On December 13, 2021, a majority of members of the Nicaraguan National Assembly allied with President Daniel Ortega voted to cancel the operating license of Hispanic American University (UHISPAM), leading to the government’s seizure of control over the university.
The National Assembly voted to strip UHISPAM, which enrolls nearly 4,000 students, of its operating licenses based on allegations that they were in violation of financial disclosure requirements. In February of 2022, the government took over several more universities on similar grounds. (See report).
Notwithstanding the government’s charges regarding the institutions’ financial disclosures, university officials and others allege that the government’s decision to take over the institutions stems from 2018 protests against the Ortega government, which the government violently suppressed, ending in the deaths of more than 350 Nicaraguans. University students were among the leading groups of protesters.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the targeting of a higher education institution by national policymakers, apparently as retaliation for expressive activity or political opinion – conduct which is expressly protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nicaragua is a party. Enforcement of administrative laws and regulations, such as financial disclosure requirements, must be transparent, non-partisan, and proportionate, taking into account relevant human rights concerns including academic freedom and university autonomy. The summary government takeover of multiple higher education institutions severely undermines these values, and harms democratic society generally.