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ALERT: Attacks and intimidation against participants and international observers at the International Meeting “Berta Cáceres Lives”.

April 26, 2016

The undersigned organizations, express our deep concern about the serious incidents that occurred on Friday, April 15 in the town of San Francisco de Ojuera -Department of Santa Barbara where a dozen people were injured.
On Friday April 15, 2016, approximately 400 people, members of Honduran and international human rights organisations, social movements and the media, travelled to the Gualcarque River as part of a caravan to commemorate the murder of Berta Cáceres, the international meeting was known as “Berta Cáceres lives”. The signatory organisations were present at the meeting and observed patterns of attacks against international and national organisations that are replicated in other regions of the country and have originated from deep social conflict.1
Below we describe the events witnessed:
– Around 2 pm, the peaceful caravan arrived at the community of San Ramon, municipality of San Francisco de Ojuera. Participants at the front of the commemorative march were confronted by a group of about 30 people who expressed their support for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project implemented by the company Desarrollo Energéticos S.A. (DESA). They carried placards with inscriptions supporting the hydroelectric project and against the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), brandishing machetes and issuing serious threats against COPINH and other participants in the international meeting. Despite the significant presence of police and army along the entire route of the international caravan, there were just six police officers positioned in front of the group.”
– The caravan continued its journey to the banks of the River Gualcarque where a spiritual ceremony was held in memory of Berta Cáceres.
– At approximately 5 pm, the caravan ended and a few metres before reaching the buses for their return transport, the same group of people appeared; shouting, insulting, threatening and wielding their machetes. Unexpectedly these people started throwing stones at people who were walking towards the buses. This created panic as people had to run several metres to protect themselves. As a result of this incident, a dozen people in the caravan were wounded after being hit by stones, and at least two people were beaten by the group of people. The attackers also issued death threats to members of COPINH, particularly its new general coordinator Tomas Gomez. Amongst the people who were assaulted and injured were people who are beneficiaries of precautionary measures, including several members of the general coordination of COPINH.2
– Faced with the violence that broke out, the National Police did not react immediately, only intervening after several people in the caravan insistently requested it. We are concerned that the Honduran authorities did not ensure the safety of those present and did not take immediate action against the attacks.
These events have occurred in the context of repeated complaints against the DESA company. These complaints hold the company responsible for the murder of Berta Cáceres as well as for multiple threats and attacks against members of communities and COPINH because of their opposition to the Agua Zarca dam. In light of these developments, we express our serious concern about the situation of extreme vulnerability for organisations, communities and human rights defenders in Honduras, and in particular members of COPINH. The organisations below reiterate our support to requests from Berta Cáceres’ family and members of COPINH, urging the Honduran government to sign an agreement with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), creating a committee of independent experts to investigate the murder of Berta Cáceres and other cases of human rights defenders who have been killed in Honduras, despite having been granted precautionary measures from the IACHR.
In this context characterised by the closure of spaces for human rights defenders, we are also concerned that situations like the one above make difficult international accompaniment and observation to help protect spaces for non-violent conflict resolution and the promotion and defence of human rights in Honduras. The work of international accompaniers and observers in the country responds to requests from organisations and civil society who have the right to defend their rights, and to seek support and international observation when faced with threats and attacks.
Taking into account the views expressed above and the responsibility of States to ensure the protection, respect and fulfilment of international human rights law, we call upon the international community to undertake the following actions to put a stop to and prevent this escalation of violence against the defence of human rights:
• Issue a statement to the President of the Republic, Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ministry of Justice, Interior and Human Rights:
◦ Expressing appreciation and support for the work of national and international organisations participating in the caravan on 15 April.
◦ Showing concern at the situation described above and the lack of immediate reaction by the authorities present to the reported violence.
◦ Reminding the Honduran State of its obligation to protect human rights defenders, and emphasising the importance of the work they carry out in Honduras. It is also important to highlight the importance of the work carried out by international observers and accompaniment organisations when their presence is requested due to threats and attacks.
• In particular, we call on the Diplomatic Corps and Ministries of Foreign Affairs and / or Aid Agencies to ask for the competent institutions to clarify the events reported, urging a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation into the attacks and threats made by the aggressors and into the actions of the national police.
• Express publicly, through the appropriate channels, support for the work of human rights defenders in Honduras and their right to receive support from international organisations and other organisations.

“Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings; their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of governments”3

Organizations:

– International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

– Front Line Defenders

– Honduras Solidarity Network in North America (Honduras Solidarity Network in North America)

– Hondurasdelegation (Germany / Austria)

– Ecumenical Office for Peace and Justice (Germany)

– World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

– Peace Brigades International (PBI Honduras)
– The International Platform against Impunity (Plataforma Internacional contra la Impunidad.)
– PROAH (Proyecto de Acompañamiento internacional en Honduras)
– Protection International
– Witness for Peace (Acción Permanente por la Paz)

1. Two days after these incidents, 17 April 2016, the Canada-Honduras Delegation for Justice, Land and Life went to the opencast gold mine San Andres in La Union, Copan. As the Canadian delegation approached the city of Azacualpa, a group of about 180 mine workers – some armed with machetes, sticks and stones – blocked the street. The delegation reported that the police were present but initially failed to act. The delegation was later notified that they could travel safely to the community and the police managed to disperse the crowd. Mining Watch and other NGOs from the delegation, however, have expressed serious concern about this kind of intimidation.

2. Members of the coordination of COPINH are beneficiaries of IACHR precautionary measures 112-16 of 03.05.2016.

3.Adopted by the UN World Conference on Human Rights (157/93)

Looking for Justice in Honduras

March 7, 2016
* by Lucy Edwards

Berta Cáceres was indomitable, a powerful and fearless leader of a nonviolent struggle for indigenous and environmental rights in Honduras. She was also a mother, aunt, daughter and friend with an infectious smile that could light up the room or capture a stage. She was the leader of COPINH, an indigenous organization known for its active defense of the country’s land, environment, and indigenous rights. In 2015 she was awarded the prestigious international Goldman Prize for defense of the environment.

In the middle of the night of March 2-3, armed men stormed into the home of this internationally recognized Lenca leader, opened fire and killed her. But as a young friend reminded me, some women never die.

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 Honduran Jesuit Father Ismael Moreno (Padre Melo) with Berta Cáceres, at a demonstration against the Agua Zarca dam. May 20, 2013, Rio Blanco, Intibucá, Honduras

The Honduran people and the international solidarity, environmental and faith communities have responded with grief, shock, and protest. Berta Cáceres was the strong and prophetic voice for the sacred Gualcarque River, endangered by the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project that seeks to put two dozen dams on it.

 

The hydro project would provide “renewable energy” for mining projects. Since the 2009 coup d’etat, mining, dam projects and other mega-projects are proliferating in Honduras, with determined resistance from indigenous and other local communities whose land is expropriated, crops and homes destroyed, families displaced.


By law, this process of granting “concessions” for mining and dam building requires local input. Honduras is signatory to International Labor Organization Convention 169 that demands “free, prior, and informed consent” from local communities affected by such projects. But the Honduran government and national and foreign corporations routinely ignore the demands of law. They bribe a few locals and co-opt officials to rubber stamp the process. Then come the threats, intimidation, discrediting and violence against those who resist such “progress.”

Berta Cáceres and her organization COPINH knew all these manipulations and experienced constant threats. In 2013, she and a co-worker were arrested and jailed, accused of carrying a gun– an effort to discredit their nonviolent struggle. Charges were eventually dropped, but her work and her travels were disrupted by a process that required her to check in with regional officials every 15 days. The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States, had mandated the Honduran government provide protective measures for Cáceres and other threatened individuals. The government failed to investigate the source of the threats and instead used the mandate to intimidate Cáceres and other COPINH members.

Berta Cáceres is the murder we have heard about. But she is not alone. There are literally hundreds of others, ordinary and prominent who are simply defenders of life, land, environment, and rights in Honduras, threatened and killed for daring to defend such things. If they can kill Berta Cáceres so brazenly, the message is that they can kill anyone.

In the United States, we almost never notice Honduras, despite our country’s enormous investment of military and police equipment, training and “security assistance” that has been pouring into the Central American country since the 2009 coup d’etat. Yet in our daily lives, most of us benefit from extractive industries in Honduras–from foods to metals and minerals used in our cell phones and other devices. Our lives are bound up with the lives of Hondurans. The murder of Berta Cáceres should remind us of our debt to the people of Honduras and our need to change the policies and practices of our own government and corporations.


*Lucy Josselyn Edwards of Ashland, Oregon works in Central America as part of the Global Ministries Team of Ashland First Congregational United Church of Christ. In Honduras she works with Proah, the Honduras Accompaniment Project. She met Berta Cáceres while accompanying Honduran Jesuit Padre Melo.


PROAH accompanies delegation of Sisters of Mercy to Honduras

February 6, 2016

In December, 2015 PROAH accompanied a delegation of various women from the United States to Honduras. The delegation was organized by the Institute Justice Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas in cooperation with the Friendship Office of the Americas and the Honduras Accompaniment Project (PROAH.) Delegates come from positions of leadership in their communities in the areas of social justice and advocacy.To know more about the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, click here.

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With US and Honduran Sisters of Mercy, and associates

The objective of the delegation was to deepen understanding of the political, economic, social, religious and human rights situation in Honduras, to lend support to partners and to be more effective advocates with the United States government regarding justice and human rights in Honduras.

The delegation began in San Pedro Sula, traveled to El Progreso and ended in Tegucigalpa. The delegation met with Sisters of Mercy and Associates who are working to defend women’s rights with the Women’s Forum and Dream Weavers. Casa Corazón, a home sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, for orphaned children affected by HIV-AIDS was visited. The delegation coincided with the 20th Anniversary Celebration of Casa Corazón.

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With ERIC and COFAMIPRO

In Progreso, the delegation met with ERIC (the Team of Reflection, Investigation and Communication) as well as representatives of COFAMIPRO (Committee of the Families of Migrants and Disappeared of Progreso.) The group also met with labor unionists working in the banana sector who suffered recent threats and representatives of the peasant organization, CNTC (National Central for Rural Workers.)

In Tegucigalpa, the delegation spoke with COFADEH (Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras) about forced disappearances from the 1980s and today; visited Casa Alianza, an organization that provides shelter for street children and advocates for the rights of children. The delegation ended with meeting with the U.S. Embassy.

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in COFADEH

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with Casa Alianza

During the weeklong visit, the 13 delegates learned about the root causes driving migration from Honduras to the United States, including the violence and abuse of human rights that reigns in the country.

The Sisters of Mercy returned to the U.S. greatly impacted by the experience in Honduras, with a commitment to share the testimonies they heard and to continue to advocate for U.S. policy that respects human rights and the people of Honduras.

A delegation report is currently being prepared. We will link to it on this blog as soon as it is published. The moving testimony of Sister Deborah Kern about her experience of “Waking up in Honduras,” can be found at this link:

http://www.sistersofmercy.org/blog/2016/01/22/waking-up-in-honduras/#more-8100

Crimes linked to the 2009 Coup d’état should be investigated, even without the International Criminal Court

November 11, 2015

This is how the pronouncement from the human rights organizations FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), CIPRODEH and COFADEH begins; the statement was released following the announcement by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court stating that the Court would not continue its preliminary examination regarding Honduras.

According to the statement, FIDH and its member organizations in Honduras, COFADEH and CIPRODEH, deeply regret the announcement today that the International Criminal Court (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) will no longer examine allegations of crimes against humanity committed in Honduras after the military coup in 2009 and in Bajo Aguan. Victims of these crimes currently have little to no recourse at a national level, and must not be left without access to justice and redress. i

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Context:

The 2009 Coup d’état in Honduras resulted in systematic and brutal repression against social movements protesting against the coup and many violations of human rights such as illegal detentions, torture and extrajudicial executions.

In response to the serious nature of human rights violations that were happening at this time, the high level of impunity as well as a lack of governability in the country post-coup, human rights organizations did everything possible to denounce what was happening. In June 2010, the principal human rights organizations pushed for the creation of the “Commission of Truth” (as an alternative to the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation (CVR), created by Porfirio Lobo’s government) with the objective of “clarifying the actions carried out during the June 28, 2009 coup d’état, to demand justice for the population of Honduras which had been affected by the coup and to insist on the adoption of necessary measures to prevent a reoccurrence of these types of events in the future.” The first recommendation in the Report of the Commission of Truth, “The most authorized voice is the voice of the victims,” is to “investigate and prosecute the intellectual and material actors responsible for the Coup and the human rights violations which were a direct result of it.” ii

Parallel to the complaints filed with the national justice system, international actions were also initiated, including before the Interamerican System for Human Rights and the International Criminal Court.

After five years of investigation, the Prosecutor for the ICC, Fatou Bensouda declared that “I have come to the conclusion that the violations perpetrated between June 28, 2009 and January 27, 2010 don’t constitute crimes against humanity under the definition of the Statute, and therefore they don’t constitute crimes that the ICC has the faculty to investigate”. However, we recognize that “human rights violations were committed on June 28, 2009 and subsequent to this date and that these violations can be directly attributed to the authorities of the regime which took power during the coup.” iii

The FIDH and its member organizations point out that “Accountability for grave crimes is not only necessary for victims and their family members, but for the wider Honduran community to restore its faith in its own government’s ability to serve and protect its citizens.” iv

For this reason, it is pertinent to ask:

More than six years after the Coup d’état, how has the Honduran judicial system acted to sanction those responsible for committing human rights violations? We can examine how some of the emblematic cases of human rights violations related to repression of protestors highlighted in the Truth Commission Report have been addressed. Has there been justice in these cases?

Isy Obed Murillo, first fatality of the repression.

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On July 5, 2009, Isy Obed Murillo became the first fatality of the coup d’état. On this day thousands of Hondurans had come together in the Toncontin Airport to await the return of the Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya, which had been announced for this day. Soldiers shot fired on the crowd with live ammunition, nineteen year old Isy Obed received a bullet to the head, killing him instantly.

The Human Rights Prosecutor opened a file on the case, but to this day the case continues in the investigation stage. The Center for Constitutional Rights (based in New York), with the assistance of COFADEH, presented a case to the Federal Southern District Court of Texas in the name of David Murillo and Silvia Mencias, parents of Isy Obed, against Roberto Micheletti, President of the Honduran Congress who became President subsequent to the coup, who allegedly owned property in Texas and for that reason a case could be brought against him there. The case denounces “extrajudicial executions, assassinations, persecutions and other serious human rights violations which occurred in Honduras under the authority and direction of Micheletti.” In April 2013 the U.S. Court dismissed the case. v

Like the demonstration of July 5th, many protest marches were brutally repressed from the day of the coup until the end of 2011, including:

Repression on August 12, 2009, Tegucigalpa

On August 12, 2009 a march in Tegucigalpa against the coup d’état was brutally repressed. Twenty seven people were arrested, including people who had not participated in the march. Those arrested were victims of cruel treatment and they were later taken to an irregular detention center, the battalion of the military’s anti-riot “COBRAS unit”. Elder Madrid Guerra, who was in charge of the COBRAS unit, according to COFADEH “could have controlled the aggression against those arrested, rather, he hid information regarding this group that was illegally taken to this military unit.” These people were detained for several days. Later, they were released, under the condition that they report regularly to a police station. They were initially accused of sedition, illegal protest property damage. The case against them was dismissed in June 2010. vi

COFADEH then brought charges against the police official in charge of the operation, Elder Madrid Guerra and the Prosecutor for Human Rights began a legal process against him and five additional police officials, accusing them of torture, illegal detention, abuse of authority and harassment. At the end of February 2015 the judge found the (then) national police commissioner Elder Madrid Guerra innocent of the charges. This decision is still under appeal. For the other officials, the court applied an Amnesty Decree issued in 2010. vii This decision was rejected by the prosecution and a ruling from the Constitutional branch of the Supreme Court is pending.

It is important to note that despite of this ongoing legal process, Madrid Guerra was rewarded and promoted to a superior rank in June 2014. In May 2015 he was named head of the National Police. viii

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Repression in Choloma, August 14, 2009

In the case of police repression in Choloma, just two days after the repression in Tegucigalpa, two hundred police carried out the violent eviction of a demonstration. They destroyed the cameras and other equipment of three social communicators who were covering the demonstration. Police threw tear gas into houses and carried out illegal searches. They pursued demonstrators, cornering them in different parts of Choloma where they were subject to cruel inhumane and degrading treatment. Thirty two people were arrested and eight were injured. One woman denounced that she had been raped by several police. This was one of the most brutal examples of repression that has been documented during the post coup period. ix

The Human Rights Prosecutor initiated a case against Hector Ivan Mejia and Abrahan Figueroa Tercero, both high officials in the National Preventative Police unit. They were charged with illegal detention, torture and abuse of authority. Attorney, Omar Menjivar initiated charges regarding actions against a journalist from Radio Progreso, Gustavo Cardoza, who was beaten and illegally detained while exercising his right as a journalist to cover the demonstration. The police were found innocent of all of the charges which had been brought against them. This decision remains on appeal to the Constitutional Branch of the Supreme Court.

Repression September 15, 2010 San Pedro Sula

One year after these events in Choloma, in the same department, the people of San Pedro Sula suffered the first heavy repression under the new government of President Lobo.

On September 15th, 2010 Central America Independence day is celebrated, the National Resistance Front organized a demonstration that was to conclude with a musical concert. When the concert was just beginning with music from the band Cafe Guanacasco, the police and the military bombed the concert with tear gas and a toxic liquid that was sprayed from tanks, attacking and brutally beating the demonstrators. Several people were wounded and intoxicated by the gases including street merchant Efrain Lopez, who died from the toxic gasses. Many people were injured, including five people who were hospitalized. Thirty seven people were arrested. The police destroyed most of the equipment of the musical group. At the same time, the installations of Radio Uno were attacked by the police, who broke the windows of the building where the radio is housed and launched tear gas canisters inside. x

The Prosecutor for Human Rights and private prosecutor, attorney Victor Fernandez, representing the victims, initiated a legal process against the sub commissioners of the National Police, Hector Ivan Mejia (also accused in the case of the repression in Choloma) and Daniel Omar Matamoros. They were both accused of the crimes of violation of the duties of functionaries, illegal detention, torture and injury. Nevertheless, the Appellate Court dismissed all of the charges which had been brought against them.

In addition to these cases, hundreds of other cases which occurred in the aftermath of the coup d’état have not resulted in charges being filed, or even investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office. Even in the emblematic, cases which are highlighted in this article, no victim of post-coup repression has obtained justice. With the exception of one case, no one has been convicted for human rights violations during this period. xi And several high ranking officers from the Police and Armed Forces have received promotions. For example, Hector Ivan Mejia and Elder Madrid Guerra, the two Commissioners involved in the three cases of repression presented here, far from being sanctioned, they have been promoted in rank, and today both are part of the high command of the Police.

Following the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) the three organizations (FIDH, CIPRODEH and COFADEH) reiterate the need for a “hybrid mechanism, like an International Commission against Impunity and Corruption in Honduras (CICIH), composed of national and international experts for the effective investigation and prosecution of serious crimes.”

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Additionally, several cases have been taken to the Interamerican System of Human Rights. On November 10, 2015 the Interamerican Court, announced its ruling in favor of four judges, member of the “Association of Judges for Democracy”, who were removed after publishing communications denouncing the coup d’état. This ruling against the State of Honduras obligates the State to reinstate the judges or, that not being possible, provide compensation to the judges equal to what they would have received had they remained in their positions . This sentence, condemning the State represents a light of hope for the victims, not only in this case, but also for all victims of the Coup d’état who continue to demand justice.

NOTES:

i https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/international-justice/international-criminal-court-icc/honduras-crimes-committed-following-the-2009-military-coup-must-be The ICC only holds jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and the Prosecutor concluded that, based on the information available to her, the legal criteria for those crimes had not been met.

ii For more information, see our article: https://hondurasaccompanimentproject.wordpress.com/2012/10/

iii Declaration of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor, October 28, 2015: https://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/press%20and%20media/press%20releases/Pages/es_otp-stat-28-10-2015.aspx

vi Truth Commission report: pg. 141

ix Truth Commission report: pgs. 141-145

x Truth Commission report: pgs. 153-154

xi The only case in which there has been a verdict and sentence against a police officer is from February 2012. A woman from the Preventative Police was sentenced to 8 years in jail (with the sentence commuted) for illegal detention and torture of a female demonstrator in San Pedro Sula in August 2009. See: http://www.voselsoberano.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13400%3Acondenan-a-mujer-policia-por-torturas-a-una-mujer-militante-de-la-resistencia&catid=1%3Anoticias-generales&Itemid=8

The tireless struggle against forced disappearance in Honduras: from the 80s to today

September 16, 2015

On August 30, the National Day of the Detained-Disappeared was commemorated in Honduras. In a forum organized by COFADEH (Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras) coordinator Bertha Oliva, explained that the choice of the date for this national day of commemoration, emerged from a 1984 meeting of the Federation of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Latin America (FEDEFAM). The date was chosen because August was the month in which the greatest number of forced disappearances, carried out by agents of various States in Latin America in the framework of a plan supported by the United States, to target leaders, human rights defenders and social movements. Bertha Oliva added, “This is why, during that congress in 1984, we declared that we would work to achieve a National Day of the Detained and Disappeared in each country. This was a very difficult objective to propose in 1984; we were in the midst of the full implementation of the National Security Doctrine.”

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COFADEH, was formed in 1982 by 12 families, victims of forced disappearance, for one clear objective: to recover their family members who had been disappeared by the State – alive. Since this time, COFADEH continues to struggle tirelessly against impunity, for justice and respect for human rights. In 2002, the organization achieved the official recognition of August 30th as the National Day of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras by legislative decree.1

COFADEH has registered 184 cases of forced disappearance from the end of the 70s to the beginning of the 90’s; in addition there are dozens of disappearances that were never reported. James («Guadalupe») Carney, a US Jesuit priest, is one of the 184 registered cases; his face appears with the disappeared at COFADEH and in the vigils that are held each month. COFADEH, in coalition with other organizations, has accompanied these cases appealing to the national and international systems of justice. Several of their cases involving the murder and forced disappearance of social movement leaders, reached the Inter American Court of Human Rights.

The Inter American Court finds the State of Honduras guilty of the crime of forced disappearance

The first two decisions of the recently created Inter American Court of Human Rights, resulted in findings of guilt on the part of the State of Honduras for forced disappearance. In 1988, in its first sentence, the Inter American Court found the State of Honduras guilty of the torture and forced disappearance of a young student, Manfredo Velázquez Rodríguez. The sentence affirmed that “the existence of a practice of carrying out forced disappearances or tolerating the practice on the part of Honduran authorities between 1981 and 1984.” Later, in the case of Saul Godínez Cruz, in 1989, the State was again found guilty of forced disappearance by members of state security forces. The Courts’ declaration of State responsibility for kidnapping, torture and forced disappearance, was historic for Latin America; it provided legal recognition of what was already known in Honduras and was denied by authorities. As of 1981, forced disappearance became State policy in the framework of the Doctrine of National Security.

In these cases, the Court ordered the State to compensate the families of the victims, to investigate the acts and to punish those responsible. In 2003, the State of Honduras was found guilty again by the same Court, for the disappearance and death of Juan Humberto Sánchez, in 1992. However, despite the guilty sentences, none of these cases have been investigated nor have those alleged to be responsible for the crimes be tried in court.

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Impunity

Full impunity exists in the cases of political assassinations and forced disappearances of the “lost decade.” In the 80s, there were judicial investigations but all of those presumed to be guilty, were dismissed. Later, between 1995 and 2000, new cases of forced disappearance were opened however, of all of the cases from the 80s, there was only one guilty sentence in the case of the temporary forced disappearance of six students, in which the Ex-director of the National Investigation Directorate, Juan Blas Salazar Meza, was sentenced to two years in prison. 2

Today, the authors of human rights violations in the 80s, rather than fearing the possibility of prison, continue to be free, some of them work as advisors on security issues.

16 new cases of forced disappearance

In addition to all of the crimes of the past that remain in total impunity, recently the specter of this crime against humanity became a reality for Hondurans once again. Following the 2009 coup, COFADEH has documented 16 cases of disappearance as the country experiences a resurgence of this practice in a context of repression of social protest and imposition of terror.

One emblematic case is that of Reynaldo Cruz Palma, who was forcibly disappeared on the very day dedicated to commemorate the Detained and Disappeared, August 30, 2011.

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José Reynaldo Cruz Palma was a community leader, the President of the Patronato of the Colonia Planeta, San Pedro Sula. Just two days before he was disappeared, he and his wife had taken actions on behalf of 10 people illegally detained in their neighborhood. Two months earlier, Reynaldo had denounced on television, police abuse on which occurred during an operation in his neighborhood resulting in the death of seven alleged gang members.

That day, August 30th, he was on a bus near San Pedro Sula when he was abducted by armed men. He was taken by force in two vehicles, including one belonging to the preventative police. Since that day there has been no trace of him. His family members went to the police that same day, but the police refused to take their testimony. The family requested support from COFADEH and together, they filed all of the legal complaints. However, the only response is that the case “is under investigation.” However, no arrest warrant has been issued and there is no list of suspects. Reynaldo’s family holds the police responsible for the disappearance of their loved one. Due to the persecution experienced after denouncing his disappearance, including threats and security incidents, his wife Nubia Carbajal had to abandon the country in 2013.3

Re-opening cases from the 80?

On August 28, the Coordinator for the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights of the Public Ministry, Soraya Morales, announced the re-opening of investigations into the deaths that occurred during the decade of the 80s with the objective of continuing investigations of 184 cases. She announced that “a unit has been created to respond to these cases that have been in the office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights and have not advanced; there are some cases that have been processed and others that have not. A team has been created for this.”

The announcement by the Special Prosecutor was received with caution on the part of COFADEH and other human rights defenders. This announcement was made on the day of a private supervision hearing on compliance with sentences of the Inter American Court of Human Rights against the state of Honduras.4 The announcement also comes, just as Honduras must present a report to the UN Committee on forced disappearance which has been delayed. In a context of extreme impunity, human rights defenders ask if the announcement to re-open cases reflects the government’s attempt to create an image of respect for human rights before international organizations rather than a real commitment to justice and to end impunity.

As long as cases of forced disappearance from the past remain in impunity and new faces, of those forcibly disappeared today, appear on the walls and vigils of COFADEH, the organization will continue its efforts for truth, justice and an end to impunity.

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To learn more about forced disappearance in Honduras:

1 At the international level, in 2010 the UN General Assembly decided to declare August 30th, International Day of Victims of Forced Disappearance.

4See article on Conexihon : Honduras reports to the Inter American Court of Human Rights

URGENT ACTION : Concern for the situation of members of the San Francisco de Locomapa Tribe

July 15, 2015

PROAH expresses deep concern for the lives of 7 members of the Tribe of San Francisco de Locomapa who joined the hunger strike in Tegucigalpa, and for the situation of impunity and extreme violations of human rights in the community of Locomapa, Yoro.

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On June 30, seven members of the San Francisco Locomapa tribe decided to join the hunger strike in front of the Casa Presidencial in Tegucigalpa, demanding an end to impunity in the country, in the department of Yoro, and the installation of an International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras (CICIH.)

The seven Tolupanes participating in the hunger strike were issued protective measures by the Inter American Commission for Human Rights in December of 2013. These measures were issued following the triple murder, on August 25, 2013, of three members of the community who opposed illegal logging. The IACHR requested the state of Honduras to protect 18 members of the community and their family members, a total of 38 people at high risk.

Since August 2013, seven members of the community have been murdered, including five people struggling to protect land and natural resources in opposition to the illegal mining of antimony and logging of communal lands. The most recent murder of land rights defender, Erasio Vieda Ponce, occurred on June 18, 2015 in the community of Las Brisas Locomapa.

Witnesses state that the murders of five land rights defenders were committed by men belonging to a group that works for the mine and powerful business elites in the region. Arrest warrants were issued for two of the men following the triple murder on August 25, 2013.

Despite numerous complaints presented to judicial authorities and the International Commission for Human Rights, the situation of impunity and high degree of vulnerability of the community continues. The alleged perpetrators of the murders and other members of the group enter and exit the zone freely, threatening and harassing those who oppose mining and keeping the community in a state of terror. All of those working to defend land rights and natural resources live in a situation of extreme insecurity.

At least 11 community leaders have received death threats and 13 have been murdered in the last decades. Another actor who harasses the community is Finlander Uclés, a retired general who claims rights to community lands. Recently, Mr. Finlander issued death threats against two members of the community, who are also members of MADJ and beneficiaries of IACHR protective measures The police and authorities responsible for investigating the crimes, capturing the suspected murderers and protecting the population, consistently cite material difficulties as obstacles to their work. For the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), which provides legal support for the community land rights defenders, ongoing impunity is due to lack of will on the part of the state of Honduras.

NEW THREATS TO HUNGER STRIKERS

The Tolupanes on hunger strike and their families are currently in even greater danger. Since beginning the hunger strike, different people are patrolling around their homes, family members receive harrassing telephone calls, even death threats. Hunger striker Sergio Ávila denounced that on July 8, unknown armed actors yelled at his son, «Get off that horse or we are going to kill you too. » They began to struggle and finally his son threw himself from the horse and ran away. The armed men then killed his horse.

In response to this alarming situation, the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice, which provides legal support for the Tolupanes, requests the international community to register concern with the Honduran authorities, urging them to :

– Immediately adopt the necessary measures to arrest those responsible for the murders and harassment in Locomapa; process them in the appropriate, independent and impartial court and apply sanctions according to the law.

– Conduct an immediate and exhaustive investigation to clarify the reported crimes and present a detailed report.

– Implement, in a timely and effective manner, all of the protective measures necessary to end all forms of harassment and acts of violence against the Tolupanes de Locomapa.

PLEASE SEND CONCERNS TO :

Attorney General

Óscar Fernando Chinchilla

and Assistant to the Attorney General Rigoberto Cuellar

Tel : 504- 2221-3099

Tel : 504 -2221-5670

Fax :504- 2221-5667

Email : fg@ministeriopublico.gob.hn

Facebook.com/Ministerio Publico Honduras

twiter.com/MP_Honduras

www.mp.hn (seccion contactenos)

Fiscalia for Ethnic Groups and Cultural Patrimony

Yany del Cid

Tel : 504-2221-5620

Email : janydelcid@yahoo.es

National Human Rights Commissioner

Roberto Herrera Cáceres

Telefax : 504 2231-0204/0882

Email : central@conadeh.hn

President of the Supreme Court of Justice

Jorge Alberto Rivera Avilés

Email : cedij@poderjudicial.gob.hn

Secretary of Security

Attorney Sagrario Prudott (Department of Human Rights)

Tel : 504-3152-8878

President of the Federation of Xicaques Tribes of Yoro, FETRIXI

Noe Rodriquez, Tel : 00504-9924-7948

For more information regarding this urgent action, please contact : madjorganizacion@gmail.com

For more information on the human rights situation in Locomapa :

See PROAH’s blog: https://hondurasaccompanimentproject.wordpress.com/tag/locomapa/

Cultural Survival piece by Jim Phillips: http://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/tolupanes-put-their-lives-line-defending-all-hondurans

The Garífuna community of Barra Vieja on trial for defending ancestral territory

June 3, 2015

From May 12 to 14, PROAH accompanied the Garífuna community of Barra Vieja in Tela, where 66 members of the community appeared in court for a public hearing, accused of “usurpation of lands in detriment to the State”.

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The Garífuna community of Barra Vieja, located in the municipality of Tela, like many other Garífuna communities on the northern coast Honduras, faces the threat of forced eviction from their ancestral lands by private economic interests and the State of Honduras.  Ever since residents became aware of the plan to install a luxury hotel complex in their community, the struggle for recognition of their ancestral land rights and the defense of Garífuna culture intensified. The community has suffered two eviction attempts and legal complaints against them for land usurpation resulted in the entire community being summoned to court from May 12-14th, 2015.

Indura Beach & Golf Resort, a tourist project promoted by big business and the State of Honduras

The construction of the Indura Beach Resort complex began in 2006, taking several acres of community land. The hotel was inaugurated in November 2013, but further expansion of the project is planned. Today, the gated entrance to the resort is located next to the Barra Vieja community. The hotel fence, borders the access route to Barra Vieja (see photo).

The Tela Bay Toursim Development company (Desarrollo Turístico Bahía de Tela-DTBT), owner of the Project, is a prívate-public Enterprise with 49% of its financing from the Honduran Institute of Tourism (Instituto Hondureño de Turismo IHT) and 51% from the Honduran Fund for Tourism Investment (Fondo Hondureño de Inversión Turística FHIT), comprised of some of the most powerful businessmen in Honduras (1).

Photo S Bartlett

Photo S Bartlett

The legal fight for land and criminalization of land rights defenders

In 2007 the Honduran Institute of Tourism, through the National Port Authority (ENP), filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor in Tela against the residents of Barra Vieja for usurpation of State lands and declaring itself owner of this territory. According to OFRANEH (Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras), the ENP “mysteriously became the owner of a good portion of Garífuna territory in the Bay of Tela”. Since then, the community began a legal battle for recognition of its right to live on ancestral lands, confronting powerful private and State investment interests.

The criminalization began in July 2013 when several members of the community were captured and detained by the police for several hours. Since that date, almost all of the adult members of the community have been issued alternative measures to prison, accused of usurpation, which require them to sign before a judge each week and prohibits them from leaving the country.

One year later, the community of Barra Vieja suffered two evictions: on September 6 and 30th, 2014. In both instances, the armed forces removed all of the personal belongings of 150 families from their homes. The population peacefully resisted the eviction and returned the same day to their community. The community of Barra Vieja has denounced the psychological impact of these evictions on the population, in particular on the children who are strongly impacted by the heavy police and military presence which PROAH observed during an eviction attempt on the 29th of September, 2014:

Barra Vieja 12.14

Oral and public hearing:

On April 12 – 14th 2015, 66 members of the community were summoned to appear before the court in Tela, accused of usurpation in detriment to the State. Due to lack of space in the Tela courtroom, the proceedings took place in the old installations of the Tela Railroad Company, a subsidiary of the United Fruit Company, which since the 1930s has promoted the removal of Garifuna communities for banana plantations.

juicio bv

During the three days of proceedings, nearly 400 people from different Garifuna communities accompanied the people of Barra Vieja in solidarity. Of note, only 66 people from the community were summoned; the majority of the community leaders and over 40 other people from the community were not summoned although they continue to be processed and under alternative measures to prison. The prosecution was represented by the Public Ministry, the Attorney General’s Office and the National Port Authority.

After three days of proceedings, the judge accepted a request from the prosecution to postpone the hearing so that they could have time to find their witnesses who had not appeared for the hearing so that they could testify at the next hearing which was set for June 3, 2015.

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW vs TRANSNATIONAL CORPORATE INTERESTS

According to OFRANEH, “The case of Barra Vieja is a violation of ILO Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples” which is ratified by the State of Honduras. For OFRANEH, the pressure on Barra Vieja is part of a Honduran government strategy to remove Garífunas from their lands in order to exploit their territories; it represents a danger to their right to land, prior consultation and places their survival and culture at risk.

The pressure of indigenous lands in Honduras intensified in 2013 with the passage of the Law for Employment and Economic Development Zones (ZEDEs – model cities) which includes over 20 Garifuna communities impacted by several of these ZEDEs which are to be concessioned to foreign investors with the objective of creating zones which are independent of state institutions and in which the justice system is outsourced.(2)

The IACHR calls on the government of Honduras to respect the rights of the Garifuna people

In the preliminary report on its in situ visit to Honduras in December 2014, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights called on the government to: 1) “recognize the cultural identity of the Garífuna” people and 2) “intensify its actions to respect and guarantee their lands, adopt the necessary measures for completing the obligation of the state to guarantee prior, free and informed consultation regarding projects developed in their lands, territories and that impact their natural resources, taking into consideration the special relationship between these peoples, the land and natural resources.”

In light of the heavy pressure and economic interests at play in the case of Barra Vieja and depending on the decision of the court in June, the community may have to appeal to the Inter American Court of Human Rights which has developed a body of jurisprudence reaffirming the right of indigenous peoples to ancestral territories.

Update – June 10, 2015:

On June 4, 2015 the Court in Tela aquitted 66 Garifuna members from the community of Barra Vieja who were charged with land usurpation. However, a trial against eight leaders of the Barra Veija community continues. They face a new hearing on June 30th. For more information, see this article by OFRANEH (in Spanish) and the Interview of Miriam Miranda, OFRANEH coordinator: http://t.co/O9Y8wLxjof

1. In February 2015, the First Encounter of the Alliance for Prosperity for the Northern Triangle was held at this resort, with the presence of the Presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and CEAL. The official purpose of the event: secure private sector backing for the Alliance for Prosperity Plan for the Northern Triangle. A group of civil society organizations from Central America and the United States expressed grave concerns regarding the Alliance in a public letter directed to the heads of State of these countries. In particular, their concern “is based on the fact that the Plan reinforces the same economic policies that have resulted in inequality, detonated generalized violations of labor rights, an increase in violence targeting labor leaders and the forced displacement of the population throughout Meso America.”

SUMMARY OF HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES AND EVENTS IN HONDURAS, AUGUST & SEPTEMBER 2014

October 20, 2014

Please find HERE our latest Summary of Human Rights Issues and events in Honduras, for August and September, 2014.

About this report:

August and September brought two anniversaries which highlight worrying aspects of the public
security system. On August 25 last year three members of the Tolupan indigenous people from
Locomapa were murdered by hitmen in the pay of illegal mining and logging interests. Despite being subject to arrest warrants, their killers still remain at large and are continuing to intimidate the population (P.17).

September 15 marked the anniversary of the first presentation of the Public Order Military Police (PMOP) to the public and since then one of their primary functions appears to have been to intimidate critics of the government – including the raid on the home of a doctor who has been vocal in condemning conditions at the hospital where he works (P.25). The incident occurs against the background of a host of disturbing revelations about the conduct of the security forces – further allegations of high-ranking police officers being involved in death squads (P.24), as well as cases where soldiers have been charged with death squad-style killings (P.26). A study has found that 6 out of every 10 people detained are tortured by the police (P.23). There have also been reports of a case where the police have been complicit in the kidnapping and torture of two fishermen (P.21), and another where soldiers were directly responsible for the torture of two miners (P.26). The Miskito people have formally complained to the President about the increasing number of human rights abuses committed by the police and army since La Moskitia became militarized in the war on drugs (P. 16). Meanwhile, the military are taking increasing control of the prison system, contrary to recommendations by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) (P.22).

The extent of the consultation process on the Draft Law to Protect Human Rights Defenders,
Journalists, Media Workers, and Justice Operators was welcomed by human rights groups (P.2). The need for its quick and effective implementation was underlined by the number of murders of members of these groups in August and September – veteran land rights campaigner Margarita Murillo (P.3), two journalists (P.5) and two lawyers (P.8) – as well as the numerous examples of threats and intimidation.

Teachers have been identified as another vulnerable group, with one murdered every month (P.8). The murders of women were also the focus of attention, both at the hearing of the IACHR in August (below and P. 9), and with the visit of Alda Facio, member of the UN Working Group on discrimination against women (P.10). The violation of Garífuna land rights was also a prominent issue, with the hearing on Punta Piedra at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights coinciding with a series of land evictions (P.12)

First anniversary of the killings in Locomapa

September 1, 2014

*This reflection was written by Lucy Edwards (PROAH, Hope in Action, Congregational United Church of Christ, Ashland, Oregon)

One year ago, on the afternoon of Sunday, August 25, 2013, three Honduran indigenous Tolupan leaders were gunned down by armed men. The tribe of San Francisco Locomapa had initiated a roadblock in their community to prevent illegal mining and logging of their communal lands.

Two men working for the mine came down on motorcycle and opened fire on the group, catching Ricardo Soto Funes and Armando Funes Medina as they took cover in elder Maria Enriqueta Matute’s yard. Maria was in her kitchen when she was shot. The next morning (Monday, 8/26/13) I accompanied Radio Progreso staff to claim the bodies and return them to be waked and buried in Locomapa.

This year on the first anniversary of the murders, the community, working with Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ), held a commemorative march which three members of the PROAH team accompanied. (From France, USA and Switzerland).

mov locomapa

Tolupan adults and children held and lit twigs cut from their pine trees, their source of energy and light. They re-lit them along the route at selected locations. The sweet smelling smoke provided a comforting visible presence. Someone mentioned during the ceremony that they would typically do this commemorative walk at night, but it is not safe to do so.

When the march reached Maria Enriqueta Matute’s house, where all three died last year, the twig torches were all gathered into a small bonfire.

The two men who opened fire that day at Maria Enriqueta’s house are still free and operate in the community. There is an order for their capture, but the police have not been able to act on it, perhaps for a few reasons. For one, they explain that they have no vehicle.  There are concerns that they are complicit, and/or worried for their own security.

Two police officers accompanied the procession. I asked one officer about the murders, and he said that the perpetrators had left the area.  I mentioned that the community reports seeing them regularly, at which point he mentioned the police transportation issues, no vehicle.

Near the end the procession, I walked with an elder woman named Maria Petrona. Several little children, came up to her and said “tia” (Aunt) and she would put her hand on their forehead, in a blessing form. Maybe five little girls did this. She turned to me and said they were all family.

Later we found each other again, in our search for shade. We were at the place where the two men had died, next to Maria Enriqueta’s little house.  It was here that Maria Patrona explained that she is the older sister of Maria Enriqueta. Tears streamed down both our faces as she described how the bullet holes are still there, in the wall of her kitchen. She took my hand, took me there and showed me. She stood just where her sister had been, where she fell dead on the floor in the doorway of her kitchen. I could see a bullet hole just above her shoulder. Another was hidden by her body.

Locomapa.bulletholes

A soft yellow color of the kitchen walls is on most of the houses in the community. It is the color of the clay of their tribal lands, of the earth to which they are so deeply connected.

San Francisco de Locomapa: Impunity and new threats.

June 24, 2014

 

Government failure to implement IACHR precautionary measures strengthens impunity and creates greater insecurity.

On February 22, the people of Locomapa celebrated the return of six of seven community members forced to flee after the murders of Enrique Maria Matuta, Armando Medina, and Ricardo Soto Funez on August 24, 2013. The murders of the indigenous Tolupanes occurred after 21 days of peaceful protest by the community in rejection of mining activity and illegal logging on their tribal lands.

The Honduran government, represented by an official commission (including the vice minister of the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization; members of the Ministry of Security; the Attorney General’s office; the Public Ministry’s Office of Ethnic and Cultural Heritage; and the regional delegate of the National Commissioner of Human Rights) solemnly pledged before the community, members of MADJ (Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice, which supports the community), and other national and international organizations – among those, PROAH – to ensure the safety of the thirty-eight beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR and to arrest and sentence those responsible for the three murders.1

However, four months after the pledge to implement IACHR precautionary measures, the threats and vulnerability of the community continue. The police responsible for the investigation into the murders and protection of the threatened community members showed confusion between ‘protective measures’ and ‘alternative measures’ (to prison), and not until May, did police express the idea of creating a list of the beneficiaries of precautionary measures for the first time. At the same time, the police are evasive when asked questions regarding the progress of the investigation. They cite various difficulties impeding their work: lack of staff, lack of equipment, and lack of accessibility to the community. However, some of these difficulties were addressed when they received a motorcycle in order to reach the community. They seemed to have no difficulties in visiting PROAH accompaniers in May.

Although the police investigation is required as part of the implementation of precautionary measures and the commitment of the state to protect the Tolupan community, the two alleged perpetrators of the August 2013 massacre, who have warrants for their arrest, remain free in the community, intimidating those in opposition of the mining project. They regularly approach them, close enough to threaten them and so that community members are able to identify them. Therefore, anyone in the community can provide a precise physical description of the perpetrators, which could help a serious police investigation. But, the case does not advance.

More acts of intimidation:

On March 27, Selvin Funez Matute, one of the alleged murderers, approached a member of MADJ threatening to take him and three other community members from their homes and cut their tongues out if they continued to talk to Radio Progreso.

Various community members also confirmed that the Matutes fired shots into the air near the homes of the families in opposition of the mining company, threatening to kill them if they called the police. Even though various families reported these acts of intimidation, the police stated that they had not received any calls and expressed doubt regarding the veracity of the community’s claims.

During PROAH’s latest visit, the community confirmed that the Matutes continue to pass through San Francisco de Locomapa, stopping at night to visit their various girlfriends. During one of these visits, one of the alleged perpetrators stopped twice near the land of one of the community members, showing him the firearms he had, presumably to intimidate him.

The concerns expressed by human rights organizations regarding the community’s safety were unfortunately confirmed on June 9 when ex-general Finlander Uclès, armed and accompanied by bodyguards, entered into the home of one of the families. They circled the house, destroyed their crops and family belongings, and took their work equipment. The ex- general also psychologically tortured the three children of the family who were found alone in the house at that moment, telling them that they would return the following day to destroy everything because the land belonged to the general. The children left running, frightened, in order to alert the community to what had occurred. According to MADJ’s report, the ex-general claims property of the land that legally belongs to the family, and has been threatening the community since 1980. The fatherof the victimized family is a beneficiary of precautionary measures granted by IACHR, as are all community members who have received threats. Following this incident, the family has been displaced from the community.2

The impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of the triple murder and the lack of application of protective measures mandated by IACHR have once again increased tension and insecurity in the community. Four months after the government’s commitment to ensure the security of the community, the last exiled community member still has not returned to Locomapa. He expressed to PROAH his fear and sadness at not being able to return to his home. Faced with the police’s inaction, the people begin to question their relationship with the perpetrators of the murders and the business interests. MADJ condemns “the Honduran government for continually failing to respond to the complaints filed by the Tolupán people as well as its failure to address the threats targeted at them”.

For more information, in Spanish:

Impunidad reina en asesinatos de indígenas (June, 2014)

“Defensores Tolupanes reciben nuevas amenazas”, Sandra Cuffie, April 2014


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