Archive for the ‘HAP Articles’ Category

Public Clarification of the Circumstances Surrounding the Abduction of Two Observers from PROAH in La Nueva Esperanza

November 15, 2013

We wish to express our deep concern about statements made by representatives of the state and others on the Honduran television programme Frente a Frente (Face to Face), on two occasions, 5 and 12 November 2013, about the kidnapping of two observers of the Honduras Accompaniment Project (PROAH) on 25 July 2013.

PROAH (the Project’s initials in Spanish) was established in Honduras in September 2010, in response to the deteriorating situation for human rights defenders following the 2009 coup. Its mandate is to provide international accompaniment to human rights defenders, including human rights and social movement organizations and individuals, who find themselves under threat or harassment due to their individual and collective human rights work. It is a project of the US NGO, Friendship Office of the Americas.

On 25 July 2013, Orlane Vidal and Daniel Langmeier, French and Swiss respectively, were visiting the community of La Nueva Esperanza in the municipality of Tela, which has suffered a campaign of intimidation for over a year for its peaceful opposition to a mining exploration concession granted by the State without its consent. Its persecutors include the police and men hired by the Minerales Victoria mining company. That day, the observers were held captive for two and a half hours by heavily armed men from the mining project. The incident was reported to the authorities and denounced publicly1 by the victims, and Amnesty International issued an urgent action providing details of the case.2

On 5 November, the kidnapping was the subject of public debate when the host of the programme Frente a Frente referred to the meeting that Bertha Oliva of COFADEH3 and Victor Fernandez of MADJ attended with members of the US Congress, where she mentioned the abduction of international observers. The show’s presenter and his guests insisted that they had not heard anything about the kidnapping, and on the basis of this and other points, accused Bertha Oliva of making unsubstantiated allegations. The programme provoked a strongly-worded complaint by Human Rights Watch4, which urged the government of Honduras to “publicly repudiate the … criticisms” and denounced the “smears” which put the country’s civil society leaders at risk.

The programme on 12 November gave the MADJ (Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice), an organization that supports the community of Nueva Esperanza, an opportunity for its three representatives, including Victor Fernandez, to respond to the accusations made on Frente a Frente the previous week, and to explain the community’s situation and the circumstances of the abduction. Two representatives of the state were also invited onto the programme – the Deputy Minister of Security and the Deputy Minister for Justice and Human Rights.

Although it was confirmed that the abduction had indeed occurred, instead of apologizing to Bertha Oliva for accusations made against her, the presenter sought to justify his apparent ignorance of the case by stating that he thought she was referring to election – rather than humans rights – observers.

We are extremely concerned about the statements made by Marcela Castañeda, Deputy Minister of Security, apparently based on police reports, which give an inaccurate account of the incident. The Minister publicly alleged that the international observers from PROAH were trespassing on private property (presumably the mining company’s) to take photos when they were abducted. She also alleged that they were taken in a car to the police station in Nueva Florida, and the police organized their secure return to Tegucigalpa, implying that the abduction was possibly justified, and underplaying the seriousness of the offence. These statements are totally incorrect. Moreover, both the Deputy Minister of Security, as well as Martha Sabillón, Deputy Minister for Justice and Human Rights, stated that the case still needed to be investigated. In fact:

- The investigations into the case are now so far advanced that the Public Prosecutor’s Office in La Ceiba has issued an arrest warrant for one of the kidnappers – who are also responsible for the persecution of the community. Unfortunately, to date, the warrant has not been implemented by the police.

- It was the kidnappers who trespassed on private property, not the observers. On 25 July 2013, the observers were accompanying the family of Concepción Gutiérrez, due to the threats it had received from workers from Minerales Victoria for refusing to sell its land to the mining company. Seven security guards, heavily armed, arrived at the family’s property, without its permission, threatening the two international observers with their guns. They were reinforced by between 25 and 30 men with machetes, workers at the mining exploration site. Such was the seriousness of the threats that the family fled the community the same day, after the abduction of the observers.

- The observers were forced by the armed men to get into their pick-up, and taken to the community of Nueva Florida.

- During the abduction, one of the kidnappers threatened to “disappear them in the woods” if the observers returned, and another warned that the community “would suffer reprisals” if they reported what had happened.

- After being held captive for two and a half hours, the observers were left in La Nueva Florida at 11.30am. They waited there for an hour until a police patrol took them to Tela, as a result of the urgent efforts made ​​by COFADEH and other national human rights defenders.

- During the forced and unauthorized entry onto private property by the armed men, and throughout the abduction, the local police failed to respond to the emergency calls made by members of the community, despite the fact that the day before, at the police station, both observers had informed its staff of their presence and their work in the community.

We welcome Martha Sabillón’s words of support for human rights defenders on the programme. However, we note with great concern the above statements about the kidnapping, which have the effect of discrediting the legitimate work of human rights defenders, both Honduran and international.

It should be stressed that, to date, there has been no action by the state to stop the harassment and persecution of the community of La Nueva Esperanza. The gunmen continue to terrorize the defenceless population daily.

For more information, please see the articles on La Nueva Esperanza in our blog from June to August 2013.

Committee of the Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras.

Human Rights Watch Press Release (8.11.13) Honduras: Smears put activists at risk

Swiss delegation expresses concern at the human rights situation in Honduras

October 21, 2013

On 7 October 2013, a delegation of 10 Swiss people from the Honduras Forum Switzerland (Foro Honduras Suiza) called a press conference at COFADEH’s offices to share the findings of their visit to Honduras, the aim of which was to learn about the human rights situation and democracy in the country. Their mission lasted eight days and included trips to Zacate Grande in the south and La Esperanza in the west, as well as meetings with representatives of civil society and international and national organizations. The delegation had the opportunity to hear the testimonies of victims of human rights violations and their families, and the degree of almost total impunity regarding these violations.

The organizations they met emphasized the importance of an international presence, including visits by delegations and PROAH’s accompaniment, for the respect of human rights.

The Forum delegation’s demands to the Honduran authorities include an immediate halt to the criminalization and persecution of human rights defenders, and respect for international human rights conventions, with specific reference to indigenous rights when granting concessions. It also calls for the Honduran authorities to make every effort to ensure free and fair elections, with international observers given unrestricted access to observe the process, and for their work to be supported.

The delegation requests that the international community work towards establishing guarantees that foreign investors respect human rights and particularly the rights of indigenous peoples. It also asks for the situation before and after the elections to be subject to rigorous scrutiny and that any possible human rights violations be documented and publicised.

For the first time, from January to June 2014, Switzerland will have the presidency of the G-16, the group of countries and intergovernmental institutions established in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch, whose objectives include the promotion of human development in Honduras and an increase in democratic participation. The Forum requests that the Swiss Government take this opportunity to put democratization and the human rights situation at the top of its agenda.

Honduras Forum Switzerland was founded in 2012 to raise awareness among the Swiss population about the situation in Honduras, and to advocate for the respect of human rights and an equitable relationship between the two countries. Today the Forum has about 25 members involved in various projects. It works with other groups, organizations and networks with similar aims in Switzerland, Honduras and other countries.

See the Forum’s press statement:

Press Statement Honduras Forum Switzerland

Mining: Three members of Tolupan indigenous group murdered in Yoro

August 27, 2013

Three indigenous Honduran Tolupan were shot and killed on Sunday, August 25, 2013, at a private residence in Locomapa, Yoro, in northern Honduras. The victims were Maria Enriqueta Matute, 71, from the Community of San Francisco Campo, Armando Funez Medina, 46, of Las Brisas, and Ricardo Soto Funez, 40, of Cabeza de Vaca.

Witnesses say the killings were committed by two local men under contract by wealthy miners illegally extracting the mineral antimony from the lands of the indigenous Tolupan people of Yoro.

This occurs in a context of increasing intimidation and violence against communities which peacefully oppose mining on their territory, a situation which is met with impunity (see latest article on La Nueva Esperanza).

In the case of Locomapa, the community had organized to protect their resources and to oppose mining on their land. They had spoken on the radio, denouncing the illegal exploitation by powerful mining interests and by loggers. Members of the community decided to set up a road block, allowing local traffic, but stopping mining vehicles and illegal loggers. It was on the 12th day of this roadblock that the killings occurred.

According to residents, the shootings allegedly were carried out by hitmen of the mining company. Locals say the two accused live in a nearby community and are corrupt members of the indigenous council who had directly threatened to kill the activists before the shooting, telling the wife of one of the murdered men to prepare the casket.

Families mourn for three community members killed while opposing illegal mining (PROAH)

Families mourn for three community members killed while opposing illegal mining

Eyewitnesses say the two perpetrators arrived at the roadblack on motorcycle at 5:30 Sunday afternoon, drunk, and opened fire on the dozen or so activists there. Two men died in the entryway to Maria Enriqueta Matute’s house. Then she was shot as she came out to see what was happening.

The two suspects remained free Monday, and reportedly returned to the same house three times, to threaten and intimidate the grieving families who were awaiting the bodies from the morgue.

Caskets carrying the remains were transported by pickup to the community Monday night, where the three were waked at the house where they died. They were buried Tuesday morning, August 27.

The local community and human rights organizations are asking for justice in the case. Several other community members have been directly threatened by the same men.

La Nueva Esperanza: So far, a situation of flagrant impunity

August 25, 2013

Despite the concern generated nationally and internationally by the kidnapping of two members of the PROAH team on July 25, 2013 by armed men working for Minerales Victoria mining company1, the gunmen continue to terrorize the community of La Nueva Esperanza, in the full knowledge of the state authorities, including the Ministry of Security.

Although police were mobilized to search for the international observers, and the Public Prosecution Service (Fiscalía) is actively investigating the case, no effort has so far been made to capture the armed men who, since early June, have been threatening community members who refuse to sell their land to the company.

The family, at whose home the PROAH members were seized, were forced to flee La Nueva Esperanza for their own security, followed by another member of the community on August 3, after he received threatening visits by the armed men from the company that wants his land for its operations. Members of the community have informed PROAH that the men regularly fire guns during the night to intimidate villagers and that two more armed men arrived in La Nueva Esperanza on August 10, 2013.

The community school continues to be closed due to the security situation, and because the teacher was forced to leave the area after receiving death threats.

All of these incidents have been reported to the authorities and have occurred despite the existence of a “police station” very close to La Nueva Esperanza, in the community of Bella Vista, which was imposed on the communities in January 2013 by the Mayor of Tela, David Zaccaro, without any consultation. In reality, the “station”, manned by ten police officers, is the private home of a member of the community who collaborates with Minerales Victoria. The officers are fully aware of the presence of the dozen armed men linked to the company, having escorted them into the community on June 5, 2013. Local representatives of the Public Prosecution Service and the National Human Rights Commissioner (CONADEH) have confirmed that these police do not have a logbook to record incidents or their activities, indicating that they are carrying out their functions without any controls in place.2

Prior to the arrival of the armed men in the community on June 5, 2013, acts of intimidation on the part of the police installed in the zone included death threats issued to journalist Leonardo Amaya Guevara on February 18, 2013 as he reported on the activities of the community of Nueva Esperanza in defense of their environment .3 However, the most serious incident involving officers from the police station occurred on June 3, 2013, when members of the community were victims of acts of aggression and intimidation, including death threats, with two of the policemen firing at the feet of villagers including a 79-year-old man. In response to the community’s protests, all of the police officers involved were changed on June 5, 2013. However, that same evening, the community witnessed the new police officers escorting the armed men with the mining company into the zone.4

Since then, these police have turned a blind eye to the armed men’s activities, the kidnapping of members of the PROAH team being a prime example. The day before the incident, they had informed the police station of their arrival, identifying themselves as international human rights observers. However, during the kidnapping, not one of the 10 police officers was at the station.5

Demonstration outside the Public Prosecution Service building in La Ceiba on August 9, 2013

Demonstration outside the Public Prosecution Service building in La Ceiba on August 9, 2013

Despite the abuses they have suffered, the villagers of La Nueva Esperanza continue to be steadfast in their opposition to the mining operations, with the support of the national and international community. On July 27, just two days after the kidnapping, 250 national and international activists formed a convoy to visit La Nueva Esperanza and to show their support. On August 9, there were peaceful demonstrations in Tela and La Ceiba in solidarity with the people of La Nueva Esperanza and to protest against mining in the region. Outside Honduras, actions have included a letter sent to the US State Department in which 24 US church denominations and organizations have registered their concerns about the situation in La Nueva Esperanza.

See Urgent Action of June 27, 2013.

2   Joint statement by MADJ and MAA (7.6.2013)

Oficio No. SJDH-DM-N. 0083-2013; Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKL-kHgXqKs&list=HL1361293849&feature=mh_lolz

4    Joint statement by MADJ and MAA (7.6.2013)

5  See Urgent Action of June 27, 2013.

Mining in Atlántida: The Diocese of La Ceiba issues a public statement

July 3, 2013

The Diocese of La Ceiba called a press conference on 26 June to issue a statement expressing its concern at the mining concessions in the department of Atlántida. The event, held at the bishopric, was attended by priests from the various parishes in the department,and led by Monsignor Michael Lenihan, the Irish-born bishop. PROAH volunteers attended as observers.

DSC00841

In the statement, the Diocese restates the Catholic Church’s commitment to sustainable development, the protection of the environment and support for the poor as well as highlighting the need to treat natural resources as a common good. It also expresses deep concern at:-

- the environmental and human impact of the mining concessions being granted in the Department,
- the failure of the authorities to consult affected communities, which unanimously oppose the concessions,
- the intimidation of opponents of mining both within the communities and those who support them, and the use of state security forces for repression.

The blood of mining operations is water”

The statement makes particular mention of La Nueva Esperanza (see our blog posted on 20 June) and  expresses the Diocese’s full support for its parish priest, Father César Espinoza, who has been the target of threats because of his support for the community (see El Tiempo article – in Spanish). He, along with the rest of the Diocese, continues to be firmly opposed to open-cast mining in the region, stating that, because of its impact on springs and river basins, “the blood of mining operations is water”.

Father César Espinoza who has received death threats

Father César Espinoza who has received death threats

A process “at stalemate”

The Diocese, which has sought to mediate between the affected communities and the mining companies and authorities, organising two meetings between them in April, has taken this unusual step of issuing a statement because it feels that the process has reached a deadlock, with the authorities failing to honour their commitment to provide the communities with full information on the concessions that affect them, while at the same time going ahead with exploration activities which are in themselves damaging to the environment, and allowing the intimidation of the communities by the security forces and armed civilians to continue.

We’ve organised two meetings with all the parties and there has been dialogue but we’ve concluded that all the communities are opposed to these mining companies” said Father Víctor Cámara, Parish Priest of Jutiapa.

The full original statement is available in Spanish, and in English below and pdf.

STATEMENT BY THE DIOCESE OF LA CEIBA

 The Diocese of La Ceiba, fulfilling the mandate of the Diocesan Assembly held on 1 June 2013 at San Isidro parish church, attended by about 120 pastoral workers from every parish, to issue a public statement on the issue of mining throughout the Department, and specifically in the Florida district, in the Parish of Our Lady of the Pillar in Arizona, … would like to inform all People of God, all people of good will, the authorities and the general public that:

 1.- WE FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT…

  1.- Our earth is God’s creation and gift and we therefore have to treat it with respect. We human beings, created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), are called upon to be responsible stewards of the goods of creation, we are called upon toto till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).

2.- Jesus made clear with his words and deeds that God is the God of Life (John 10:10). Being faithful to the teachings of the Gospel requires us to regard life as a gift from God in all creation. This integral and interdependent dimension to all of creation means that human beings must act responsibly.

3.- The following of Jesus and the mission are intimately linked. “The mission of evangelization cannot proceed separated from solidarity with the poor and the promotion of their comprehensive development” (AD1 545). For “…the living conditions of many of those who are abandoned, excluded, and ignored in their poverty and pain stand in contradiction to this project of the Father and challenge believers to greater commitment to the culture of life. The Kingdom of life that Christ came to bring is incompatible with such inhuman situations. If we try to close our eyes to these realities we are not advocates of the life of the Kingdom and we place ourselves on the path of death.” (AD 358)

 4.- Living in the Spirit of Jesus, we are called upon to reaffirm the option for the poor, vulnerable and excluded, the favoured beneficiaries of the Kingdom and the first victims of the negative effects of the current socio-economic model and the natural disasters caused by global climate change.

2.- WE WISH TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT…

5.- We do not have the right to exploit the earth’s resources “irrationally demolish[ing] sources of life” (AD 471)

6.- The Social Doctrine of the Church emphasises that [a] correct understanding of the environment prevents the utilitarian reduction of nature to a mere object to be manipulated and exploited” (CSDC2 463). On the contrary, human intervention in nature must be governed by respect for other people and their rights and for other living creatures (CSDC 459). It also implies taking responsibility for ensuring that future generations can inherit a habitable world.

 7.- We reaffirm the need to preserve planet earth as the “shared home” of all living beings. The Blessed Pope John Paul II warned us of the risks of regarding the planet solely as a source of economic resources: “…the environment as ‘resource’ risks threatening the environment as ‘home’”(CSDC 461). For this reason, it is essential to assess the long-term environmental cost of mining activities.

8.- Regarding the activities of extractive industries and the use of non-renewable natural resources, we must bear in mind the principle of the common use of the goods of creation, especially vital resources such as water, air, and land. This is the fundamental principle of the entire ethical and social order (Laborem exercens3 19)

9.- Another fundamental principle of the Social Doctrine guiding the Church in its commitment to promote comprehensive and sustainable development is the principle of the common good. “To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity.” (Caritas in veritate4 Para. 7). In addition, “The Church has a responsibility towards creation, and she considers it her duty to exercise that responsibility in public life, in order to protect earth, water and air as gifts of God the Creator meant for everyone, and above all to save mankind from the danger of self-destruction” (Message for the World Day of Peace 20105 Para. 12)

3.- WE ARE CONCERNED ABOUT…AND OPPOSE…

  10.- The avalanche of proposed mining projects in our department of Atlántida, which are reported to amount to several dozen, seeking to exploit areas of high ecological value. Atlántida has a unique natural beauty, with 12 areas protected as national parks, accounting for 40% of its territory, it is the region with the highest production of water in the country, and it has a coastline suitable for tourism and with chains of coral reefs. Do we want to jeopardize all this beauty and wealth?

 11.- The environmental impact of these projects and the negative consequences for the life of rural communities. So far we have no evidence that environmental impact assessments have been carried out with the participation of those affected. The lack of information in this regard makes us suspect that these supposed environmental impact assessments lack credibility and technical quality. We can not embark on a journey in the name of development that will bring more harm than good.

  12.- The lack of transparency and the secrecy with which this process of granting concessions is being conducted, behind the backs of the communities that will be seriously affected, and without informing them. There is the desire to impose these projects on the communities without any consultation and with the excuse that “we have permits” and “it’s legal”. Is it possible to undertake these projects without taking into account the views of the communities? As a Church we say that it is not and oppose this abuse of both individual and collective human rights.

 13.- The conduct of the police and state security forces who are biased in favour of those who control capital and wield influence. We do not believe that the police are acting in this case to protect the population, which has always been peaceful, but rather in favour of a party arriving to transgress legal boundaries and its own motto of “protect and serve”. Why are there COBRAs6 in the area with a provocative attitude towards the population which has lived peacefully without a police presence? We object to the State provoking the population in this area with its security forces. We are concerned about the motto of the COBRAs – “Victory or death”? Victory over whom exactly?

14.- The conduct of local authorities which are failing to act transparently, denying the people the right to decide. Why has it not been possible to organize a referendum so that it is the population that makes the decision? Why are operating permits being granted regardless of the views of the communities directly affected? Why are our authorities turning their backs on the people whom they should be serving by seeking the common good? Why this distance and lack of fluid communication with those whom they represent?

4.- WE PROMOTE AND DEFEND…

15.- In fulfilment of its mission to work for reconciliation and unity, for respect for the dignity of each person and the common good (cf Lumen Gentium71), the Church continues to promote open and transparent dialogue between the different parties in society involved in socio-environmental conflicts. In this way the Church wishes to help in each case to stop the escalation of conflict, to prevent the outbreak of violence and to find a just and sustainable solution.

5.- WE REQUEST AND EXPECT…

  16.- The Diocese of La Ceiba demands that the State, before authorizing any mining activity:

- Ensures that there is prior consultation with the involvement of the representatives of the villages and communities affected in the decision-making on the potential implementation of such projects.

- Meaningful and reliable Environmental Impact Studies with the participation of the affected communities.

- The Church also demands that the State, through the mining authority, provides the population with adequate information on the results of the study.

17.- That a dialogue is opened up in the area and in the entire Department to reach a consensus on the paths towards equitable, humane and sustainable development. We support tourism in Atlántida, because of both its beaches and mountains, investment in forestry systems, fishing, agriculture and cattle production, handicrafts… Is mining the future for Atlántida? We do not think it is and we know that there is a need to find other viable alternatives, more humane and sustainable, and agreed by consensus.

6.- WE DENOUNCE

 18.- The inhumane pressure to which the communities in Florida district are being subjected, particularly Nueva Esperanza, in Tela Municipality, Arizona Parish, Atlántida.

19.- The introduction of high-calibre weaponry into the district, all permitted by and in collusion with the police in the area with the purpose of silencing the voice of communities resisting the imposition by force of a project which threatens their future.

 20.- The presence of heavily armed men in the area brought in from outside the district who are threatening all those opposed to the project by acting like hired killers.

 21.- The threats to and pressure on community leaders who are giving us lessons in integrity and honesty with their faith and their love of life.

 22.- The strategy of divide and rule towards members of communities. The mafia-like strategies of spreading chaos and distrust between people with “informers” “eavesdroppers” etc

 23.- The defamation and threats targeted at Fr. César Espinoza and the missionary team at Arizona by unscrupulous businessmen and those groups they have influence over. As the Church of La Ceiba we support Arizona Parish’s pastoral work which is based on a commitment to the poorest, in line with the Church’s rich social doctrine, supporting communities fighting for the right to life and the common good of the population.

 7.- WE HOLD RESPONSIBLE…

 24.- We do not wish the region to descend into violence…but if it does we hold responsible the businessmen who have acted impetuously and hastily, prepared to do anything to exploit the region against the will of its inhabitants, thereby demonstrating their recklessness and arrogance; those in command of the state security forces for giving orders which jeopardize the safety and lives of simple and peaceful people; the police carrying out orders to act against their own people, serving private interests, and the local authorities for failing to inform and consult the people in a transparent fashion.

8.- WE OFFER…

 25.- AS THE CHURCH TO CONTINUE IN OUR EFFORTS TO FOSTER DIALOGUE BETWEEN ALL THE PARTIES AND TO ENSURE THAT WE ALL RESPECT WHAT IS JUST WHICH DOES NOT ALWAYS COINCIDE WITH THE LAWS PASSED.

We ask Saint Isidore the Farmer, lover of the land and patron saint of our diocese, and Saint Francis of Assisi to enlighten us all so that we may find the wisest solution to the problems we are facing. To them we commend ourselves.

 Issued in the city of La Ceiba on 26 June 2013

 Mons. Michael Lenihan, O.F.M

Bishop Diocese of La Ceiba

 Fr. Francisco Sánchez Argueta

Vicar General Diocese of La Ceiba

 Fr. René Flores Pineda

Chancellor Diocese of La Ceiba

Fr. Víctor Cámara Cámara

Episcopal Vicar of the Pastoral Ministry

1 Aparecida Document – Concluding Document of the Fifth General Conference of Latin American and Caribbean Bishops, which took place in Aparecida, Brazil in May 2007. http://old.usccb.org/latinamerica/english/aparecida_Ingles.pdf

 2 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/justpeace/documents/rc_pc_justpeace_doc_20060526_compendio-dott-soc_en.html

6 Police officers specialized in riot control and special and tactical operations

7Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, promulgated in 1964, and one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

Mining project in La Nueva Esperanza: Alarming escalation in intimidation of the community

June 20, 2013

The community of La Nueva Esperanza, in Atlántida department, is fighting to protect this piece of tropical paradise in the mountains just inland from Honduras’ Caribbean coast, in the face of a new mining concession granted to Minerales Victoria to exploit iron deposits. The company’s owner is Lenir Pérez, son-in-law of Miguel Facussé, the major – and notorious – businessman and landowner, and it operates through Pérez’s company, Alutech, part of Inversiones EMCO, based in San Pedro Sula, which specializes in making steel structures.

Villagers from La Nueva Esperanza

MADJ and MAA denounce the intimidation of the community

In a joint statement1 released by MADJ (Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia – Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice) and MAA (Movimiento Ambientalista de Atlántida – Atlántida Environmental Movement), which are supporting La Nueva Esperanza and other nearby communities affected by the project, have reported an alarming escalation of intimidation since the beginning of 2013, and especially in recent weeks, by Lenir Pérez’s company and the police and armed civilians who support it. Two community leaders, César Alvarenga and Roberto García, both members of MADJ, are already beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), having received death threats texted by Pérez in August 2012.23 Father César Espinoza, the community’s parish priest, a Guatemalan based in the nearby town of Arizona, who has been active in defence of the community, has also been the target of similar attacks, receiving threats from ‘supposed mining workers’ on his mobile phone in January this year4.

PROAH visited the community at the end of May and mid-June by invitation of the community itself and MADJ so that we could see the situation at first hand.

Exploring the area under concession with the villagers

The classification of iron oxide – a legal loophole

Due to the moratorium on metal mining for environmental reasons, still in effect,5 the company obtained the concession for non-metal mining – iron oxide – though everyone in La Nueva Esperanza knows that in addition to this mineral (and coal), the hills surrounding the small community are rich in gold, with panning for gold in streams forming part of their tradition. The application for a non-metal mining concession is one of the loopholes that allow companies to circumvent the moratorium. Under DEFOMIN (Dirección Ejecutiva de Fomento de la Minería – Mining Development Executive) and now under the new Mining Act (Ley de Minería)6 (more details below), the classification of iron oxide mining as metal or otherwise depends on what the company which has gained the concession states it is going to use it for, that is, if it is for metal products, the oxide is classified as a metal, but it is enough for the company to say that it will use it to produce cement, for example, to have it classified as a non-metal concession.

Iron oxide

Possible seam of gold on the banks of the creek

As well as allowing them to avoid the moratorium, such a classification means that mining companies can obtain a concession with fewer requirements, fewer environmental controls and lower taxes. Furthermore, once the concession is obtained, by simply notifying the authorities, companies can take up metal mining, a much more profitable operation for themselves and with a far greater impact on the environment and health of the inhabitants. (The extraction of iron oxide can also have profound impacts on the environment and health of the inhabitants of the communities living near the mine, but its advantages over gold mining, for example, include the fact that chemicals such as cyanide are not applied to extract the metal and nor is as much water used).

The concession at La Nueva Esperanza

Minerales Victoria, Lenir Pérez’s company, obtained a concession for 1,000 hectares, although it applied for 11,0007. The area subject to the concession includes 16 communities which, because their economy is based on farming, would lose their livelihood through the depletion or pollution of streams and springs. They are therefore resolute in their opposition to the entry of the company onto their territory. According to the patronato (community council), only 3 of the 45 families of La Nueva Esperanza support the mining company because they are already involved in its operations. Although the villagers refuse to sell their land, the attempts by the company, supported by the Mayor of Tela, continue, and many are receiving threats and pressure to sell their plots. In addition, the company has already begun work on land owned by residents of La Nueva Esperanza, according to information provided by the patronato. It has fenced land, cleared woods and started exploration at various sites, including at the edge of a creek that provides water to the community.

Trial trenches

Increasing harassment of the community and environmental damage

The local tension has been gradually increasing in recent months. To prevent the passage of the company’s vehicles, in February the community put a chain with a padlock across the road near the home of Don Enrique, an elderly man who is emblematic of the community’s resistance. However, on the night of the 13th of the same month, police shot at the chain, breaking it and destroying the lock. The officers involved in the events had no identification. In response to the complaint filed with the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministerio Público) by members of the community, the authorities publicly acknowledged that they had acted illegally. Despite this, the police continue to go the community without identification, which is giving rise to doubts about their true identity. There are suspicions that the men, although in uniform, are actually private security guards for Lenir Pérez’s company. Since then, attempts to promote a dialogue between the people opposing the mining project and the mining companies have not achieved any results. On the contrary, the threat to the community continues to intensify.

For example, on Saturday 25 May, when they assumed that the villagers would be at the carnival parade in La Ceiba,workers from the company tried to enter the concession area with two truckloads of machinery, with a police escort. However, the people were in the community celebrating a birthday, and with a collective effort, prevented the trucks from entering. Following this incident, which was reported on Radio Progreso, on Sunday 26 May there was a meeting in the banks of the creek that separates the community of La Nueva Esperanza and the land under concession to plan protests on a national scale, given the lack of response from the company.

Despite the community’s resolute stance, the harassment and threats have multipied in recent weeks. On Monday 3 June, a group of policemen entered the community, approaching the concession area and, in response to the villagers’ protests, fired their guns, fortunately without causing any injuries. Shots were also heard that night. Then, on the night of 5 June, a group of about 20 men, dressed in civilian clothes, with no identification and heavily armed, entered the community to spread terror among the people through repeated death threats. Faced with this dangerous situation, the villagers are suffering a “state of siege” that continues, forcing them to stay locked in their homes for safety. The community’s schoolmaster decided to suspend classes, and the village’s security situation is increasingly difficult.

Rocks heaped up to block the path of the company’s lorries

It was in the face of the gravity of the incidents and the risk of worsening violence in the community of La Nueva Esperanza, that on 7 June the villagers, backed by MADJ and MAA, denounced and condemned the constant threats by employers in the aforementioned statement, which calls on local and national authorities, as well as national and international civil society, to intervene and demand a cessation of the violence related to the mining project. The community reiterated its opposition to mineral extraction on its territory, and demanded the cessation of these activities and the definitive departure of the company.

However, the harassment continues. On 14 June, three men from the community were in a house when they received a phone call warning them that armed men were approaching. The three decided to flee, but were pursued by the armed men who opened fire. The three, fortunately unharmed, were forced to hide until the armed men went away8. When PROAH volunteers attended mass in the community on 19 June, they saw two men armed with guns near the church, one of them trying to hide.

The summit (already with trees felled) on 29 May

The summit on 17 June

Meanwhile, there is an increasing amount of damage to the community’s environment due to the so-called ‘exploration’ activities. Minerales Victoria workers are making illegal roads, breaking down private fences without the owners’ permission and felling trees at the roadside which are the community’s heritage. A particularly painful blow to the community has been the destruction of El Manguito, a mango tree located halfway up the hill between La Nueva Esperanza and El Carmen where all travellers used to rest and then continue on their way, enjoying the breeze and its cool shade. In addition, the effects of the operations on water sources are already beginning to become apparent: a creek that used to be clear has become muddy, contaminated by soil excavated during road-building and other works.

El Manguito on 19 May

El Manguito on 17 June

The new Mining Act and open cast mining

In Honduras, La Nueva Esperanza is another piece of the mosaic of communities opposed to mining companies operating in the country without the consent of affected communities. With the new Mining Act9, adopted on 23 January by Congress (although still suspended due to lack of implementing regulations10), at least 300 new concessions are expected, corresponding to about 15% of the country’s land area. According to social movements and the spokespeople of the communities affected by mining activity, the views of affected populations have not been taken into account. Rather, the law was written with the input of corporations with a direct interest, and foreign embassies. One of the most striking examples is open cast mining. Although according to a 2011 survey11, 91% of Hondurans were opposed to it, the Mining Act, by not even mentioning this type of mining, does not put any restriction on it, but instead makes its continuation implicit, as argued by the CNRA (Coalición Nacional de Redes Ambientales – National Coalition of Environmental Networks)12. While countries like Costa Rica have banned open cast mining throughout its territory, and in many other Latin American countries the debate is in progress13, Honduras is retaining a practice devastating to the environment and which also offers very little employment for local people.

Other serious weaknesses of the new Mining Act include: the possibility of populated land being subject to concessions (with the consequent risk of eviction of entire communities); businesses being granted priority in the use of water sources; lack of protection of communities’ water sources, unless they are located in a ‘water producing area’ already designated as such; the lack of access to financial and technical information, which remains in the hands of businesses and the lack of free, prior and informed consultation of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, as provided for in Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO), ratified by the government of Honduras14. Under the new Act, the consultation of all communities, whether indigenous or not, is scheduled after the initial exploration phase, ie when the company will have already obtained a first form of concession, occupying communal territory and investing its capital. The opposition of a community could give rise to legal countermeasures and financial penalties imposed on the State, under international treaties ratified by Honduras15. There is already a precedent for this with Pacific Rim, the Canadian mining company, with its multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the Salvadoran state.16

Mining as an ‘economic engine’: high expectations, low royalties

In response to the concerns of journalists and the communities affected, the authorities maintain that the engine for Honduras to escape its current state of poverty is the extraction of its hidden wealth, left mostly untapped by the Spanish conquistadors. The Ministry of Natural Resources (Secretaría de Recursos Naturales) estimates that over 60% of the national territory is potentially suitable for mineral extraction, both metal and non-metal. Santos Gabino Carvajal, president of ANAMINH (Asociación Nacional de Minería de Honduras – National Mining Association of Honduras), said that, once the new Mining Act enters into force, it will begin to attract investment into Honduras from industrialized nations such as China, Canada and the United States which could ultimately amount to up to US $4 billion17.

Despite these high expectations, it should be noted that both the canon territorial (the rent paid per hectare for the concession) and the taxes that the state will raise are very low. In addition, the taxes are subject to self-assessment by the companies. Under the new law, the total tax for metal mining is 6% of the value of sales18, (even lower – 2.5% – for non-metal mining) of which 1% is destined for the mining authority, 2% for the municipality where the mine is located, and 1% for ‘development projects’ managed by COALIANZA (Comisión para la Promoción de la Alianza Público-Privada – Commission for the Promotion of Public-Private Partnership). The remaining 2% takes the form of a security tax. That means that, apart from the 1% for COALIANZA projects, there is no other mechanism that allows a form of national distribution and socialization of the wealth produced by mining19, but instead the strengthening of the security forces in a country which has already embarked upon a disturbing process of militarization.

2 IACHR precautionary measures – PM 342/12 of 3 October 2012 – César Adán Alvarenga Amador and Roberto García Fúnez, Honduras. http://www.oas.org/es/cidh/decisiones/cautelares.asp. (in Spanish only)

3 P.1 of the MADJ and MAA statement.

4 Ibid. P. 2.

5 A ban on new mining concessions was originally imposed in August 2004 by the Minister of Natural Resources, Patricia Panting, for two reasons: 1. The Siria Valley Environmental Committee (Comité Ambientalista del Valle de Siria) and the Civic Alliance for the Reform of the Mining Law (Alianza Cívica por la Reforma a la Ley de Minería) proved that DEFOMIN (Dirección Ejecutiva de Fomento de la Minería – Mining Development Executive) was granting concessions to Goldcorp without complying with the legal procedures and 2. The National March for Life (La Marcha Nacional por La Vida) which demanded the cancellation of all mining and logging concessions. The Minister also sacked DEFOMIN’s director. The current moratorium on metal mining was imposed by President Zelaya in February 2006, through Executive Decree PCM-09-2006, citing in the preamble the need for ‘rational exploitation of the nation as well as the least impact in the environment and reuse of mined areas for the benefit of the community’. Under the decree, the moratorium would remain in force until the introduction of amendments to the 1998 Mining Act (Ley de Minería de 1998). Although the controversial new mining act was passed in January 2013, it has not so far entered into force due to the lack of implementing regulations. As a result, the moratorium remains in place for the time being. (Executive Decree PCM-09-2006 published in the Official Journal, La Gaceta, No.30,928, 14.2.2006. Also available at http://www.pgrfa.org/gpa/hnd/files/compendio_de_legislacion_ambienta_abril-2011.pdf)

See also the report of the Commission of Truth P.57-58

http://comisiondeverdadhonduras.org/sites/default/files/Informe%20COMISION%20DE%20VERDAD%20.pdf

(All documents cited are in Spanish)

7 19 metal mining concessions have already been granted in Atlántida Department, most of them in Tela municipality, amounting to 24,600 hectares (6% of the department’s land area) and 14 non-metal mining concessions have been approved (Source: CEHPPRODEC (Centro Hondureño de Promoción para el Desarrollo Comunitario – Honduran Centre for the Promotion of Community Development) Situation as at 16.6.2013)

8 Report No. CEIN-PROV-0101-2013-04187

11 Survey by CESPAD (Centro de Estudio para la Democracia – Study Centre for Democracy) – September 2011 http://cespad.org/sites/default/files/Encuesta%20de%20mineria%20en%20Honduras-2012.pdf

12 CNRA Press Release (23.1.2013) ‘Nuevo atentado contra la población de Honduras: Ley de minería entrega territorio y población como mercancía’ (‘A fresh assault on the Honduran population: Mining Act hands over territory and populations like commodities’) (Available at http://periodicoecovida.com/?q=node/167)

18 Article 76 of the 2013 Mining Act.

19 Particularly worrying when one takes into account the damage mining operations can inflict on the environment and health of people outside the municipality where the mining is taking place, and even to transport infrastructure. See for example: http://www.elheraldo.hn/Secciones-Principales/Al-Frente/Exportacion-de-oxido-puede-colapsar-el-puerto-de-San-Lorenzo http://www.elheraldo.hn/Secciones-Principales/Al-Frente/Oxido-de-hierro-acelera-destruccion-de-red-vial

Exhumation in the Aguán: in search of the truth

May 28, 2013

From April 23- 26 2013, the Honduras Accompaniment Project (PROAH) accompanied members of the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) to the lower Aguán, where they exhumed a human skeleton that was found by campesinos in the Paso Aguán property, near the Panamá community.

 The COFADEH, at the request of the community and the family of José Antonio Lopez Lara, who disappeared on April 29, 2012 on the Paso Aguán property, asked experts from the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) to conduct the exhumation with the authorization of the judicial authorities of Trujillo, department of Colón, and with the support of the Human Rights Office of Honduras.

The embrace of Doña Elena is strong and warm. Her slender and agile body does not show her 79 years; her direct, sharp gaze is that of a woman who, although she has suffered her whole life, including the greatest pain of losing a child, cannot give up and continues struggling for justice.

 madre de López Lara

Doña Elena

The anguish of Doña Elena and her family began a year ago, when José Antonio López Lara, a 46 year old campesino, disappeared on April 29, 2012. He left his house in the Rigores community (Trujillo, Colón) to fish in the Ilanga river, whose waters border the Paso Aguán palm oil estate, then in the hands of landowner Miguel Facussé Barjum. According to Saudi, the oldest daughter of José Antonio, Facussé’s guards had previously threatened to disappear and kill her father for approaching the estate. On the day of his disappearance, “around 10 am, some campesinos from there said that they heard 4 shots”1. However, nothing was known about José Antonio until April 3, 2013, when a human skeleton was found buried in a clandestine grave on the Paso Aguán property that borders the Panamá community. The discovery of the grave, about 200 meters from the place where Jose Antonio was supposedly fishing, suggested that they might be his remains.

Before José Antonio López Lara, at least three campesinos have been reported disappeared. On May 15, 2011, Francisco Pascual López (37 years old) disappeared while herding cattle. A boy heard shots, but the body was not found. Meanwhile Antonio Gómez (55 years old), a member of the Nueva Vida de Rigores movement and campesino from the Panamá plantation, disappeared in February 2012 and the Panamá plantation guard, Lito Rivera (35 years old) disappeared on his way to work on the afternoon of January 30, 2012.

 The guards and owners of the property always prevented the families and friends of the disappeared from looking for the bodies that would allow them to ascertain the truth. It was after the disappearance of the campesino leader Gregorio Chávez on July 2, 2012, whose lifeless body was found three days later in the Paso Aguán estate and after the retaking of the property by the campesinos that a commission was formed to search for the rest of the victims and, after three false alarms, on April 3, 2013 another body was found2.

Although José Antonio López Lara’s family immediately went to the police station to report the illegal grave, suspecting that it might have to do with their relative, the police did not follow up on the report. So while José Antonio was not part of any campesino movements in the area, the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán (MUCA) and other organizations decided not to ignore the fact and organized for the official exhumation and identification of the remains.

First, they approached the area and decided to take shifts in groups of 10 during the day and 50 men at night so that nobody could erase the traces of one or possibly more of the victims of violent land conflict that is ongoing in the region. After that they began the formal process to be able to proceed with the exhumation. First, the petition was presented to the Trujillo court by the Special Prosecutor of Human Rights, COFADEH, the families of the disappeared in the Lower Aguán and the MUCA. Then the Trujillo court took care of finalizing the process. The exhumation was conducted on April 25th. The process was carried out by experts from the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG), the archeologist Leonel Paíz, and the Anthropologist Alma Vázquez.

 When, at dawn, the experts from Guatemala arrived to the site of the discovery with members of the COFADEH, international observers and journalists, the family of José Antonio was already gathered under a tent: Doña Elena, her sons, grandsons, great grandsons and Rosa, José Antonio’s wife, with their two sons of 3 and 8 years of age. In addition to the family, the place was guarded by dozens of members of the police and the army. On one side, relatives and unarmed human rights defenders, looking for a spark of truth; on the other, armed men trained for war.

contingente policialPolice contingent

 un militar de Xatruch III observa de cerca

Xatruch III soldier observing the exhumation

The discovery site was marked by a sugar cane cross. Here, in the shadow of the palm tree, the exhumation process began. Leonel and Alma gave orders to the three campesinos who helped them in the excavation: they measured, marked, took photos, and filtered the dirt.

Los expertos forenses colocan marcas antes de excavarThe experts start the exhumation

We all followed them in silence, almost without breathing, in a surreal atmosphere. Little by little, the area was filling up with people. Dozens of campesinos had slowly approached until they surrounded the premises with a hug of solidarity and their banners protesting the militarization of the area and the repression of their struggle. And there they stayed, standing and quiet, all day.

 campesinos abservan el proceso

Campesinos observing the exhumation

Around noon, the first signs of the body appeared: the rubber boots and the skull, resting on its right cheek, as if asleep. And then the striped bag and the fishing line that his wife had given him in the morning before he left the house, and the fish, buried with him. “It’s him!” one of his sisters exclaimed. “I knew it. It was a hunch. From the beginning I felt that it was him.” Doña Elena went to the grave and broke down in tears, covering her face with a white handkerchief. At 4 pm the compañeros rolled up their banners and left in silence, as they had arrived. After a powerful funeral ritual and the words of Pastor Rigoberto Ulloa and Priest Juan Colato, the bones were taken to a vehicle of the Office of the Prosecutor of Human Rights to bring them to the Public Prosecutor’s Medical Forensic unit in Tegucigalpa, where the forensic scientists would conduct a morphological analysis of the remains the following day. The certified laboratory of the FAFG would take care of the DNA tests for a complete identification.

osamenta completa. Con características físicas y objetos encontrados se cree que es Jose Antonio López Lara

Without doubt, once it is officially and scientifically confirmed that the body recovered in the exhumation on April 25th is that of the disappeared José Antonio López Lara, the campesino movement of the Lower Aguán will obtain an important victory in their struggle to defend the land.

Photos Marvin Palacios : id=2558:imagenes-del-proceso-de-exhumacion-en-el-bajo-aguan&catid=42:seg-y-jus&Itemid=159

1 Interview with Saudi, one of José Antonio López Lara’s daughters: http://nicaraguaymasespanol.blogspot.com/2013/04/honduras-el-peor-castigo-para-el.html

The attempt on the life of journalist Fidelina Sandoval: a new attack on freedom of expression in Honduras

May 24, 2013

On 8 April 2013, it was Fidelina Sandoval’s 24th birthday. She had worked for two years at Radio Globo, one of the few stations broadcasting information on the social protests in Honduras since the coup which overthrew President Manuel Zelaya in 2009.

At 8.25 in the morning, Fidelina was just about to cross the Bulevar Morazán, one of the capital’s main thoroughfares, when she noticed a grey pickup truck, with no licence plates, with two men in the front, one of whom was trying to hide. She stated a few hours later, at the press conference organized at the headquarters of COFADEH (Committee of the Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras) that her first instinct was to look away and to escape by crossing the road. Seconds later she heard a deafening noise, probably from a gunshot. She thinks that the bullet grazed her left cheek. “I realized that I was unhurt” the journalist told her colleagues. “I looked around and I couldn’t see anyone. I didn’t think I was the intended target until a man came up to me and asked me if I had any enemies because the bullet was for me.”

Fidelina stated that the week before she had received phone calls from strangers who asked her for information under various pretexts. She received these calls after reporting on the clean-up of the police force and the land conflict in the Bajo Aguán. For example, on 4 April, Radio Globo broadcast her interview with Aldo Oliva, the Police Commissioner, on the purge of the organization’s senior ranks. On the Bajo Aguán, she reported on the discovery of a clandestine grave, believed to contain the body of at least one disappeared person (possibly more) who had been involved in the struggle to defend their land. Her report stressed that some people from the armed forces were impeding the investigations.

fide

Press conference in COFADEH on 8 April 2013 

(http://www.cofadeh.hn/node/172)

“It’s a means of sowing terror so that nobody says anything any more and to give the impression that everything’s OK here”, Bertha Oliva, COFADEH’s coordinator, said at the press conference. On her work as a journalist, Fidelina Sandoval stated, “I’m not afraid – I’m committed to it and I want to carry on working with integrity and dedication.”

As well as the support provided by COFADEH, Fidelina received international accompaniment from PROAH.

Fidelina Sandoval is the latest victim in an endless succession of threats, harassment, attacks, kidnappings and murders suffered by journalists, a level of persecution which, according to UNESCO, has turned Honduras into the country with the highest murder rate for journalists in the world.1 CONADEH (the Honduran National Commissioner for Human Rights) has reported that of all the journalists killed in the country in the past decade, 80% – a total of 28 – have been murdered since Porfirio Lobo took office in January 2010.2 As a result, many journalists have chosen to go into exile in search of safety for themselves and their families.

Honduras is now one of only four countries in the Americas where the press is classified as “not free” by the US-based organization Freedom House, and of the 197 countries worldwide that it assessed for freedom of the press, it ranked Honduras 142nd,3 primarily because of the killing and intimidation of journalists, combined with the impunity which has reined in the country since the coup.4 Similarly, in the Reporters without Borders World Press Freedom Index for 2013, Honduras comes 127th out of the 179 countries studied. The report expresses concern that “There has been no let-up in the persecution of opposition media and community radio stations, or in the criminalization of human rights activists and grass-roots movements that provide information about such sensitive issues as land disputes, police abuses and minority rights.”5

Frank de la Rue, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion, focussed on the issue of the persecution of members of the press when presenting his preliminary observations and recommendations at the end of his official visit to Honduras in August 2012. He stressed its negative implications for democracy and thus the importance of adequate protection for journalists: “Limitations on the press are limitations on citizen participation and an attack on democracy. I therefore believe that violence against journalists should be seen not only as an attack on the rights of an individual but as an attack on the rights of society as a whole to be informed and to seek access to information. That is why I repeat that the State has an obligation to provide special protection for those who work to defend and promote the rights of others, such as human rights defenders and journalists, as this role puts them at risk…”6

This call for greater protection of journalists and human rights defenders by the state echoes that made by Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur for human rights defenders on her visit to Honduras in 2011  (see blog article) but it is one that still remains to be answered.

http://www.elheraldo.hn/Secciones-Principales/Pais/Honduras-encabeza-asesinatos-de-periodistas (in Spanish)

http://www.conadeh.hn/index.php/7-conadeh/215-al-cumplirse-un-ano-del-asesinato-del-periodista-alfredo-villatoro (in Spanish)

3 Freedom House: Global Press Freedom Rankings http://www.freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/Global%20and%20Regional%20Press%20Freedom%20Rankings.pdf

Freedom House: Freedom of the Press 2012 http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2012/honduras

Reporters without Borders World Press Freedom Index 2013 http://fr.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/classement_2013_gb-bd.pdf

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12433&LangID=E (in Spanish only)

For more information on the case of Fidelina Sandoval and journalists in Honduras:

defensoresenlinea.com (in Spanish): Los temas cruciales del acontecer nacional exponen a los periodistas a un peligro creciente

Conexihon (in Spanish): Honduras: Agresiones a periodistas se disparan en marzo, abril, mayo y agosto

IFEX (Latin America and Caribbean) Annual Report on Impunity 2012:

http://ifex.org/americas/2013/03/04/executive%20summary%20-%20march%202013%20-%20english%20.pdf

17 Siria Valley environmentalists free of charges, but their fight continues

February 22, 2013

On February 20, PROAH accompanied COFADEH’s lawyers and the Committee of Environmentalists of Siria Valley. That morning 17 environmentalists from the Siria Valley filed into the 5th courtroom of the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice accused of impeding a private deforestation project in their area. The delegation was so large that they couldn’t all fit in the courtroom’s allotted space for defendants. The case is now two years old (link in Spanish). PROAH has reported on the case and accompanied the Committee during that time. On April 7, 2010 approximately 500 community members gathered to protest and defend the trees that protect a watershed in their area that supplies the surrounding communities. Of the hundreds of protesters, 17 were accused of impeding a deforestation plan that the Committee of Environmentalists of the Siria Valley has denounced as illegal due to issues surrounding land tenure. At the end of 2009 they had filed a grievance with the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and to this date have received no response.

Before the hearing a letter from international organizations addressed to Honduran authorities and the Canadian ambassador was circulated. The letter expressed “worry for the criminalization of the defense of the environment and human rights in Honduras” and support for the 17 environmentalists. The letter also quoted a Siria Valley community member: “How is it possible that the public prosecutor for the environment can accuse environmental defenders whose only objective is the defense of life and the protection of water?” (This public prosecutor is specifically responsible for prosecuting cases that have to do with the environment.)

The defense was able to prove 5 of the defendants were not even present at the protest on April 7, 2010. The defendants were represented by Kenia Oliva and Karol Cardenas of COFADEH (Comité de Familiares de los Detenidos y Desaparecidos de Honduras). In his testimony, Carlos Amador (General Secretary of the Committee of Environmentalists of Siria Valley) expressed that the case was purely a criminalization of environmental defenders. On Monday, February 25 the presiding judge Mario Díaz read the resolution of the case absolving the accused of all responsibility and leaving them free of all charges (link in Spanish). One of the defendants, Reynaldo Guerra, a former mayor in the Siria Valley region, expressed the Committee’s contentment with the decision and said “we continue to be committed to the protection of the environment, as much mining exploitation as deforestation.”

Carlos Amador, General Secretary of the Environmental Committee of Siria Valley; photo from the Committee's Facebook page.

Carlos Amador, General Secretary of the Environmental Committee of Siria Valley; photo from the Committee’s Facebook page.

A battle was won on February 20, but their fight continues. Carlos commented that it is just a momentary step and that “there are more difficult things coming for environmentalists.” The long-disputed mining law that passed recently in the Honduran Congress presents a whole host of new challenges for environmentalists across the country. Specifically in the Siria Valley Five Star Mining (owned by Gold Lake)  has set its sights on the region to exploit iron, according to Carlos. The company already has a presence in Monte Redondo in northern Honduras. “It’s a double threat with the approval of the new law. Siria Valley is going to become a place for a lot of new businesses to come exploit gold,” said Carlos. He is sure that this will not be the last attempt to delegitimize environmental activism, adding, “Companies will look for any other mechanism to continue criminalizing environmental defenders.”

The Commission of Truth releases its report, “The Voice of Greatest Authority is that of the Victims”

October 22, 2012

From October 3-5, 2012, the Commission of Truth presented its report, “The Voice of Greatest Authority is that of the Victims,” about human rights violations in Honduras during and following the June 28, 2009 coup d’état. PROAH accompanied the Commissioners when they presented the report in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and Tocoa.

The Commission of Truth was created in June 2010 with the objective of “clarifying the facts of the June 28, 2009 coup d’état to demand justice for the Honduran population affected by the coup d’état and to recommend the adoption of measures necessary to avoid the repetition of this type of event in the future.”i The Commission was created by human rights organizations as an alternative to the Honduran government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR). According to Bertha Oliva, Coordinator of the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras, the CVR report, which was released in July 2011, “makes the victims invisible and gives a layer of protection to the assassins.” Restoring dignity to the victims was an important part of the mandate and focus of the alternative Commission of Truth.

The Commission of Truth is made up of well-known national and international human rights defenders. Six of the commissioners presented the report, including the President of the Commission, Sr. Elsie Monge, who also presided over the Truth Commission in her country of Ecuador. The two Honduran members of the Commission, writer Helen Umaña and Fr. Fausto Milla, known for his many years of work defending human rights in Honduras, were also present. Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel sent a representative on his behalf, Beverly Keene of Jubilee South. Two Commissioners shared their own experience of family members being disappeared or murdered: Mirna Perla, a former Supreme Court Justice in El Salvador who survived a massacre in 1975 and lost her husband in a political assassination in 1987, and Nora Cortiñas, whose son was Detained-Disappeared in Argentina in 1977, which motivated her to co-found the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Movement.

The Commission carried out extensive investigations to develop its report, receiving a large quantity of testimonies from victims and then carrying out a process to verify the facts and analyze the cases. In total, the Commission of Truth received “1,966 reports from citizens about human rights violations by state agents and armed civilian apparatuses protected by state institutions” between June 2009 and August 2011¨.ii Based on these reports, the Commission analyzed 5,418 human rights violations and categorized 87 forms of aggression.iii

At the first presentation of the report, on October 3 in Tegucigalpa, the Commissioners presented the report to victims of human rights violations, the families of murder victims, members of organizations and social movements, the press, and representatives of the Honduran government and several Embassies. Those who lost their lives in the struggle for justice following the coup d’état were remembered and made present in the memory of all those in attendance through a moving ceremony in which a large photo of each person was carried to the center of the auditorium as their names were read and the audience members responded presente.

The first copy of the report was presented to the parents of Isy Obed Murillo, who, at 19 years old, was the first casualty of the coup d’état. On July 5, 2009, he was shot in the head and killed when the military opened fire on a protest at the Toncontín airport, where President Manuel Zelaya was attempting to return to the Honduras.

At the presentation of the Commission’s report in Tocoa, a city in the Lower Aguan region of Honduras, the commissioners presented a copy of the report to the family of Gregorio Chavez, a small farmer who disappeared on July 2, 2012 and was found dead four days later on the property of businessman and palm oil producer Miguel Facussé. He is one of over 50 people related to or affiliated with campesino organizations in the Lower Aguan region that have been murdered since the coup.

In Tocoa, the commissioners and attendees also took a moment to remember Antonio Trejo, the lawyer for the MARCA campesino movement in the Aguan  who fought tirelessly in court to defend the right to land for campesinos. After receiving several death threats, he was murdered on September 22, 2012. After the presentation of the report, those in attendance also had the opportunity to share with the commissioners about the repression that campesinos and human rights defenders continue to face in the Lower Aguan region.

The Commission of Truth’s report identifies three patterns of human rights violations in the framework of the coup d’état: 1) repression of public protests, excessive use of force during repression by state security agents, and criminalization of public protest; 2) selective or directed repression to the detriment of persons considered by the de facto government to be destabilizing to the regime; and 3) institutional dysfunction according to the needs of the regime imposed by the coup d’état and to the detriment of the population.”iv

The first two patterns were clearly illustrated during the remembrances of those who had been murdered, kidnapped, and abused during protests or for being journalists or leaders in the movement against the coup. To illustrate the third pattern of institutional dysfunction, particularly the “dysfunction in the justice system,”v  the commissioners presented the report in San Pedro Sula to Judge Luis Alonso Chevez de la Rocha of the Association of Judges for Democracy, who is one of the judges removed from office for opposing the coup d’état. The Commission of Truth’s report notes that they received “information about the removal, arbitrary transfers and dismissals, and the subjection to disciplinary hearings of an important number of judges who expressed their rejection of the coup d’état.”vi The commissioners noted that the right to a fair trial requires independent and impartial judges and that the ability of judges to be independent is important in ensuring respect for human rights.

At each of the events, the commissioners shared the report’s 18 recommendations, which include recommendations to “investigate and sanction those intellectually and materially responsible for the coup d’état and the human rights violations that arose from the coup,” and “to remove the civilian and military officials involved in grave violations of fundamental rights, committed since the coup d’état, from their positions in the administration.”

The commissioners remarked that the effects of the coup d’état continue and that political persecutions are likely to intensify in the coming months as the elections near. Commissioner Fr. Fausto Milla added that now there is a “new Commission of Truth, which is the Honduran people, with the mission of demanding that the recommendations of the report be fulfilled.”

ii The Commission of Truth’s report, “La voz más autorizada es la de las víctimas,” Page 227

iii Ibíd, Page 228

iv Ibíd, Page 99

v Ibíd, Page 110

vi Ibíd, Page 213

For more information:

The Commission of Truth report (in spanish)

“The Voice of the Victims.” 10-minute video about the Commission of Truth (in spanish)


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