By Susan Yoshihara, Ph D
(NEW YORK — C-FAM) A powerful UN committee intervened in Nicaragua’s vote about abortion last week, telling national legislators to disregard religious leaders and consult with the UN instead. In a letter to the Nicaraguan National Assembly, Silvia Pimentel, vice chairman of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), criticized the influence of “the hierarchies of the Catholic Church and some Evangelical Churches” in the draft reforms of Nicaragua’s penal code.
Pimentel asserted that by consulting with Nicaraguan religious leaders, Nicaragua had violated its own constitution as “an independent, free, sovereign, unitary, and indivisible State,” that “does not have an official religion.” Written on behalf of the entire CEDAW committee, the letter said, “We call upon the Honorable Nicaraguan deputies to postpone the current discussion of the Penal Code and adopt a consultation process to allow for decisions to be based on the defense of the Secular State.”
Pimentel, a Brazilian jurist and coordinator for the Latin American pro-abortion lobby, CLADEM, is a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her CEDAW job has just been extended two years. Her letter asserts that “the right to a therapeutic abortion is inherent in human rights, like the right to life and the right to health…protected by international treaties and conventions signed by Nicaragua.” In fact, abortion is not mentioned in any international treaty. When it was mentioned in a non-binding resolution, Nicaragua and other nations made reservations excluding any right to abortion.
Critics argue that CEDAW has displayed only selective concern for women. During its last periodic review of Nicaragua in 2001, CEDAW expressed concern about the custom of “sexual abuse of young girls by older men.” But Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said that CEDAW’s intervention last week “contrasts sharply with their utter silence about a widely known case of child sexual abuse by a powerful politician.” Wright said their failure to help seek justice for Zoilamerica Narvaez, who maintains that her stepfather, Sandinista leader and national legislator Daniel Ortega, abused her from the time she was 11 years old, “shows that CEDAW would rather use its influence to push abortion and criticize religion than to help women.” One CEDAW committee member told the Friday Fax that the committee never addressed the case.
Although Narvaez won her case in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Nicaragua has failed to give her remedy. Alejandro Bendana, Nicaragua’s UN ambassador during the Ortega dictatorship in the 1980s, says that the Nicaraguan courts' ignoring the Narvaez case is, “probably the most convincing evidence of Ortega’s lock on the party, including its women’s movement.” Wright also addressed feminist reluctance to criticize Ortega, asking, “Have they ignored Zoilamerica’s case because it accuses a dictator with whom radical feminists are ideologically aligned?” Ortega may soon lead the government that is supposed to give Narvaez remedy. The former dictator is ahead in the presidential polls. The vote is on Sunday.