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Group of Experts on Nicaragua finds escalating persecution against dissent and crackdown on independent academic institutions

12 September 2023

GENEVA (12 September 2023) – A new wave of human rights violations in Nicaragua over the past six months has seriously stifled dissenting voices and increased persecution, the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua (GHREN) said in its latest update on the country’s human rights situation today.

During a presentation to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the experts said human rights defenders and opponents are facing severe pressure to leave Nicaragua, through constant surveillance, harassment in public and private spaces, and the continued criminalization and use of arbitrary detention.

Religious actors, in particular of the Catholic Church, are increasingly being targeted. This has led many defenders and opponents to abandon the country. Once abroad, they have faced arbitrary deprivation of their nationality, confiscation of assets and their relatives in Nicaragua have been exposed to intimidation.

In addition, the Government has intensified its targeting of universities as spaces for critical and independent thinking. The legal status of 27 institutions have been cancelled and their assets confiscated. This has been done invoking supposed breaches of regulations, reflecting the instrumentalization of the State apparatus to suppress academic freedom and diversity.

Students perceived to dissent or oppose the authorities have paid a high price. Many have been expelled, and face harassment including denials of their academic records and paperwork, contributing to them being unable to continue their studies in Nicaragua or abroad. The persecution also extends to academic authorities and professors. Students and staff in these circumstances have been forced to leave the country, with some being deprived of their nationality once abroad.

“We have observed the intentional and severe deprivation of economic and social rights, in particular the right to education and academic freedom,” said Jan-Michael Simon, Chair of the GHREN. “Today, the university sector of Nicaragua as a whole no longer has independent institutions. Nicaragua is being stripped of its intellectual capital and critical voices, leaving the country's prospects and development on hold.”

The violations are perpetrated at the highest level of the State, jointly with other government-controlled institutions, such as the Ministries of Education, Youth, and Interior, the National Assembly, and educational councils as well as labour unions and student bodies linked to the government.

The seriousness of these violations, in conjunction with the other crimes documented to date, perpetrated by reason of the political identity of the group targeted, leads the Group of Experts to conclude that these constitute prima facie the crime against humanity of persecution on political grounds.

The Experts called on the Government of Nicaragua to allow access by neutral and independent verification agencies, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross to detention centres where real or perceived opponents are being held. The Group reiterated its call to the Government of Nicaragua to cooperate with the Group and grant access to the country.

The Group called on the international community to ensure fair and effective access to identification, referral and status determination procedures for persons deprived of their nationality or forced to leave Nicaragua; and, as far as possible, facilitate their assimilation and naturalization.

It also called on the international community to liaise with higher education authorities to support affected Nicaraguan students and academic staff; expand sanctions against institutions and individuals involved in the commission of human rights violations and international crimes, including against those targeting Nicaragua’s university sector; assess current and future development cooperation to Nicaragua with an aim to strengthen a plural and diverse range of actors in higher education, to ensure the right to education and academic freedom, and the development of Nicaragua.

ENDS

Background: The Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua is an independent body mandated by the UN Human Rights Council. Established in March 2022, it is tasked to conduct thorough and independent investigations into all alleged human rights violations and abuses committed in Nicaragua since April 2018.

For more information about the Group of Human Rights on Nicaragua, see its webpage.

For media queries, please contact: Todd Pitman, Media Adviser for the Human Rights Council’s Investigative Missions: [email protected] or +41 76 691 1761; or Pascal Sim, Human Rights Council Media Officer: [email protected] or +41 22 917 9763.

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