Posts Tagged ‘Honduras’

Garifuna rights defenders in Honduras should be released.

March 16, 2021

Defensoras garífunas

Sunday March 7 2021 an initial hearing was held in the court at Trujillo, Colón, in which Marianela Solórzano and Jennifer Solórzano, women human rights defenders belonging to the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), are on trial. Both were arrested by the Public Security Force (FUSEP) on March 3rd, and charged with damages, threats, robbery and usurpation of lands. 

In the trial records they are incriminated for the offenses of land usurpation, involving other Garifuna defenders, as well. The charges against them are related to the historic process of resistance by the Garifuna people to the plunder of their lands. Private businesses and governments alike have participated in the illegal appropriation of the ancestral territory of the Garifuna people, particularly the ownership of more than seven thousand hectares of land in the Cristales and Rio Negro communities confirmed by ancestral property deeds.  

Marianela is a defender of the rights of the LGBTI Garifuna community, and Jennifer, a defender of the ancestral Garifuna territories. Their arrests took place in the context of the continuous persecution and attacks against the Garifuna people organized in OFRANEH.

Historically, the communities belonging to OFRANEH have been the target of harassment, threats by armed groups, assassinations, and the disappearance of community leaders, among other highly serious rights violations. During the last ten years, these have only worsened due to the authoritarian criminal government model headed by Juan Orlando Hernández. Eight months ago, five Garifuna comrades were disappeared by armed men wearing uniforms of the Office of Police Investigations (DPI) of Honduras. As of now, their whereabouts are unknown. 

National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras, the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IM-Defensoras), and many other groups and networks of women human rights defenders in Mesoamerica, as well as the FIDH call on all feminist and LGBTI social movements and the international community to stay on the alert for developments in this case and to demand a hearing with full guarantees for the rights of the criminalized Garifuna defenders. 

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/25/four-honduran-woman-human-rights-defenders-say-why-funders-need-to-prioritize-social-movmements/

They demand the immediate freedom and point out that Marianela and Jennifer are human rights defenders, not criminals.  

http://im-defensoras.org/2021/03/urgent-alert-honduras-arrested-garifuna-rights-defenders-will-have-hearing-this-sunday-march-7th-the-international-community-demands-their-release/

https://www.fidh.org/es/temas/defensores-de-derechos-humanos/honduras-criminalizacion-de-las-defensoras-garifunas-marianela-y

Mary Lawlor addresses Lawlessness in case of Berta Caceres and other HRDs

March 3, 2021

On 2 March 2021, Mary Lawlor – the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders – wrote for Amnesty International “Five years after Berta Cáceres was murdered, states are still failing to protect human rights defenders". With the presentation of Mary Lawlor's report to the UN Human Rights Council coming up this week, the piece is worth reading in full:

It’s five years today since environmental human rights defender Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home in Honduras. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/2AD0CEE4-80CB-3234-04B4-F2ED7ACBE6C5]

She was one of hundreds of human rights defenders killed that year because of their peaceful work, and hundreds more defenders have been killed every year since. Those responsible are rarely brought to justice. Although some have been convicted of Berta Cáceres’ killing, others believed to have been involved have still not been brought to account. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/10/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-reviewed/]

It’s a familiar and continuing story, in Honduras and across the world, where those responsible for the murder of a human rights defender often enjoy impunity. This week I am presenting my latest report to the United National Human Rights Council in Geneva, and it is on the killings of human rights defenders and the threats that often precede them.

At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020. Unless radical, immediate action is taken we can expect hundreds more murders again this year.

Since 2015, at least 1,323 defenders have been killed. While Latin America is consistently the most affected region, and environmental human rights defenders like Berta Cáceres often the most targeted, it is a worldwide issue. At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020

Between 2015 to 2019, human rights defenders were killed in at least 64 countries, that’s a third of all U.N. member states. Those collecting the data agree that underreporting is a common problem. The number of defenders killed is likely significantly higher than the figures we have.

We know that on every continent, in cities and the countryside, in democracies and dictatorships, governments and other forces threatened and killed human rights defenders. Many, like Berta Cáceres, are killed in the context of large business projects.

Why do so many governments and others kill human rights defenders working peacefully for the rights of others? Partly because they can, safe in the knowledge that there is unlikely to be the political will to punish the perpetrators.

While some states, particularly those with high numbers of such killings, have established dedicated protection mechanisms to prevent and respond to risks and attacks against human rights defenders, defenders often complain that the mechanisms are under-resourced.

And in too many cases, businesses are also shirking their responsibilities to prevent attacks on defenders or are even responsible for the attacks.

These murders are not random acts of violence that come out of nowhere. Many of the killings are preceded by threats. As Amnesty International noted, Berta Cáceres’ murder “was a tragedy waiting to happen,” and she had “repeatedly denounced aggression and death threats against her. They had increased as she campaigned against the construction of a hydroelectric dam project called Agua Zarca and the impact it would have on the territory of the Lenca Indigenous people.”

And yet her government failed to protect her, as so many governments fail to protect their defenders. Since I took up this mandate in May last year I have spoken to hundreds of human rights defenders. Many have told me about their real fears of being murdered, and have shown me death threats made against them, often in public.

They tell me how some threats shouted in person, posted on social media, delivered in phone calls or text messages, or in written notes pushed under a door. Some are threatened by being included on published hit lists, receiving a message passed through an intermediary or having their houses graffitied. Others are sent pictures through the mail showing that they or their families have been under long-term surveillance, while others are told their family members will be killed. It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account

I’ve been told by defenders about a coffin being delivered to the office of an NGO; a bullet being left on a dining room table in their home; edited pictures of them being posted on Twitter, showing them having been attacked with axes or knives; and an animal head being tied to the door of their organization’s office.

Those advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights, and women and transgender human rights defenders, are often attacked with gendered threats, and targeted because of who they are as well as what they do. Women and LGBTI people demanding rights in a patriarchal, racist, or discriminatory contexts often suffer specific forms of attack, including sexual violence, smears and stigmatisation.

The murders of human rights defenders are not inevitable, many are signalled in advance, and yet governments fail, year after year, to provide enough resources to prevent them, and fail, year after year, to hold the murderers to account. In fact, states should not only end impunity but also publicly applaud the vital contribution that human rights make to societies.

This week I’ll again remind the U.N. that their members are failing in their moral and legal obligations to prevent the killings of human rights defenders. It’s no use for government officials to wring their hands and agree that the murder of Berta Cáceres and other defenders is a terrible problem and that someone should do something about it.

It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/asesinato-berta-caceres-estados-siguen-sin-proteger-defensores/

Felix Vasquez, environmental defender, killed in front of family in Honduras

December 29, 2020

Reuters on 28 December 2020 reported that masked men armed with guns and machetes killed Felix Vasquez, a Honduran environmental rights defender, in front of his family, police said, the latest in a string of such attacks in the Central American country. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/16/two-more-defenders-killed-in-honduras/]

Police authorities immediately decided to initiate a corresponding investigation… we hope to have an answer soon,” police official Kevin Hernandez told journalists.

Honduras is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for activists, with 14 land and environmental defenders killed last year, up from four people in 2018, according to data made available by advocacy group Global Witness. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/global-witness-2019-worst-year-ever-for-land-rights-and-environmental-defenders/]

Vasquez, a member of the indigenous Lenca community which lives in the mountainous region near the border with El Salvador, had intended to run for Congress as a member of the opposition LIBRE party in 2021 elections.

Soon after a second land defender was killed: Adan Medina, 46, of the Tolupan indigenous community, was shot and killed by a group of men on Sunday after returning from work in the town of Candelaria, according to Noe Rodriguez, the president of a local indigenous federation. [https://www.reuters.com/article/us-honduras-killing/second-indigenous-activist-killed-in-honduras-in-past-week-idUSKBN29423E]

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-honduras-killing-idUSKBN2921QK

Two more defenders killed in Honduras

October 16, 2020

Arnold Joaquín Morazan was shot dead in his home in Guapinol, a small low-income community on Honduras’s north coast, earlier this week in what is being reported as a murder by local media.

Morazán Erazo belonged to the Guapinol environmental group, whose imprisoned activists were recently shortlisted for the EU’s Sakharov Prizefor freedom of thought. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/guapinol-activists/]

On 27 September 2020, in the central Honduran city of Comayagua, two unidentified individuals on a motorcycle shot Almendares, a local freelance journalist, three times and then fled the scene; bystanders brought the journalist to a local hospital, and he was then transferred to the Escuela Universitario hospital in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, where he died yesterday morning, according to news reports and a report by Honduran free expression organization C-Libre.

“Honduran authorities must do everything in their power to conduct a credible investigation into the killing of journalist Luis Alonzo Almendares, determine whether it was related to his work, and prosecute those responsible,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Violence against journalists is happening with terrifying frequency in Honduras, and impunity prevails in almost all cases. The government must act urgently to show that the killers of journalists will be held to account.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/22/honduran-defender-iris-argentina-alvarez-killed-by-private-security-guards/

https://euobserver.com/foreign/149771

Three nominees for European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize announced

September 21, 2020

Last year’s winner Jewher Ilham receives the Prize on behalf of her father, Ilham Tohti. © European Parliament

The European Parliamenthas announced its long-list of nominees for the annual Sakharov Prize. The nominees for this year’s prize, announced at last week’s plenary session of the Parliament, are:

  • Two nominations for the democratic opposition in Belarus, represented on the one hand by the Coordination Council, an initiative of political and civil society figures, and on the other by Sviatlana Tsikhanouska, an activist and politician whose defeat in this year’s presidential election led to accusations of fraud against the winner, Alexander Lukashenko. Tsikhanouska is also a member of the Coordination Council.
  • Monsignor Najeeb Moussa Michaeel, Archbishop of Mosul in Iraq who ensured the evacuation of Christians, Syriacs and Chaldeans to Iraqi Kurdistan when Islamic State arrived in the city in 2014, and who safeguarded more than 800 historic manuscripts dating from the 13th to the 19th century.
  • Guapinol activists and Berta Caceres in Honduras. The Guapinol activists have been imprisoned after taking part in a peaceful protest against a polluting mining company in Tocoa, Honduras. Berta Caceras was assassinated in 2016, and was a land-rights activist and protestor against illegal logging and land-grabbing from indigenous peoples in Honduras.
  • Finally, Polish LGBTI activists Jakub Gawron, Paulina Pajak, Paweł Preneta and Kamil Maczuga who founded the website Atlas of Hate, monitoring the implementation by local municipalities to the anti-LGBTI legislation introduced by the national government. This year five of the municipalities sued Gawron, Pajak and Preneta, demanding financial compensation for loss of reputation.

For more on this and similar awards, see:https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/BDE3E41A-8706-42F1-A6C5-ECBBC4CDB449

At the end of the month, the foreign affairs and development committees and the human rights subcommittee of the Parliament will announce their shortlist of three finalists. On 22 October the Conference of Presidents – consisting of the President of the European Parliament and the leaders of the political groups – will announce the winner.

The Prize itself will be awarded at a ceremony in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 16 December.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/26/universal-human-rights-apply-to-ilham-tohti-china-and-eu-disagree/

Nominees for European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize announced

Nina Lakhani’s “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?” reviewed

June 10, 2020

COHA

COHA of 9 June 2020 published a Book Review by John Perry of “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet,” by Nina Lakhani.

They build dams and kill people.” These words, spoken by a witness when the murderers of environmental defender Berta Cáceres were brought to trial in Honduras, describe Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA), the company whose dam project Berta opposed. DESA was created in May 2009 solely to build the Agua Zarca hydroelectric scheme, using the waters of the Gualcarque River, regarded as sacred by the Lenca communities who live on its banks. As Nina Lakhani makes clear in her book Who Killed Berta Cáceres?, DESA was one of many companies to benefit from the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras, when the left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya was deposed and replaced by a sequence of corrupt administrations. The president of DESA and its head of security were both US-trained former Honduran military officers, schooled in counterinsurgency. By 2010, despite having no track record of building dams, DESA had already obtained the permits it needed to produce and sell electricity, and by 2011, with no local consultation, it had received its environmental licence.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/03/anniversary-sparks-arrest-in-investigation-of-berta-caceres-murder/].

..Lakhani quotes a high-ranking judge she spoke to, sacked for denouncing the 2009 coup, as saying that Zelaya was deposed precisely because he stood in the way of this economic model and the roll-out of extractive industries that it required. The coup “unleashed a tsunami of environmentally destructive ‘development’ projects as the new regime set about seizing resource-rich territories.” After the post-coup elections, the then president Porfirio Lobo declared Honduras open for business, …….

Lakhani’s book gives us an insight into the personal history that brought Berta Cáceres to this point. She came from a family of political activists. As a teenager she read books on Marxism and the Cuban revolution. But Honduras is unlike its three neighbouring countries where there were strong revolutionary movements in the 1970s and 1980s. The US had already been granted free rein in Honduras in exchange for “dollars, training in torture-based interrogation methods, and silence.” At the age of only 18, looking for political inspiration and action, Berta left Honduras and went with her future husband Salvador Zúñiga to neighbouring El Salvador. She joined the FMLN guerrilla movement and spent months fighting against the US-supported right-wing government. Zúñiga describes her as having been “strong and fearless” even when the unit they were in came under attack. But in an important sense, her strong political convictions were tempered by the fighting: she resolved that “whatever we did in Honduras, it would be without guns.”

Inspired also by the Zapatista struggle in Mexico and by Guatemala’s feminist leader Rigoberta Menchú, Berta and Salvador created COPINH in 1993 to demand indigenous rights for the Lenca people, organising their first march on the capital Tegucigalpa in 1994. From this point Berta began to learn of the experiences of Honduras’s other indigenous groups, especially the Garífuna on its northern coast, and saw how they fitted within a pattern repeated across Latin America….

In Río Blanco, where the Lenca community voted 401 to 7 against the dam, COPINH’s struggle continued. By 2013, the community seemed close to winning, at the cost of activists being killed or injured by soldiers guarding the construction. They had blocked the access road to the site for a whole year and the Chinese engineering firm had given up its contract. The World Bank allegedly pulled its funding, although Lakhani shows that its money later went back into the project via a bank owned by the Atala Faraj family. In April 2015 Berta was awarded the Goldman Prize for her “grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.”

…….

The horrific events on the night of Wednesday March 2 are retold by Nina Lakhani. Armed men burst through the back door of Berta’s house and shot her. They also injured Gustavo Castro, who was visiting Berta; he waited until the men had left, found her, and she died in his arms. ,,,By the first anniversary of Berta’s death the stuttering investigation had led to eight arrests, but the people who ordered the murder were still enjoying impunity. Some of the accused were connected to the military, which was not surprising since Lakhani later revealed in a report for The Guardian that she had uncovered a military hit list with Berta’s name on it. In the book she reports that the ex-soldier who told her about it is still in hiding: he had seen not only the list but also one of the secret torture centers maintained by the military.

Nina Lakhani is a brave reporter. She had to be. Since the coup in Honduras, 83 journalists have been killed; 21 were thrown in prison during the period when Lakhani was writing her book. She poses the question “would we ever know who killed Berta Cáceres?” and sets out to answer it. Despite her diligent and often risky investigation, she can only give a partial answer. Those arrested and since convicted almost certainly include the hitmen who carried out the murder, but it is far from the clear that the intellectual authors of the crime have been caught. In 2017 Lakhani interviewed or attempted to interview all eight of those imprisoned and awaiting trial, casting a sometimes-sympathetic light on their likely involvement and why they took part.

….

In September 2018, the murder case finally went to trial, and Lakhani is at court to hear it, but the hearing is suspended. On the same day she starts to receive threats, reported in London’s Press Gazette and duly receiving international attention. Not surprisingly she sees this as an attempt to intimidate her into not covering the trial. Nevertheless, when it reopens on October 25, she is there. The trial reveals a weird mix of diligent police work and careful forensic evidence, together with the investigation’s obvious gaps. Not the least of these was the absence of Gustavo Castro, the only witness, whose return to Honduras was obstructed by the attorney general’s office. Castillo, though by then charged with masterminding the murder, was not part of the trial. Most of the evidence was not made public or even revealed to the accused. The Cáceres family’s lawyers were denied a part in the trial.

The who did what, why and how was missing,” says Lakhani, “until we got the phone evidence which was the game changer.” The phone evidence benefitted from an expert witness who explained in detail how it implicated the accused. She revealed that an earlier plan to carry out the murder in February was postponed. She showed the positions of the accused on the night in the following month when Berta was killed. She also made clear that members of the Atala family were involved.

When the verdict was delivered on November 29 2018, seven of the eight accused were found guilty, but it wasn’t until December 2019 that they were given long sentences. That’s where Nina Lakhani’s story ends. By then Honduras had endured a fraudulent election, its president’s brother had been found guilty of drug running in the US, and tens of thousands of Hondurans were heading north in migrant caravans. David Castillo hasn’t yet been brought to trial, and last year was accused by the School of Americas Watch of involvement in a wider range of crimes. … Daniel Atala Midence, accused by COPINH of being a key intellectual author of the crime as DESA’s chief financial officer, has never been indicted.

...And a full answer to the question “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?” is still awaited.

http://www.coha.org/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-on-the-life-death-and-legacy-of-a-courageous-honduran-indigenous-and-environmental-leader/

Mural of human rights defenders Vitaly Safarov, Greta Thunberg and Berta Cáceres unveiled at Hague university

May 19, 2020

A portrait of late human rights defender and multiculturalism activist Vitali Safarov was created as part of the mural by artists Karski & Beyond. Photo via Hague University of Applied Sciences.
On 15 May 2020 Agenda.ge reported that a mural portrait of Vitali Safarov, the Jewish-Georgian human rights defender and activist killed in Tbilisi in 2018, now adorns a facade of the Hague University of Applied Sciences alongside faces of student climate movement figure Greta Thunberg and assassinated Honduran indigenous activist Berta Cáceres. Re Safarov see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/22/vitos-trial-in-georgia-opens-crucial-to-challenge-raising-hate-crimes/. The 25-year-old can be seen on the large work by artist duo Karski & Beyond, painted on an outside wall of the university after the project originated at one of their sessions involving students. Thunberg, a teenage climate activist who has become widely acknowledged for inspiring school student strikes on climate change [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/greta-thunberg-receives-amnestys-ambassador-of-conscience-award/], and Cáceres, an indigenous leader on environmental concerns who was killed in 2016 [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/berta-caceres/], are the other two personalities seen in the artwork.

Started in an initiative by Justice & Peace Netherlands to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the declaration of universal human rights, the creative project pays tribute to the activists for their commitment to “climate, freedom and equality”, the university said.

The mural] is a tribute to three people who show that it is really possible to make a difference”Hague University of Applied Sciences

https://agenda.ge/en/news/2020/1530

Honduran defender Iris Argentina Álvarez killed by private security guards

April 22, 2020

With all eyes on the pandemic it is easy to forget that “violence as usual” continues against human rights defenders. Here one case:

Human Rights Defender, Iris Argentina Álvarez, was killed on 2 April 2020, by private security agents from the company CRAE´S, employed by the La Grecia Sugar Mill. Her murder took place during a violent, illegal eviction in the Los Chanchos section of Marcovia, Choluteca in the South of HondurasCommunity witnesses report that National Police officers were in the area when the aggressors opened fire against several families with many children. They affirm that the police did absolutely nothing to stop the violence that ended the life of the defender and left two other people wounded, including an underage child.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre attempted to contact La Grecia sugar mill but was not succesful and CRAE´S private security company did not respond.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/25/four-honduran-woman-human-rights-defenders-say-why-funders-need-to-prioritize-social-movmements/

#WHRDAlert HONDURAS / Defender killed by security agents in violent, illegal eviction

 

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/honduras-defender-iris-argentina-álvarez-killed-by-private-security-guards-from-the-company-crae´s-employed-by-the-la-grecia-sugar-mill-the-companies-did-not-respond?mc_cid=4f7a17b150&mc_eid=81043e761b

Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards 2019 to climate group Zero Hour and Honduran NGO

October 9, 2019

 Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson in a blog post of 7 October 2019 describes the NGO Zero Hour as the winner of the 2019 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards. The ceremony too place on 3 October at ther Carnegie Institute of Washington. For more on this and other awards for human rights and the environment, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/letelier-moffitt-human-rights-awards

Four Honduran woman human rights defenders say why funders need to prioritize social movmements

July 25, 2019

This video is part of an editorial partnership with the Fund for Global Human Rights.

In this video, Miriam Miranda, executive director of OFRANEH – the Honduran Black Fraternal Organisation – talks about the importance of funding social movements, not just structured NGOs (which inherently seek to sustain themselves). She also discusses the need for more funders to support work happening at the community level. She shares her thoughts on how flexible funding allows activists to respond to the changing needs of their communities and the difficult context in which they work. She stresses the critical importance of donors trusting their partners on the ground and building trust-based relationships.

Denia Castillo, coordinator of Red De Abogadas Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (Network of Human Rights Defenders), shares why grassroots activism is often the most effective to way to spur on social change. This is because activists on the ground best understand their communities and the challenges they face, and they don’t have the costs of much larger organisations – allowing for resources to be distributed closer to the ground. She also talks about the need for international funders to provide flexible funding, which allows grassroots groups to adapt their plans and support their communities in the emergencies they often face on Honduras.

Indyra Mendoza, executive director of CATTRACHAS – a feminist lesbian network – provides insight into the importance of funding and working with non-registered entities. In countries where governments are cracking down on the work of activists and NGOs, restrictive legislation is making it harder to register as an NGO or operate freely as a registered NGO. For this reason, many activists and groups doing critical work for their communities choose not to register as NGOs, which creates difficulties for them in receiving foreign funding and support.

Bertita Caceres is the general secretary of COPINH – Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras. She is also the daughter of COPINH’s founder Berta Caceras, who was murdered in 2016 because of her campaigning work to stop a hydro-electric dam from destroying indigenous lands and livelihoods. Bertita shares her thoughts on the importance of international allies helping build the capacity and strength of organisations like COPINH, specifically around security and protection. She also shares how important it is for groups like hers to have international partners and funders use their positions of power to speak out on behalf of grassroots groups and apply pressure internationally in a way that supports their strategies and advocacy on the ground.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/frontline-insights/we-need-relationships-based-on-trust-how-supporters-can-help-honduran-activists/