IACHR Press Office
Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression, and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights reject the arbitrary interference with academic freedom and the deepening moves to shut down civic spaces in Nicaragua. In particular, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurships condemn the revocation of the legal status of the Central American University (UCA) and the arbitrary confiscation of its facilities, as well as the forced eviction of several Jesuits from their place of residence.
On Saturday August 19, the IACHR's Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) was informed about the eviction of six members of the Society of Jesus and about the arbitrary confiscation of the Villa del Carmen facility, the community where these UCA workers lived. These events happened one day after the publication of the Ministerial Agreement that officially established the revocation of the university's legal status, in compliance with a warrant issued on August 15 by Nicaragua's Tenth Criminal Court. The Court ordered the confiscation of all property owned by the university, including buildings and bank accounts, and noted that the UCA functioned as a "terrorist center," where "criminal groups of armed and masked individuals were organized to use terrorist methods in the country."
Also in this Ministerial Agreement, the State approved the creation of Casimiro Sotelo Montenegro National University. The State ordered that all data concerning students, teachers, programs, curricula, and registration databases in the UCA's possession be handed over to the National University Council (CNU), an institution that serves the interests of the official party and the government.
The UCA's shutdown affected at least 5,000 students and had a serious impact on Nicaraguan society as a whole. In recent years, the UCA's Jesuit community has been subjected to hounding, intimidation, and harassment in retaliation for its support for and defense of the rights of students who took part in social protests in 2018. In 2022, the university denounced pressure and interference, using tools like the failure to extend certifications that were necessary for its operations and its exclusion from the CNU as a way to weaken its budget. These events happen in a context of serious restrictions of religious freedom and of persecution against the Roman Catholic Church in Nicaragua.
The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurships note that 25 other universities have been shut down since 2020 as their legal status was revoked, which has affected more than 37,000 students. Universities have also received complaints for indoctrination, while political canvassing has increased inside academic facilities to impose Sandinista ideology as the single acceptable way of thinking and the single acceptable political stance. Supporters of the Sandinista National Liberation Front have taken control of student organizations, and many students have been criminalized. On August 19, the IACHR was informed of the arrests of student leaders Adela Espinoza and Gabriela Morales by the National Police.
According to the Inter-American Principles on Academic Freedom and University Autonomy, all interference with academic freedom in a democratic society must reflect the principles of legality, legitimate ends, suitability, necessity, and proportionality, in keeping with the American Convention on Human Rights. These principles are safeguards against arbitrariness by the authorities both within and beyond academic institutions. Restrictions of academic freedom must also not perpetuate prejudice or foster intolerance.
The IACHR alerts the international community about the shutdown or cancellation of universities and other places of academic freedom in retaliation for dissent with the government's ideological position, one more example of shutdowns of civic spaces in Nicaragua. Beyond affecting the right to freedom of association, these shutdowns restrict the rights to education, academic freedom, freedom of expression, plural ideas, and human development, as well as harming civil society, which in turn weakens democracy.
The IACHR, its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression, and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights urge the State of Nicaragua to end all forms of arbitrary interference with academic freedom and to reverse revocations of the legal status of universities and other academic institutions which have been implemented without due process. Similarly, the Commission and its Special Rapporteurships urge the Nicaraguan State to return facilities and all other confiscated property.
Based on the principles of equality and non-discrimination, solidarity, and international cooperation, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurships urge States in the Americas to enable access to educational programs and services for affected Nicaraguan students and academics, through in-person and online programs, to ensure the educational continuity that is part of every individual's life plan.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.