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Honduran defenders at high risk: two defenders killed and five Garifuna leaders missing

Honduran defenders at high risk: two defenders killed and five Garifuna leaders missing
Family members demand freedom for criminalised environmental defenders of Guapinol. Photo courtesy of CMDBCP.

Association

On 10th July 2020, 22-year-old LGBTI+ rights defender Scarleth Cáceres was shot and killed in Tegucigalpa. Cáceres was a member of civil society organisation Asociación LGBT Arcoíris de Honduras, which defends sexual diversity rights. As reported by Agencia Presentes, Scarleth was with a group of friends in Tegucigalpa when an unidentified attacker shot at them multiple times from inside a vehicle. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the defender’s killing and called for an investigation into whether the crime was related to her gender identity or expression as a trans woman. Members of Asociación Arcoíris have faced violent attacks and harassment for several years, and the organisation has requested support from the national protection mechanism for defenders.

On 13th July 2020, environmental defender Marvin Damián Castro Molina was found dead in the municipality of Perspire, Choluteca. He was a leader of local youth organisations Red Juvenil de la Asociación de Desarrollo Pespirense-Honduras (ADEPESHN) and Juventud del Movimiento Ambientalista Social del Sur por la Vida (MASS-Vida). According to his colleagues, Marvin had recently told the national protection mechanism that he feared for his life in a meeting to review the protection measures he had been granted in January 2019.

On 24th July 2020, unidentified individuals harassed, insulted and threatened María Felícita López, the coordinator of Indigenous organisation Movimiento Intedependiente Indígena Lenca de La Paz Honduras (MILPAH). Through WhatsApp messages and phone calls, attackers threatened to kill the defender. Days earlier, López was reportedly warned that hooded men with machetes were waiting on her habitual route home. This is not the first time that María Felicita’s life has been at risk in the context of her work in defence of human rights.In 2015, the defender was granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) but IM-Defensoras denounced that nothing was done by the Honduran state to ensure her protection.

Five Garífuna leaders missing

On 18th July 2020, five Garífuna men were abducted from their homes in Triunfo de la Cruz, Atlantida department. Four of the people taken are activists and members of Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH). Witnesses said heavily armed men dressed in police uniforms arrived in the community in three unmarked cars and took the defenders at gunpoint. Milton Martinez, Suami Aparicio, Gerardo Trochez, Junior Rafael Juárez Mejía and Alberth Sneider Centeno have been missing since then. While an alleged suspect has been detained in connection with the case, the whereabouts of the defenders remain unknown.

On 10th August 2020, Garífuna protesters blocked a highway to demand urgent action from the Honduran government in finding the group. “They took them alive, we want them back alive,” they have said. Garífuna communities in Honduras have long denounced the systematic extermination of their leadership. As reported on the Monitor, a month before this disappearance, an elderly Garífuna leader was kidnapped and found dead days later.

Negative court ruling on Guapinol case

On 15th August 2020, an appeals court denied a petition to dismiss the case against eight environmental defenders of the Comité Municipal de Defensa de los Bienes Comunes y Públicos (CMDBCP), known as the Guapinol water defenders. In addition to issuing a formal order of indictment in the case of the defenders, who have been in pre-trial detention since September 2019, the appeals court also ruled that five more community members must now face legal proceedings. Charges against these five defenders had previously been dismissed.

The CMDBCP is an organisation in Tocoa, Colón, comprised of several grassroots groups and organisations defending land and environmental rights in the region. Members of the Comité Municipal have been criminalised for their work resisting the implementation of a mining project that would endanger fresh water sources in a protected area in the region. In a statement after this latest ruling, the defenders’ attorney, Edy Tábora said:

“The court's decision reaffirms the clear alliance between the public prosecutor, the Judiciary and the private sector to punish anyone who dares to defend the public and common goods of Honduras. This case is not just about Guapinol. This case is emblematic for all those who are fighting to guarantee their rights against extractive projects in their territories.”

Expression

On 1st August 2020, journalist Marvin Ortiz said he believes his vehicle was tampered with, causing a car accident. As reported by the journalist to free press organisation Comité por la Libre Expresión (C-Libre), one of his front tyres came completely loose while he was driving to work. Speaking to news outlets, Ortiz said he took his vehicle to a mechanic afterwards and was told that only human interference could have caused the failure. The journalist had previously reported being subjected to threats and harassment.

On 28th July 2020, Corporación Televicentro journalist Henry Fiallos and his camera operator were prevented from recording an attempted prison break at the La Esperanza penitentiary in the Intibucá department. A video from the broadcaster’s TV5 Matutino programme shows a hooded officer forcing the journalists to retreat from the area.

Journalist dies after contracting COVID-19 in jail

Honduran journalist David Romero died of respiratory failure after contracting COVID-19 while imprisoned at the Támara National Penitentiary. Romero was the director of media outlets Radio Globo and Globo TV. As reported on the CIVICUS Monitor at the time, the journalist was arrested in March 2019 on defamation charges related to his work denouncing alleged governmental corruption. He had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Natalie Southwick, Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Central and South America Programme, said:

“We are shocked and saddened by the news of the death yesterday of Honduran journalist David Romero, who should have never been imprisoned for his reporting. As CPJ has warned for months, authorities who continue to imprison journalists in unsafe conditions in the midst of a global pandemic are effectively allowing these convictions to become a death sentence.”