Civil society to UN: "HRDs are victims of murder, stigmatization, assault, impunity"
Honduras is currently on the Monitor's Watch List of countries where there is an urgent, immediate and developing threat to civic space.
La semana pasada aprovechamos la visita de Michel Forst, Relator Especial de las Naciones Unidas, para firmar un pronunciamiento acordado junto con otras organizaciones. Este es un llamado de alerta sobre la situación de Honduras: https://t.co/CsObTL3ned #LosDerechosNosLlaman pic.twitter.com/rbO80OVEHH— Hivos América Latina (@HivosAmLatina) May 8, 2018
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, conducted an official visit to Honduras from 29th April to 12th May 2018. He stated that the objective of his visit was "to answer the question whether human rights defenders feel safe and empowered in Honduras". During one of the meetings with Forst, civil society organisations read a letter in which they stated:
"[H]uman rights defenders are victims of murder, stigmatization, assault, impunity, and other violations. By 2017, this was historically the most dangerous country per capita for defenders of land and the environment, with a total of 127 murders in the last decade, according to the report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights".
In the preliminary observations from the meetings "with 400 human rights defenders from all over the country, 40% of whom were women", Forst stated that:
"despite strong efforts to establish an effective mechanism of protection, the vast majority of human rights defenders in Honduras are not able to operate in a safe and enabling environment".
In particular, the Special Rapporteur was "appalled by the number of conflicts related to the protection of natural resources and land rights" and despite the media portraying them as "terrorists, criminals or anti-development", what he saw was "humble farmers, indigenous and peaceful communities who are genuinely worried about the future of their children because the forests that surround their communities are disappearing or the water they drink is poisoned. In many situations, these persons became human rights defenders out of necessity because they did not have choice other than to speak up to defend their very livelihood".
In a separate incident, a network of women defenders - IM-Defensoras - reported on 24th April that Angela Murillo, an indigenous women's representative from Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) in the region of Yoro had been harassed by members of her own community for opposing timber extraction on indigenous lands. It is stated in the report that Murillo and two other indigenous activists, Ramon Matute and Jose Maria Pineda, were “expelled from their community”, allegedly for their environmental and land rights activities.
On 3rd May, activists within Campamento Digno por el Agua y la Vida (Dignity Camp for Water and Life ) situated in front of a hydroelectric project (Hidroeléctrica Centrales El Progreso) were evicted by the police and military. The activists were protesting the development of a hydroelectric project that will affect their water resources and some of them will even have to abandon their lands. Using tear gas, the police managed to move the activists from the entrance to the company’s premises. Police arrested Norberto Lopez, an activist who was filming how the protest was being disrupted and prevented from taking place.
It was also reported that human rights defender Wilfredo Mendez and journalists Lennys Fajardo and Gilda Silvestrucci have been defamed on social media. Mendez is the director of Centro de Investigación y Promoción de Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH), one of the country’s leading human rights organisations. In a video message, Mendez is accused of misappropriating the organisation's funds.
Fajardo is a journalist with Grupo COQUIMBO, which has been reporting on human rights violations in the country during the post-electoral crisis. A Facebook account has spread information accusing her of "wanting to destroy COQUIMBO and become an activist in the currently ruling National Party".
Finally, Gilda Silvestrucci, a journalist working for a foreign media outlet, has been receiving threats and insults on her social media accounts. Reports stated that the messages "made explicit references to her being a woman, her private life and children". Silvestrucci filed a report with the Public Ministry but at the time of writing, the threats had not stopped.
In another incident, rights defender Pedro Canales, head of an organisation working for the protection of the environment in the region of Zacate Grande, has reported constant harassment that includes damages to his car which have prevented him from being able to travel and visit communities supported by his environmental rights work.
The Honduran government announced on 23rd May that they do not support the opposition's proposal to create an independent commission to investigate the 23 deaths of citizens due to the repression during the post-electoral crisis. The authorities assert that they will not support an independent commission that will duplicate responsibilities of other State institutions. The country is in a pre-dialogue phase between the opposition coalition and the government, but little progress has been made.
🆘#AlertaDefensoras HONDURAS / Desalojo violento del Campamento Digno por el Agua y por la Vida en Pajuiles: https://t.co/SZxhDaSdVQ … @redefensorashn @MovAmplioHn @MarusiaLC @ErikaGuevaraR @MarciaAguiluz @nicaraguaymas @Bessy_Rios @LydiaAlpizar @04Yetri @pikaramagazine pic.twitter.com/krLTxxskMg— IM-Defensoras (@IM_Defensoras) May 4, 2018
Two protests rejecting the re-election of Juan Orlando Hernandez were repressed on 18th and 19th April, one in Choluteca and one in the country’s capital, Tegucigalpa. According to local sources, one video from these protests was leaked and it was possible to hear gunshots and someone saying that police officers arrested a group of people. However, it was not possible to confirm the information on this video.
The protest that took place on 1st May commemorating Labour Day in Tegucigalpa was also repressed by police. Workers and their families were repressed while trying to reach the National Assembly. Security forces used tear gas to disperse protesters who were burning tyres.
On 4th May, Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras- COFADEH) reported that police units arrived at a symbolic and commemorative event which has been organised by the Commission over the last 36 years. According to reports, police took photos of the people present and when Committee representatives asked them to delete the photos, they refused. The group is concerned that the photos will be used to target activists through harassment, intimidation or defamation campaigns.
Another case of police repression was reported on 18th May when a group of citizens protested the rising prices of electricity. Reports stated that the protest did not last more than 20 minutes before the police started using tear gas and water cannons against the demonstrators. Five people were arrested.
On 23rd April, journalist Mauricio Ortega reported receiving death threats through Facebook from a fake profile. He was told to stop his work or he would end up with “his mouth full of fleas”. On the day he received the threats, the journalist reported that a black car without plates followed him while driving home. Ortega says he thinks the threats are related to his work reporting on potential theft within the transportation companies Costeños y Sitrales.
On 20th May, journalist Cesia Mejia announced that she had been dismissed from her job in Televicentro, a national media outlet. Mejia believes that her dismissal was related to her critical stance and statements she has published on social media regarding the situation in Honduras.
Ronny Martinez, a journalist who was granted precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2010, reported that some documents were stolen from his car. He claims that a few months ago his phone was also stolen but the rest of the valuable items were left in the car, showing that there was potentially interest in information he carries more than just a common theft.
“No te metas donde no te incumbe x andar ese micrófono diciendo lo que no podes quedar con el osico llena de moscas malparido”. En #Honduras el periodista Mauricio Ortega recibió esta amenaza de muerte a través de #Facebook https://t.co/OiAXTft5MM @clibre @RELE_CIDH pic.twitter.com/8wXuAkLPp8— IFEX (@IFEX) April 30, 2018