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Anti-government protesters take part in a march dubbed 'United Nicaragua will never be defeated' in Granada, Nicaragua, on August 25, 2018. Photo: Inti Ocon/AFP via Getty Images

The UN Human Rights Office accused the Nicaraguan government of violating international and human rights laws in a scathing report published on Wednesday. After massive street protests shook the foundations of President Daniel Ortega’s authoritarian regime in April, police and armed parapolice groups cracked down with disproportionate force, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, sexual violence and torture.

Why it matters: The UN says that Nicaragua’s political crisis has left at least 300 dead and 2,000 injured, among a population roughly equal to that of the D.C. metro area. U.S. and Latin American diplomats worry that the instability could spawn a refugee crisis and create a power vacuum that might be filled by transnational organized crime groups.

Ortega, whose government dismissed the UN report in an official response, says that his country is doing perfectly fine. After repressing peaceful protests in April and May, police and armed shock troops conducted a “cleanup” operation during which they violently removed the barricades and roadblocks erected by protestors across the country. By July, Ortega started claiming victory over “terrorists” and “coup-plotters” and told foreign media that the country’s “normalization” was proceeding apace.

By contrast, the UN report shows that the situation in Nicaragua is anything but normal. Most of the deaths occurred during the “cleanup” between April and July. However, the government continues to employ myriad forms of persecution and retaliation in order to silence dissent. Hundreds of Nicaraguans have received terrorism charges and been detained without due process. The “systematic” persecution of dissidents compounded by pro-government intimidation has resulted in "a climate of widespread terror, frustration and despair." Unsurprisingly, the report also notes an exponential increase in Nicaraguan asylum seekers abroad.

What's next: The UN Human Rights Office has called on the Ortega regime to cease the repression and disband the parapolice forces. More notably, it has urged the UN Human Rights Council to consider creating an independent probe into the matter. Such an extraordinary step, if taken, would elevate the crisis in Nicaragua to the same symbolic level as other, more well-known cases — such as Syria's and Gaza's — that have recently been the subject of UN inquiries. Talks between the government and opposition groups have stalled, but increased international scrutiny and diplomatic isolation could help push Ortega back to the negotiating table.

Mateo Jarquín is a doctoral candidate in the department of history at Harvard University.

Go deeper

55 mins ago - World

HRW: Over 100 former Afghan security members dead or missing under Taliban rule

Members of the Taliban movement patrol Kabul's airport in September. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

The Taliban have "killed or forcibly disappeared" over 100 former members of Afghanistan's security forces since the group took power in August, a Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday found.

Why it matters: It means former military members and officials from the ousted government, activists and other Taliban critics are facing peril amid executions driven by revenge — despite Taliban promises of an "amnesty" with no retributions, notes the New York Times, which first reported the news.

2 hours ago - World

Barbados becomes a republic, replacing U.K. queen with president

Combination images of Dame Sandra Mason, president of Barbados, and Britain's Prince Charles at her swearing-in ceremony in Bridgetown, Barbados, late Monday.

Barbados officially became a republic at midnight local time after Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as the Caribbean nation's first president in a ceremony attended by the United Kingdom's Prince Charles.

Why it matters: Mason replaced Britain's Queen Elizabeth as head of state Tuesday — removing the country's final remaining colonial tie to the U.K. almost 400 years after the first British ships arrived in Barbados.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.