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Nicaragua: Human Rights

Volume 791: debated on Wednesday 13 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following reports of further deaths of those protesting against President Ortega, what representations they are making to the Government of Nicaragua to ensure that the human rights of those demonstrating against the President are protected.

My Lords, the United Kingdom has been very clear with the Nicaraguan Government that they must take responsibility for ending the current violence and protecting human rights, particularly the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. These messages have been delivered in two meetings, between a senior Foreign Office official and a presidential adviser on international relations, and in a public statement by the British ambassador to Nicaragua which featured in the Nicaraguan press.

I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful Answer. Is she aware that, having rejoiced at the Sandinista victory over the dictator Somoza in 1979 and having condemned the US intervention in Nicaragua by funding the Contras, it grieves me and my colleagues to read the report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the human rights violations by the Government of Nicaragua, including 130 deaths. Recognising the fact that there has been aggression by other forces on the Government and on government personnel, will the Minister ask the Prime Minister to take up specifically with Daniel Ortega that the United Kingdom Government do not think that he is acting properly, that the talks proposed by the Catholic bishops should be taken up straightaway and that peace talks are urgently needed?

I thank the noble Lord, who makes important points. The Government were concerned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report, particularly about the reports of the indiscriminate use of live ammunition against protestors, arbitrary detentions and threats against human rights defenders. As I indicated in my first Answer, the British ambassador to Nicaragua expressly called on the authorities to end the violence and exercise a responsibility to protect peaceful protestors. The noble Lord is right: the episcopal conference has an important role to play in this to encourage and resume the dialogue that would offer the hope of a better future.

My Lords, on the question of what action the Government can take, does my noble friend the Minister agree that, in examining the publication of our annual human rights report this summer, we should consider making Nicaragua, for the first time, a country of concern? We should consider not only the recent appalling demonstrations and abuses of human rights but the repeated reports over the past year of attacks on civil society organisations and journalists, and a Government in Nicaragua that ignores the plight of a third of a million underage working children, 80% of whom never receive pay.

My noble friend speaks with great authority and knowledge on these matters. The United Kingdom Government are deeply concerned. It is the case that recent FCO reports on human rights have not included Nicaragua, because circumstances have not merited its inclusion. She is correct that the Government will be monitoring closely what is happening in Nicaragua and its response to the representations made by the British ambassador. We hope to see a more encouraging path towards fair and free elections.

My Lords, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to which the Minister referred notes,

“the painful past that affected Nicaraguan society and the historical commitment not to repeat it”.

It concludes:

“The essential condition for any solution is the commitment to the truth, guarantees for the investigations and effective justice, as well as proper reparation”.

Is assistance being offered to Nicaragua in terms of investigation and effective justice, given the UK’s expertise in these areas?

It is the case that, in addition to our ambassador’s statement, we have joined EU statements condemning the violence, urging the Government to respect the right to freedom of expression and assembly. We also raised our concerns directly at the Organization of American States general assembly on 5 June in Washington, where, as the noble Baroness will be aware, the UK is an accredited observer. We are doing our best to try to use our influence to ensure that there is an improvement.

My Lords, as somebody who went as an unofficial observer to the elections in Nicaragua in 1984, I underline the criticisms that have been made of Daniel Ortega. Could the Government, in protesting to the Nicaraguan Government, remind them that many of us went there in those years as an expression of solidarity for a Government who espoused human rights and had overthrown a vicious dictator? We believed that a better world was coming. Could we make it clear that Daniel Ortega has betrayed the hopes of the revolution that brought him to power?

We are certainly very clear in our condemnation of any breach of human rights. We are also very clear that the Nicaraguan Government must uphold what we would regard as the acceptable level of human rights that citizens should be entitled to enjoy. What the future holds is not a matter for speculation by the UK Government; it is a matter for dialogue, to which reference has been made by the episcopal conference, and it is also a matter for the Nicaraguan people to resolve by free and fair elections.

My Lords, a representative of the foreign affairs committee of the United States Senate visited Managua yesterday. Could the Minister say a word about what the UK Government are specifically doing to help this process and to ensure that there is no regional spillover?

As the noble Viscount will be aware, in addition to the intervention by the British ambassador, we have a wide diplomatic spread in central America. We are working in concert with partners. It is important that there is a consistency of message to the Nicaraguan Government that there is a very clear representation that we do not and are not prepared to accept patent breaches of human rights. The future lies in restoring law and order, ending violence and, we hope, allowing elections to proceed in a free and fair manner.