The UN accuses Nicaragua’s government of abuses ‘tantamount to crimes against humanity’

MEXICO CITY — The United Nations on Thursday accused Nicaragua’s government of committing “serious systematic human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity” in an investigation into the country’s increasing crackdown on political dissidents.

President Daniel Ortega’s government has been pursuing opponents for years, reaching a turning point in 2018 in mass anti-government protests that resulted in violent repression by authorities.

But in the past year, repression has spread to large parts of society, with a focus on “eliminating any form of opposition in the long term,” according to the independent group of UN experts who have been investigating the issue since March 2022.

“Nicaragua is caught in a spiral of violence characterized by the persecution of all forms of political opposition, real or perceived,” Jan Simon, an expert who led the investigation, said in a statement. “The government has reinforced a spiral of silence that eliminates any potential opposition.”

Ortega’s government has repeatedly said the mass demonstrations against her in 2018 constituted a failed coup attempt orchestrated by the United States, and often responds to criticism in kind.

The state has targeted civilians, including university students, indigenous and black Nicaraguans, and members of the Catholic Church. Children and family members are now being targeted simply because they are related to people who raise their voices against the government.

In December, police also accused the director of the Miss Nicaragua pageant of plotting a “beauty queen coup,” saying she had manipulated the fight against pro-government beauty queens. In February, the government closed another round of social groups, including the country’s scouting organization and a Rotary club.

According to the report, the crackdown has spread beyond Nicaragua’s borders to the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled government repression, largely ending up in the United States and Costa Rica. Hundreds of Nicaraguans have been deprived of their citizenship and left stateless, without access to fundamental rights.

The UN report urged the Ortega government to “arbitrarily” release detained Nicaraguans and called on world leaders to expand sanctions against “individuals and institutions involved in human rights violations.”