Every year, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded by the European Parliament to individuals or groups who have shown exceptional commitment to human rights and freedom of expression. In 2023, two prominent figures from Nicaragua, Vilma Núñez de Escorcia and Monsignor Rolando José Álvarez Lagos, have been nominated for this prestigious award. Their dedication to promoting human rights and democracy in their country has been internationally recognized.
Vilma Núñez de Escorcia is a renowned lawyer and human rights activist in Nicaragua. She is the founder and president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), a non-governmental organization dedicated to defending human rights, promoting democracy, and protecting civil liberties in Nicaragua. For 33 years, Núñez de Escorcia has played a central role in the fight for fundamental rights in Nicaragua. Through the center, she has documented and denounced severe repression and assisted thousands of victims of human rights violations.
Her commitment to justice and civil liberties has put her in conflict with Nicaraguan authorities, who have declared her a “traitor to the homeland” and stripped her of her nationality and assets, leaving her stateless in her own country and subject to multiple human rights violations.
The second nomination of Monsignor Rolando José Álvarez Lagos, a Catholic bishop in Nicaragua, underscores the vital role of religious leaders in promoting human rights and social justice. As an active member of the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference, he has played a key role in mediating political and social conflicts in his country. Monsignor Rolando José Álvarez Lagos has advocated for dialogue and national reconciliation.
His struggle against the Ortega regime has led to persecution. Since February 10, 2023, Monsignor has been arbitrarily sentenced to 26 years in prison and had his nationality revoked. Since that day, he has been imprisoned, stateless, in one of the country’s torture centers, and his physical and psychological condition is unknown, in blatant violation of all fundamental rights.
The nomination of these two figures in the struggle for freedom and fundamental rights in Nicaragua is a testament to international recognition of their incredible fight against the tyranny of Daniel Ortega’s regime. This nomination sends a clear message: the international community recognizes and supports human rights defenders in Nicaragua and offers hope for a change toward peace in the country. It also underscores the importance of democracy, justice, and respect for human rights as universal values.
Since the uprising in 2018, Nicaragua has experienced increasing restrictions on its civic space and successive violations of fundamental rights, academic and media freedom, and university autonomy. More than 3,400 human rights, humanitarian, religious, and media organizations have been closed, and 25 universities, including the largest, the Central American University of Nicaragua, have been confiscated by the government. The 2023 Sakharov Prize honors the struggles of all human rights defenders and organizations fighting against a regime that plunders and represses its people, erodes democracy, intimidates, and imprisons its opponents.