Nicaragua orders UN human rights delegation to leave

Two days after the UN published a critical report on human rights in the Central American state, the delegation was given two hours to leave. They had called on the government to end harassment and intimidation.

According to human rights workers in Nicaragua, the Managua government sent the UN delegation a letter on Friday giving them two hours to leave the country.

Marlin Sierra, executive director of the Nicaraguan Center of Human Rights (CENIDH) said: "This signifies an expulsion because they haven't finished their work in the country."

The UN report released on Wednesday called on the government of President Daniel Ortega to end "harassment, intimidation and criminalization."

It also called on "the Government to immediately dismantle and disarm pro-government elements, halt all unlawful arrests, and release all those who have been arbitrarily detained."

This month, thousands of people protested for the release of political prisoners

Months of protest

The report covered the months since protests beganover pension and social security changes in April. It outlined disproportionate use of force by police, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, detentions, torture and violations of freedom of opinion and expression.

"Repression and retaliation against demonstrators continue in Nicaragua as the world looks away.  The violence and impunity of these past four months have exposed the fragility of the country's institutions and the rule of law, and created a climate of fear and mistrust," said High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, who ended his term at the UN on Friday.

Government supporters in the capital, Managua

Government response

The government claimed the report was biased and did not take into account what it claims was a coup attempt. Ortega claims the protesters are working with domestic and international elements which want him removed from office. He said the UN had only been asked to accompany a commission working to end the crisis, not to evaluate human rights.

Ortega also accused Roman Catholic bishops involved in mediation talks of also working with elements preparing a coup.

The UN Security Council is expected to discuss the Nicaraguan situation next Wednesday.

Nicaragua crisis explained

Daniel Ortega: A Cold War relic

Embattled President Daniel Ortega has been a fixed presence in Nicaraguan politics for decades. Following the fall of longtime dictator Anastasio Somoza, Ortega became president in 1985, heading the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front. With deep ties to Fidel Castro, he faced US opposition. The Reagan Administration supported a right-wing guerrilla movement aimed at bringing him down.

Nicaragua crisis explained

Opposition figure and return to power

After losing re-election in 1990, Ortega became a major opposition figure. Ortega finally won the presidency in 2006, riding the wave of leftist presidents in Latin America. He became a close friend and ally of Hugo Chavez. He has since changed tack, allying himself with the country's traditionally right-wing business community and clergy.

Nicaragua crisis explained

Nicaraguan government consolidates power

Coupled with changes in electoral law, Ortega has prolonged and cemented his rule. In 2016, he barred international observers and nominated his wife as vice-president. The pair won the election, which was condemned by the opposition and criticized internationally by the US, OAS and the EU.

Nicaragua crisis explained

Pension reform attempt

In April 2018, Ortega announced a move to reform Nicaragua's pension system, saying that fiscal changes were needed. The reform sought to impose a 5 percent tax on retiree and disability pensions while increasing social security contributions by up to 22.5 percent. The move unleashed large-scale protests nationwide, which have been the biggest challenge Ortega has faced during his modern tenure.

Nicaragua crisis explained

State repression and clergy mediation

The pension plan was abandoned but protests continued, demanding Ortega's ouster. UN Human Rights experts denounced the state's harsh repression. As the death toll rose, Nicaragua's Catholic Church has demanded that Ortega allow international organizations entry to Nicaragua to help investigate the deaths and tried to set up talks between the opposition and the government.

Nicaragua crisis explained

Government and opposition sit down

The opposition, comprised of students and a wide range of civil society groups, sat down with the government for a round of talks on May 16. The Clergy said the talks would be focused on "justice, democratization, and peace." The opposition's main demand: new presidential elections in 2019. The government rejected the demands and talks broke down.

Nicaragua crisis explained

Catholic Church under fire

Bishops and priests in the strongly Catholic country have played a key role in the crisis. In addition to mediating the peace talks that stalled in June, the bishops have also seconded the call for new elections. Ortega has described the bishops as "coup-plotters" against him, and Catholic leaders have faced threats, harassment and attacks. Protesters have marched in support of the priests.

Nicaragua crisis explained

Students as prime targets

University students have been the vanguard of the anti-Ortega movement. Many violent crackdowns have taken place on university campuses, often involving heavy gunfire. While the students say that paramilitaries loyal to Ortega are behind the shootings, the president denies that the armed individuals are under government control. He has also described the protesters as "terrorists" and "criminals."

Nicaragua crisis explained

Stalemate and instability

The death toll in four months of violence has risen to over 300 according to human rights activists, though the Ortega government says it's around 200. Protesters continue to take to the streets, describing torture, blacklists and job dismissals as repercussions for their demonstrations. In addition, the UN says over 20,000 people have sought asylum in Costa Rica in a crisis with no end in sight.

jm/kms (Reuters, AP)

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