U.N. accuses Nicaragua government of widespread rights violations

GENEVA (Reuters) - Nicaragua’s government turned a blind eye while armed mobs rounded up protesters, some of whom were later raped with rifles and tortured in detention, the United Nations said on Wednesday in a report rejected as biased by Managua.

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In a 33-page rebuttal, Nicaragua said the U.N. Human Rights Office report issued in Geneva had ignored violence aimed at overthrowing a democratically elected government.

The report documented human rights violations between April 18 and Aug. 18, including the disproportionate use of force and extrajudicial killings by the Nicaraguan police, disappearances, widespread arbitrary detentions and instances of torture and sexual violence in detention centers.

“Repression and retaliation against demonstrators continue in Nicaragua as the world looks away,” U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a statement.

He later said he feared Nicaragua was going down the same path as Venezuela and hoped it could be persuaded to stop responding to protests with “an iron fist”.

The report said the U.N. Human Rights Council should consider setting up an international inquiry or truth commission to prevent the situation getting worse, although “the chilling effect of repression” and a “a climate of widespread terror” had already silenced many protesters.

The Central American government said there was no policy of repression, but peace had been restored in the streets.

The U.N. report said detainees were tortured with Taser guns, barbed wire, beatings with fists and tubes and attempted strangulation.

“Some women have been subject to sexual violence, including rape, and described threats of sexual abuse as common. Male detainees also mentioned cases of rape, including rape with rifles and other objects,” the report said.

Nicaragua said there were no arbitrary arrests and all detentions were carried out in accordance with the law, with no documented cases of torture or sexual assault.

The violent crackdown on protests against President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla leader, has drawn international condemnation. The U.N. report said over 300 people had been killed and 2,000 injured.

Nicaraguan officials said the deaths of 22 police officers showed the demonstrations had not been peaceful, but the U.N. report said it found no evidence of coordinated or planned violence by protesters.

After the protests began in April, people associated with the ruling Sandinista party were mobilized into “shock forces” or “mobs” to attack peaceful protesters, while well-armed pro-government paramilitaries arrested people across the country, according to the U.N. report.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Mark Heinrich