IACHR report finds environment for human rights defenders ‘continues to be one of extreme risk’

Peaceful Assembly

Students in several cities have gathered since mid-July protesting an increase in the transportation tariffs. The Ministry of Education reportedly threatened to expel the students who participate in the protests. In addition, in the city of San Pedro Sula it was also reported that alleged officers of the Technical Agency of Criminal Investigation were asking for the whereabouts of five student leaders who have been leading these protests in the city. 

On 31st August 2018, Mario Suárez and Gerson Meza, students from  the Technical Institute Honduras were kidnapped and killed allegedly by security agents. A video shared on social media, shows that the students were taken from their home on 30th August by masked men wearing a uniform of the Technical Agency  of Criminal Investigation (ATIC) and were found dead the day after. The students were captured hours after a protest organised by Convergencia contra el Continuismo. A representative of the  government agency said that the uniforms seen in the video are fake. 

The Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (Center for Research and Promotion of Human Rights, CIPRODEH) issued a statement condemning the:

[A]ttitude of hiding behind masks and the anonymity that guarantees absolute impunity. We demand that the officials responsible for these bloody acts and multiple human rights violations be brought before the courts, and that the judges act to safeguard the Honduran population and not the opposite." (Translated from Spanish) 

In a separate incident, on 3rd September 2018, a group of citizens blocked one road between the towns of Ceibista and Quimistan, rejecting the increase in transportation prices. The blockade was removed by police officers who dispersed the crowd using tear gas.

As reported previously on the Monitor, Honduras fell into a serious crisis after the November 2017 presidential elections. Massive protests took place and demonstrators were met with excessive force by the police. The IACHR preliminary report stated that the protests "were repressed through an indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force", including by members of the armed forces. The Commission also said:

"Given the irreversible nature of the consequences that the use of force can lead to, the IACHR considers that it should only be used a last resort to prevent a more serious incident than the one caused by the state’s reaction itself. In this sense, the use of force should be exceptional and should comply with the principles of legality, absolute necessity, and proportionality."

Association

As reported previously, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights began an official visit to Honduras on 30th July in order to analyse human rights violations that occurred during the post-electoral crisis. In the preliminary report, the Commission confirmed that the environment for human rights defenders "continues to be one of extreme risk due to the constant violence, criminalization, and slander they are exposed to." The Commission noted with concern the use of criminal offenses like usurpation and slander to criminalise the work of human rights defenders and recommended that the state "prevent authorities or others from manipulating the punitive power of the state and its judicial bodies to harass human rights defenders".

Expression

On 21st August, right after her radio news program, journalist Sandra Maribel Sánchez received death threats via telephone call. During the radio program Sánchez discussed the current problems of the Honduran public health system.

During an eviction process in the region of Bajo Aguán on 29th August, the journalist Vitalino Álvarez was attacked by military officers who prevented him from reporting  the operation. He was physically assaulted and his equipment destroyed. Álvarez was documenting abuses by military agents against farmers when he was attacked by the officers.