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Ortega-led Nicaraguan government accused of abuses 'tantamount to crimes against humanity'

A U.N.-backed panel on Thursday accused the Nicaraguan government, led by Socialist President Daniel Ortega, of human rights abuses “tantamount to crimes against humanity."

A panel of U.N.-backed human rights experts on Thursday accused Nicaragua ’s government of systematic human rights abuses "tantamount to crimes against humanity," implicating a range of high-ranking officials in the government of President Daniel Ortega.

The allegations, fiercely rejected by Nicaragua's government, follow an investigation into the country’s expanding crackdown on political dissent. The Ortega government has gone after opponents for years, but it hit a turning point with mass protests against the government in 2018 that resulted in violent repression by authorities.

In the past year, repression has expanded to large swaths of society with a focus on "incapacitating any kind of opposition in the long term," according to the independent group of U.N. experts investigating the issue since March 2022.


The experts do not speak for the world body, but work under a mandate from the Human Rights Council.

"Serious systematic human rights violations, tantamount to crimes against humanity, continue to be perpetrated by the Nicaraguan government for political reasons," the group said in a statement.

Jan Simon, an expert who headed the investigation, said at a news conference Thursday in Geneva that the Nicaraguan government's persecution targets "all forms of opposition, whether real or perceived, both domestically and abroad."

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

Ortega’s government has repeatedly said that the mass demonstrations against it in 2018 constituted a failed coup attempt orchestrated by the United States, and typically defends any repression as a crackdown on anti-government plots.

The government responded to the report Thursday by saying it was "manipulated" by a group of imperialist powers paid to "distort the reality of our country."

"We will not accept these self-proclaimed human rights experts," Attorney General Wendy Morales said in a video, accusing them of bias and of basing their conclusions on "unreal and irrational" criteria.

The human rights report, which came after hundreds of interviews, implicated a number of high ranking officials in crackdowns that have firmly consolidated power in the hands of Ortega and his Vice President Rosario Murillo.

The report says Gustavo Porras, the head of the country’s National Assembly, pushes through legislation to facilitate repression. It says Marvin Aguilar García, the head of the Supreme Court, takes direct orders from Ortega’s government, and commands lower level judges to fall in line. Meanwhile, Chief Prosecutor Ana Julia Guido Ochoa's office fabricates evidence against real or perceived opponents, the report says.

The experts also cite high-ranking officials in the country’s interior ministry, the governmental body regulating migration and the body regulating non-governmental organizations.

Yader Morazán, an exiled former official of the Nicaraguan judiciary, hailed the report saying it could help combat impunity in Nicaragua.

"This report presents a well-documented work that for the first time identifies the main perpetrators of abuses and crimes against humanity" and "reveals the structure and chain of command of the repression from State institutions," Morazán said.

ln December, police charged the director of the Miss Nicaragua pageant of a "beauty queen coup" plot, saying she rigged the competition against pro-government beauty queens. In February, the government shut down yet another round of social groups, including the country's scouting organization and a rotary club.

The report says the crackdown has expanded past Nicaragua's borders to the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled government repression, largely landing in the United States and Costa Rica. Hundreds of Nicaraguans have been stripped of their citizenship and left stateless, unable to access fundamental rights.

The U.N. report urges the Ortega government to release "arbitrarily" detained Nicaraguans and calls on global leaders to expand sanctions on "individuals and institutions involved in human rights violations."

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