Experts report Nicaraguan 'systematic human rights violations' to UN

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A group of United Nations experts on Thursday urged more sanctions against the government of Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, which it accused of systematic human rights violations "tantamount to crimes against humanity."

In a report presented to the UN's Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, they said Ortega, his vice president and wife Rosario Murillo, and other high-level officials "should be held accountable."

"Violations, abuses and crimes have been perpetrated not only to dismantle active opposition efforts, but also to eliminate critical voices and dissuade, in the long term, any new organization and initiative of social mobilization," said the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua.

The body is an independent group with a mandate from the HRC to investigate abuses committed in the Central American country since 2018, when anti-government protests left more than 300 dead in clashes with the armed forces. More than 100,000 people fled into exile.

Nicaragua has jailed hundreds of real and perceived opponents since then and shuttered more than 3,500 religious and other non-governmental organizations, including the local Red Cross, the Boy Scouts and even universities -- often also seizing their assets.

Managua views the 2018 protests as part of an attempted coup promoted by Washington, and claims they were funded by NGOs.

Ortega, a 78-year-old former Marxist firebrand under US sanctions, has governed Nicaragua since 2007, winning three successive reelections and tightening his grip on key state institutions.

He and his wife now have "total control" over the judicial branch, according to the report.

The last election took place in November 2021 with Ortega's main rivals in jail alongside dozens of other government opponents and critics.

- 'Devastating' -

Managua rejected the findings, which it said were based on "unrealistic and irrational" criteria as it accused the expert group of bias.

The report, Attorney General Wendy Morales said via the official news site El 19 Digital, "lacks any modicum of credibility."

The group's chairman, Jan Simon, said the state under Ortega "goes after its own people, targeting university students, Indigenous people, people of African descent, campesinos (rural people) and members of the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations."

He said in a statement the country was caught in a spiral of violence marked by the "persecution of all forms of political opposition, whether real or perceived, both domestically and abroad."

The experts found there had been an "exponential increase" in 2023 "of patterns of violations focusing on incapacitating any kind of opposition in the long term."

A year ago, the government freed more than 200 detained members of the opposition, expelled them to the United States and stripped them and others in exile of their nationality.

A critical Nicaraguan bishop and 18 other Catholic figures were also freed from prison last month and sent to Rome under an agreement with the Vatican, with whom Managua's relations have been tense since churches sheltered protesters during the 2018 crackdown.

The expert group urged the international community to take "immediate action by expanding sanctions" against individuals and institutions involved in human rights violations.

"The effect on the Nicaraguan population is devastating," said Simon.

"It will take the people of Nicaragua and the international community a significant amount of time and resources to recover everything lost under the rule of President Ortega and Vice President Murillo."