AI and Jody Williams on today’s elections in Honduras: Will Human Rights Defenders fare any better?

November 24, 2013
Bertha Isabel Cáceres Flores, human rights defender from the Honduran NGO COPINH.

(Bertha Isabel Cáceres Flores, human rights defender from the Honduran NGO COPINH. © COPINH)

There’s hardly a moment when Honduran human rights defender Bertha Cáceres is not worrying about what may happen to her for defending the rights of her community, the Lenca Indigenous People. The risk is so high that she’s been forced into hiding. “They want to terrorize us,” she told Amnesty International.  “I cannot live my life like before. I cannot go to the office, take part in our campaign, or leave the country to denounce our situation in international forums. I can’t even go swimming in the Río Blanco, which is very important to me because it is sacred to our people,” she said. Bertha is being intimated and threatened because of her work as general coordinator of the Civic Council of the Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). The organization has been fighting for over 20 years for better standards of living of her community in Río Blanco, north-western Honduras. Since 2011, COPINH has been campaigning for their right to free, prior and informed consent in relation to a proposal for a hydroelectric plant that might force them out of their ancestral lands.

Stories of attacks and harassment against activists like Bertha are common in Honduras and authorities rarely investigate them. “Defending human rights in Honduras is a crime. They are criminalizing the right to our identity and sense of self.” Bertha added. “I want the authorities to understand that when we make demands we are not asking for charity. We are asking for justice, for our human rights. They are obliged to guarantee them, to respect them and abide by them.

Amnesty International and other human rights organization have recently reported an escalation in threats and abuses against human rights defenders like Bertha. In the Huffington Post of 22 November Jody Williams writes in the same vein about the Honduran general elections today which, she believes, could determine whether the impoverished Central American nation will be able to stem its epidemic of violence or see it spin dangerously out of control. The lives of thousands of Hondurans depend on the nation’s ability to begin to restore fair elections and democratic institutions. Honduras today has the highest number of murders per capita in the world. The explosion of homicides, threats and persecution is not random, but often chillingly targeted. Opposition leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, young people and women suffer from selective violence that cuts with the sharp edge of repression.

Men and women who defend their land have suffered attacks, notably in the region of Bajo Aguan where some 115 residents have been murdered in protests against displacement by large-scale developers. Violence against women human rights defenders has not slowed down. In 2012, the Mesoamerican Initiative registered 119 attacks on women activists throughout the country. The victims report that the vast majority of the threats and attacks come from the government. And Jody Williams then describes the case of Berta Cáceres mentioned above.

Fair elections are key to improving the alarming situation. However, the current context does not bode well for fair elections. Following the coup and four years of a government boycotted by the pro-democracy movement, the country is deeply divided, and institutions have been overrun by corruption and special interests. The National Party has recently carried out actions to control the institutions charged with running the elections. Political violence has emerged. A report by the international human rights group Rights Action finds that 18 LIBRE candidates have been assassinated, more than all other parties combined…For this first time since the coup, a government could come to power, if not with universal consensus at least with a shared perception of legitimacy. Fair and peaceful elections are a path to ending violence against women and violence in general in a nation that has suffered far too long.

End to Violence Rides on Honduran Elections | Jody Williams.

One Response to “AI and Jody Williams on today’s elections in Honduras: Will Human Rights Defenders fare any better?”

  1. […] AI and Jody Williams on today’s elections in Honduras: Will Human Rights Defenders fare any be… ( […]

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