UN seeks to investigate Nicaragua protest deaths

Geneva (AFP) –


The UN rights office on Friday asked Nicaragua to allow it to carry out an investigation into "credible" reports that at least 47 people, most of them students, have been killed since a wave of protests began there last month.

"We are concerned at the volatile situation in Nicaragua, where, according to information from credible sources, to date at least 47 people -- the majority of them students, as well as two police officers and a journalist -- have been killed in connection with protests that began in mid-April." Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said.

A wave of protests began in Nicaragua on April 18, triggered by an aborted attempt to reform the near-bankrupt social security system, but quickly expanded to include a wave of grievances against President Daniel Ortega, including claims of corruption and repression.

The brutality of the repression by security forces and arbitrary arrests of protesters, has sparked national outrage and fuelled protests across the Central American nation.

The protests pose a serious challenge to the authority of 72-year-old Ortega, who has ruled Nicaragua for the past 11 years and before that from 1979-1990.

"On 7 May, we officially asked the Nicaraguan authorities to grant us access to the country so that we can, in line with the UN Human Rights Office?s mandate, gather first-hand information about what happened during the protests," said Shamdasani.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that the Nicaraguan parliament had created a truth commission to investigate the deaths and allegations of torture and enforced disappearances during the protests.

But for the truth commission's work to be credible, it "must be independent, and able to conduct its work in a transparent and impartial manner," she added.

On Tuesday a student coalition dismissed the truth commission as "illegitimate" and called for a proper enquiry body to be set up which would be "pluralistic, just and reliable".

Last week Ortega's government rejected a request by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to visit the country to see the situation first-hand.