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Nicaraguan Says Sandinistas Manipulated Rights Panel

August 21, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A senior member of Nicaragua’s human rights commission who secretly defected to the United States four months ago says the Sandinistas tried to turn the panel into a propaganda agency, ahis disclosures to American interrogators, made available to The Associated Press, said:

-The commission, established in 1980 to investigate rights abuses, has increasingly come under the control of the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, which has attempted to use the office to enhance Nicaragua’s international image.

-Since late 1983, the ministry’s secretary general, Alejandro Bendana, has monitored the commission’s activities. Early this year, he told the commission leadership not to investigate allegations of abuses concerning the forced relocation of several communities in northern Nicaragua. If the leaders did otherwise, ″they would only get themselves into trouble,″ the summary said.

-Bendana told two commission officials last January that the panel was going to assist the Nicaraguan government in establishing ties with foreign human rights groups for the purpose of drawing international attention to abuses committed by anti-government rebels. ″The commission leaders were told to stop investigating any abuse committed by the government of Nicaragua and to concentrate their efforts on the anti-Sandinistas ,″ the summary said.

-Since 1982, commission members have not been permitted to investigate abuses in Nicaragua’s prison system. The Interior Ministry’s chief of prisons, Raul Cordon, ″has delayed or refused to meet with commission officials and has torn up commission letters in front of the officials without reading them. ... Cordon has rejected all of the commission’s requests for the release of prisoners.″

-Of the nine commissioners appointed in 1983, six place the political goals of the Sandinista government above the human rights interests of the commission.

Guerrero’s account, according to the summary, also said two American lawyers, Reed Brody and James Bordelon, visited Nicaragua last year to investigate abuses by anti-communist rebels. It said the commission paid their three-month hotel bill, totaling $2,777, and provided them with office space and transportation.

Earlier this year, after the lawyers’ report was completed, Brody acknowledged that the Sandinista government had helped defray housing and transportation costs.

While Guerrero declined comment when contacted by telephone, an American acquaintance of his, who asked not to be identified, said the Nicaraguan feared for his personal safety because he felt the Sandinistas might identify him as a counterrevolutionary.

The acquaintance said Guerrero also was a target of the Contras’ clandestine radio broadcasts, which saw the commission as a government propaganda agency and looked on Guerrero as a collaborator.

U.S. officials asked The Associated Press not to disclose Guerrero’s whereabouts to make sure his safety was not jeopardized. He arrived in Miami from Nicaragua in late April and was reported to have left that city about two months ago.

The officials, who spoke only on condition they not be identified, said that before the revolution, Guerrero aided the Sandinista cause by transporting weapons and other equipment.

The Nicaraguan Embassy declined comment on Guerrero’s allegations, but the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights, a private U.S. group, offered a generally favorable account of the commission’s activities in an April report on Nicaragua’s justice system.

It said the commission receives about 3,000 individual complaints or requests for help yearly, many involving problems with housing and prison visits.

In many cases, the commission attempts to resolve the issue by interceding with the responsible government agency, the report said.

It said staff members serve an educational role by giving human rights seminars to government officials and publicizing human rights treaties, international conventions and domestic legislation.

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