Human rights defenders in Honduras are experiencing an increase in repression, including intensified stigmatization of human rights defenders, both foreigners and nationals, as well as continuing killings and attacks. Some incidents of note in recent weeks:
Powerful Business Lobby Calls Rights Defenders “Organized Groups of Violence”
The Honduran Council for Private Enterprise (COHEP), in a September 19 press conference, presented human rights organizations as the main obstacle to investment in Honduras. COHEP president Juan Carlos Sikaffy claimed that human rights organizations have paralyzed energy and mine projects, leading to over two billion dollars in losses. He went on to state, “President Juan Orlando Hernández is aware of the problem; we have let him know, and he has been forming teams in his government to demobilize all these groups. The problem is that they are politically financed by foreign movements that are coming to cause harm to the country.” Elsia Paz, director of the Honduran Association of Renewable Energy, said the groups had been proven to be “organized groups of violence.” These statements were made just weeks after the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights released findings that “large-scale development projects are major drivers fueling the escalation of attacks and the criminalization of indigenous peoples.”
Hernández Asks UN to Deem Gangs and “Criminal Bands” as Violators of Rights
President Juan Orlando Hernández on September 27 asked United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to issue a resolution declaring armed groups, gangs, and criminal bands to be human rights violators. He made the request during a bilateral meeting at the UN headquarters in New York, where he was participating in the 73rd General Assembly. “If the world recognizes that these groups also violate the human rights of Hondurans, they will be put into another category and the international community will come together to offer more support to the countries that suffer from this, and above all, my intention is to prevent them from grabbing power as they have wanted to do in Honduras,” he said. He added that the desire of criminal groups to supplant the power of the state, “in alliance with some political groups,” was “evident in the very dialogue tables the United Nations has been leading.” (For more on the National Dialogue and a complete roundup of other Honduras-related news, see human rights activist Daniel Langmeier’s “Another Month in Honduras.”) Hernández repeated the call in a speech in Washington at the US Department of State.
Attorney Hired by DESA Terms COPINH a “Criminal Organization” and a Political Party
Canadian attorney Robert Amsterdam, contracted by Energy Developments (DESA), which is accused of involvement in the murder of Berta Cáceres, said in an October 11 interview with Honduran paper El Confidential that the organization Cáceres led, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH), is a political party intent on a change of government. He said nongovernmental organizations without knowing it were supporting a criminal organization. He cited Oxfam and Amnesty International by name. PBI accompanies COPINH, an organization that has been recognized internationally for its work in defense of environmental and cultural rights. For updates on the Berta Cáceres case, click here.
US Defender Annie Bird and British Journalist Nina Lakhani Smeared as Manipulators
In a September 27 communiqué signed by the Association of Independent Campesinos of the Aguan Valley, US human rights defender Annie Bird and British journalist Nina Lakhani were accused of manipulating public opinion and misinforming on what is happening in the Aguan Valley. The communiqué calls on the Honduran government “to carry out a detailed investigation into the presence of these two foreigners and of any relation with criminals and narcotraffickers in the zone or ideological groups or cartels abroad.” The communiqué also calls on the US embassy to investigate Annie Bird, “who is accused of links with the Islamic network Al-Jazeera.” The Association of Independent Campesinos of the Aguan Valley is not a group known to exist or to have emitted any communiques before its first one, on September 17, which focused solely on Nina Lakhani, who was in Honduras to observe the Berta Cáceres trial. She frequently writes for the Guardian and had just published an article on the case. Annie Bird is Executive Director of the Washington, DC-based Guatemala Human Rights Commission, which has undertaken some exploratory human rights work recently in Honduras.
Two MADJ Members Abducted
Ians Rivera, who had been working as a volunteer with the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ) in the city of Tela, was abducted on October 9 by five unidentified armed men on the outskirts of San Pedro Sula. He was reportedly threatened in relation to his work with MADJ and in respect to his work in other social and political spaces critical of the current government of Honduras.
Fredy Ariel Díaz Molina, a seventeen-year-old MADJ member and resident of the community of Pajuiles, was detained by police on the morning of October 11. According to witnesses, police beat him to force him into their vehicle. MADJ members contacted police authorities at three different stations in an effort to locate him. The departmental subcommissioner assured MADJ that he hadn’t been detained. More than four hours later, after filing a writ of habeas corpus, contacting the Protective Mechanism, contacting embassies and the UN High Commission on Human Rights Office, they learned that he had been arrested and was being held by the Directorate of Police Investigation (DPI) in Tela. He was arrested for supposed lack of respect for authority. Díaz Molina is a beneficiary of protective measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, issued to all the communities consuming waters from the Mezapa River. He has been active in the Dignified Encampment for Water and Life, opposing the construction of a dam by the company Hidrocep. In May he had been threatened by a Hidrocep employee and in September he had been detained by DPI agents near the Central Park in Tela, where an encampment was planned to demand compliance with an injunction mandating the company halt construction. MADJ members have suffered twenty-five attacks since the end of last November, and leaders Víctor Fernández and Martín Fernández have been the object of a recent defamation campaign.
Take action by asking your member of Congress to sign on to a letter calling on President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo to address the escalation of threats in Honduras. View the alert and sample language to share with your Congressperson by clicking here.
Two Young MILPAH Members Stabbed
Two members of the Lenca Indigenous Movement for Peace in Honduras (MILPAH) in the department of La Paz were stabbed on October 9 as they headed to a workshop on community radio stations. Raul Hernández Hernández and Santos Manuel Hernández were hospitalized with serious injuries. The attack occurred in Santa Cruz Marcala at 6:00 AM, as the two human rights defenders were waiting for the bus to take them to La Paz.
Hedme Castro Threatened after Advocating for Rights of Boy Injured by Police in Choluteca
According to the Observatory for the Protection and Defense of Human Rights, Hedme Castro, leader of the human rights organization ACI PARTICIPA, received threats from an anonymous caller on October 3. The threats followed her involvement in the case of a minor who was seriously injured at the hands of the police as he stepped off a bus in the southern municipality of Choluteca, where a protest was being met with excessive force. The attack was witnessed by several human rights defenders, including members of ACI PARTICIPA in Choluteca. Hedme Castro accompanied the boy and his family to the hospital, where DPI agents of the National Police appeared in the emergency room to press for testimony from the boy and try to obtain his signature on a statement. DPI officers tried to remove Hedme Castro from the hospital when she objected, but the boy’s mother opposed her removal. A few hours later, Castro received the threatening calls.
The following day National Police made accusations against ACI PARTICIPA on their official Facebook and Twitter pages, accusing the organization of spreading false news. The publication included the photo of an alert the organization had issued denouncing the excessive use of force and the injury of the minor. Further persecution followed. Castro was threatened and intimidated by social media users who in their profile pictures were carrying weapons and were presumably members of the police. Previously, on September 7, heavily armed, hooded men had entered the apartment where the office coordinator of ACI PARTICIPA in Choluteca lives. While they intimidated two human rights defenders, the assailants searched the apartment and stole a computer and documents belonging to the organization. They left other objects of value behind. ACI PARTICIPA had opened its Choluteca office on August 1 to document rights violations in the area.
Eighteen Arrest Warrants Issued for Protesters in Guapinol, Tocoa, Colón
In the first week of October, arrest warrants were issued for eighteen defenders and social leaders in the community of Guapinol, which has maintained an encampment for the defense of water rights for more than sixty-eight days. The community fears that an eviction order may follow.