On July 13, 2018, government-backed paramilitary forces attacked student protesters seeking refuge in a church near the campus of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in Managua. Two students were killed in the attack, while dozens more were reportedly injured.
Since April 2018, Nicaraguan students have led ongoing demonstrations throughout the country, protesting austerity measures ordered by President Daniel Ortega, demanding democratic reforms, and calling on president Ortega to resign. Although for the most peaceful, the protests have reportedly led to violent clashes with police and paramilitary forces on a number of occasions. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as of this report more than 260 people have been killed and more than 2,000 have been wounded in violent clashes between protesters and paramilitary and security forces since the protests began.
Student protesters had occupied the campus of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua for more than two months when, on July 13, paramilitary forces attacked the students in an effort to retake the campus. More than 100 students, as well as clergy and journalists, reportedly sought refuge in the nearby Church of Jesus of the Divine Mercy. The paramilitary forces continued the siege overnight, reportedly raining gunfire on the students from outside the church until church mediators were able to negotiate a ceasefire on the morning of July 14, allowing the students to leave. Two students were killed and dozens more were reportedly wounded in the attack.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violent clashes and the use of lethal force by paramilitary forces in response to student protest. SAR offers its condolences to the victims’ families, friends and the entire university community. State authorities have a responsibility to ensure the security of higher education communities, to prevent future attacks, to protect the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and academic freedom, and to hold perpetrators accountable, including by ensuring thorough investigations of violent attacks on students. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, violent attacks on student protesters have a chilling effect on academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.