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Nicaraguan Vote for Ortega Would Send Wrong Message on Child Abuse



Geneva, Nov. 2, 2006 —UN Watch today expressed concern that an individual credibly accused of incest and child abuse is a candidate in this Sunday's ballot for Nicaragua's next president. The Geneva-based human rights monitoring organization said that the election of former president Daniel Ortega—whose own colleagues substantiated accusations that he sexually abused his stepdaughter when she was a child—could send a negative message and prejudice international efforts to protect children. UN Watch is part of a coalition of non-governmental organizations that has been outspoken at the UN Human Rights Council against the sexual exploitation of children.


In 1998, at the age of thirty, Zoilamérica Narvaez publicly revealed her story of sustained sexual molestation, abuse and rape by her stepfather, starting when she was only eleven. "Veteran Sandinistas [...] said they knew about Ortega's abuse of her all along," reported the New York Times (August 23, 1998), while Alejandro Bendana, Ortega's former envoy to the UN who married Narvaez in 1990, publicly confessed his shame in failing to confront the continued abuse by his boss. Time Magazine (March 23, 1998) reported that "[t]hroughout much of the 1980s, many loyalists of the Marxist-oriented Sandinista Party suspected that Daniel Ortega Saavedra, their dour leader and the country's President from 1979 to 1990, was sexually molesting his adolescent stepdaughter Zoilamerica Narvaez Murillo."  Mr. Narvaez's harrowing testimony of the abuse is detailed here.  (Spanish version.)


Efforts to prosecute the case were first blocked by Ortega's immunity as a member of Nicaragua's congress. According to an article in the Harvard Review of Latin America (Revista, Summer 2006), "Ortega refused to deal with the issue, shielding himself with his immunity from prosecution."  Finally in 2001 Ortega renounced his immunity—but only after calculating that the statue of limitations for the sexual abuse and rape charges had finally passed. The case was dismissed by a judge accused of being a loyalist of Ortega's party. "The [five-year] statute of limitations begins running the day the crime was allegedly committed," ruled Criminal Court judge Juana Mendez.


However, according to UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, "imposing a statute of limitations on prosecuting child abusers is outrageous and constitutes a gross injustice. Just as there is no statute of limitations on murder, there should be none for those who commit the worst kind of abuse and kill a child's innocence."  In a Sept. 22, 2006 joint NGO statement delivered before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (together with World YWCA, World Alliance of YMCAs and the Women's World Summit Foundation), UN Watch urged that "[w]hether a crime against a child was committed months or years ago should not preclude prosecution. An abused child must be entitled to justice even if the accusation comes many years later."


Neuer expressed worry that "Mr. Ortega might become the first president in history against whom there are highly substantiated charges of incest and sexual abuse of a child, which would only undermine worldwide NGO efforts for education on the rights of the child, not to mention sexual violence against women and gender discrimination as a whole."


Ms. Naravaez's case is currently before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of the American States (OAS).  She has accused the Nicaraguan government of failing to provide due process and justice because the Nicaraguan courts did not review her case until after the statute of limitations for rape had expired. Ms. Narvaez complains that she is being denied her day in court because Mr. Ortega controls the judicial system. UN Watch is concerned about allegations that the OAS postponed her October hearing due to pressure connected to the upcoming elections and urges that justice be expedited.


UN Watch is active at the UN as a member of the Committee of Youth Organizations of the Conference of NGOs (CONGO).

UN Watch is a Geneva-based human rights organization founded in 1993 to monitor UN compliance with the principles of its Charter. It is accredited as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Special Consultative Status to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and as an Associate NGO to the UN Department of Public Information.