OAS condemns human rights abuses in Nicaragua

The resolution, which was adopted 21-3 with seven abstentions, also criticised the harassment of Roman Catholic bishops

Armed pro-government militia members flash victory signs as they occupy the Monimbo neighborhood of Masaya, Nicaragua, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. On Tuesday, Nicaraguan government forces retook the symbolically important neighborhood that had become a center of resistance to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga)
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The Organisation of American States adopted a resolution Wednesday condemning human rights abuses committed by Nicaraguan police and armed pro-government civilians since protests against President Daniel Ortega began in mid-April.

The resolution, which was adopted 21-3 with seven abstentions, also criticised the harassment of Roman Catholic bishops.

Catholic officials who have been mediating stalled talks on finding a peaceful solution to the standoff and have criticised Mr Ortega’s government over killings have suffered at least three recent attacks.

The OAS resolution by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru and the US called on Mr Ortega to support an electoral calendar agreed upon during the dialogue process.

Mr Ortega has rejected demands for early elections and calls those seeking his exit “coup mongers.”

In the past week, Mr Ortega’s government and supporters have moved aggressively against the remaining resistance, including dislodging students from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua and pushing into a rebel neighborhood in the city of Masaya.

On Wednesday, Nicaraguan foreign minister Denis Moncada blasted the OAS for adopting the resolution, calling it “illegal, illegitimate and unfair.”

“We have working institutions, a rule of law, a Constitution,” he said minutes before the vote. “That’s why it is not right that this permanent council becomes a sort of court that no one has authorised nor given power to pass judgment on Nicaragua.”

Moncada said the government is subject “to attacks from terrorist groups to overthrow a legitimate government.”

Managua’s auxiliary Roman Catholic bishop, Silvio Jose Baez, cheered the resolution via Twitter.

“Thanks brother countries of the American continent that have joined in solidarity with the pain and fight of the Nicaraguan people!” he wrote.

On Tuesday, Nicaraguan government forces retook the symbolically important neighbourhood of Monimbo in Masaya southeast of the capital. It had recently become a centre of resistance to Ortega’s government.

On Wednesday, Azucena Lopez Garcia buried her son Erick Antonio Lopez, a college student shot defending a barricade when police and armed civilians surrounded and shot their way into Monimbo. Police commissioner Ramon Avellan has said he received orders to take control of the city by any means necessary.

“Monimbo is devastated,” Ms Lopez Garcia said tearfully at her son’s graveside. “The youth are fleeing their homes.”

She said she was burying her family member, but other mothers do not know where their sons were taken.

Pickup truck loads of pro-government civilians masked and armed with rifles and shotguns drove through the streets of Monimbo honking their horns and waving the red and black flag of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front in celebration. Others lounged at intersections while police snipers were visible on rooftops.

One man wearing a black ski mask and blue T-shirt denied that he and others were government backed paramilitaries, though the heavily armed men moved freely in front of national police patrols.

“I’m a normal resident,” he said, declining to give his name. “The very same residents had to free ourselves.”

While the OAS held its session, a bipartisan group of 10 US senators introduced legislation that seeks to impose sanctions on Nicaraguan government officials responsible for protester deaths, human rights violations and acts of corruption. It also calls for a negotiated political solution to the crisis.

“We can’t stay silent as Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo target their own people, as evidenced by the images of students being shot while seeking refuge inside of a church,” said Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and one of the bill’s sponsors.

In Mexico City, Pilar Sanmartin, a crisis researcher with Amnesty International, called on Ortega’s government to seek a peaceful resolution through dialogue. “But in a sincere way, an honest way.”

She said nearly 300 people had been killed and some 2,000 wounded in fighting during the past three months since pension cuts were announced and then quickly withdrawn in mid-April. The government says more than 200 people have been killed since the unrest began.

Last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights denounced “the worsening, deepening and diversifying of” repression in the Central American nation.