuation of pro government armed groups dismantling barricades, remnants, and any further protests. The third stage, still ongoing, is characterized by the criminalization of these protests, in which hundreds are being prosecuted on charges of terrorism and organized crime. These trials are not independent nor impartial.
President Ortega’s expulsion of the UN Commission for Human Rights prompted the first UN debate on Nicaragua since the beginning of the unrest. They discussed efforts to promote peace and rule of justice and law.
Diplomats are concerned for the possibility of another crisis like the ones we have seen in Syria and Venezuela. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have already been forced to emigrate to Costa Rica.
Leading the council, United States Nikki Haley argued, “The Security Council should not, it cannot, be a passive observer as Nicaragua continues to decline into a failed, corrupt and dictatorial state because we know where this path leads.”
The Council was divided, however, with Russia strongly opposing interference in Nicaragua’s domestic affairs.
Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister, Denis Moncada Colindres, described the debate as “a clear interference in the internal affairs of Nicaragua, and a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and International Law.”
The last five months have exposed the fragility of Nicaragua’s rule of law and institutions. As daily reports continue and the UN remains undecided, the present unrest persists. With no hope in sight of an independent judiciary, elections, or speedy UN action, the fate of hundreds of people awaiting trial remains uncertain.