MEXICO CITY — Nicaragua has increased human rights violations and persecution of the opposition as it ratchets up its efforts to stifle dissent, a United Nations group of experts monitoring the country said Tuesday.
The Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, that the government continues increasing pressure on human rights defenders to force them to leave the country.
That persecution has extended to the education sector, where the government has systematically cancelled the legal status of private universities and seized their campuses.
“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 group. “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.”
Last month, the government confiscated the prestigious Jesuit-run University of Central America in Nicaragua. It was the latest in a series of actions by authorities against the Catholic Church, but also among some 27 higher education institutions that have been cancelled and confiscated.
The group noted that religious figures, in particular from the Catholic Church, are increasingly targets of attacks and some have been forced to leave the country. Once abroad they are sometimes stripped of their nationality and have their assets in Nicaragua confiscated.
The university and other education institutions were important centers of dissent during the popular protests in April in 2018 that became a referendum on President Daniel Ortega’s administration. Ortega was re-elected after jailing seven potential competitors in 2021.
The government’s pursuit of the opposition has continued and intensified. Students and other opposition figures have been imprisoned or forced into exile.
In February, the Nicaraguan government put 222 prisoners on a plane to the United States, declaring them traitors.
“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 group said.
The group asked the Nicaraguan government to allow independent and neutral organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross into prisons where opponents are being held.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also confirmed Tuesday that the human rights situation in Nicaragua continues deteriorating.
It said it had documented 27 cases in the past year of Nicaraguans who left the country briefly for travel and were not allowed to return to the country in violation of international treaties. The practice has separated families, the office said.