Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Honduras
|Publisher||International Federation for Human Rights|
|Publication Date||18 June 2009|
|Cite as||International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Honduras, 18 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a5f3016c.html [accessed 22 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
After three years in power, the Government led by Mr. Manuel Zelaya Rosales has not been able to carry out the reforms it promised as regards health care, education, energy and security, contrary to what it announced at the beginning of its term.1 The existing deficits in these areas led to significant discontent and social protests, as well as complaints linked to problems such as the protection of the environment, the negative social, health and economic impact of mining and forestry activities, the consequences of crime, rising unemployment, corruption and the energy crisis. This situation led to occasional verbal "skirmishes" between the political institutions in charge, giving rise to prejudice and leading above all to the restructuring of the ruling party as well as the opposition, before the November 2009 general election.
Impunity remained a challenging issue, both in relation to crimes of the past and recent cases, including corruption. This situation endured as law enforcement bodies are still undermined by crime and corruption among their own personnel, and are therefore not very efficient, or not efficient at all, in dealing with the exponential increase in, among others, organised crime (including the so-called "maras"), drug trafficking, human trafficking and common crime. Moreover, Honduras was a dangerous place for certain politicians. Mr. Mario Fernando Hernández, one of the three Congress Vice-Presidents and candidate to be re-elected to Congress, and Mr. Marcos Collier, a candidate for a congressional seat travelling with him, were shot dead in the street on November 22, 2008, one week before primary elections to choose candidates for the functions of President, Vice-President, mayors and deputies. At the end of 2008, the perpetrators of these assassinations had not been arrested. These events illustrate the level of political violence as well as the impunity in the country.
In 2008, the indigenous Garífuna populations continued to suffer from discrimination and a lack of attention from the Government. A series of violations against them were reported in connection with the exercise of their community rights, and at least two members of the community were killed by the members of the Honduran navy. In addition, repression was intensified by the European and South American reality TV shows shot in Cayo Paloma.2 In relation to environmental issues in general, the Government of Honduras spurred foreign investment and activities by large multinationals, which led to the overexploitation of natural resources, and the authors failed to be held accountable.
At the level of the legal framework, there was an initiative for a Legislative Decree for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, but it was not brought to the plenary session of the Legislative Assembly for approval. With the same aim of providing protection to defenders, a Special Convention for Institutional Cooperation (Convenio Especial de Cooperación Institucional) was drawn up in February 2006, incorporating the following institutions: the Supreme Court of Justice, the Secretary of Interior and Justice (Secretaría de Gobernación y Justicia), the General Prosecutor's Office of the Republic, the Secretary of Security, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Public Ministry. Nonetheless, at the end of 2008, the bill appeared to have been abandoned.
Repression of defenders fighting against impunity and corruption
In 2008, individuals and organisations that tried to achieve a greater level of transparency and justice within State institutions were subject to threats, harassment and even assassination attempts, and some defenders even went into exile because their lives were in danger. On April 3, 2008 for instance, Mr. Luis Gustavo Galeano Romero, Coordinator of the Social Audit Programme in the departmental delegation to the National Commissioner for Human Rights (Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos – CONADEH) in Colón, was assassinated. He was in charge of auditing and inspecting municipal corporations in order to ensure transparent management of their funds. At the end of 2008, the investigation into his assassination had not progressed. In July 2008, the offices of the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared and Detainees in Honduras (Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras – COFADEH) were searched and destroyed, and its General Coordinator, Ms. Bertha Oliva de Nativí, was followed and her telephone was tapped for two months. These events could be related to the previous conviction of four police officers who killed two environmentalists and members of the Environmental Movement of Olancho (Movimiento Ambientalista de Olancho), Mr. Heraldo Zúñiga and Mr. Roger Iván Cartagena, in 2006,3 and happened a couple of months prior to the discovery of a long list of names of social leaders and human rights organisations in the hands of two police officers in September. At the end of 2008, a discrediting campaign was also launched against Ms. Oliva de Nativí,4 violating the statement the Inter-American Court of Human Rights' (Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos – Co IDH) issued in 2007 urging the Government to avoid discrediting human rights defenders.
Furthermore, Mr. Misael Cárcamo, a social activist who has been working for several years with appointing transparency commissions5 in Santa Rosa de Copán, in western Honduras, received a number of telephone threats in 2008,6 and death threats were also written on his front door.7 In April and May, several prosecutors working for the Public Ministry went on a 38-day hunger strike, demanding that the Public Ministry start an investigation into acts of corruption among politicians and entrepreneurs. A couple of weeks later, on September 1, 2008, Mr. Luis Javier Santos, another defender fighting corruption and a prosecutor at the time, who also took part in the hunger strike, was very nearly killed in an assassination attempt.8 At the time the attempt on his life was made, Mr. Santos' police guard was not with him, and he subsequently had to go into exile. Persons working closely with the Government were also threatened, persecuted and subjected to arbitrary transfers. This was the case of some members of the Prosecutors' Association (Asociación de Fiscales), which fights against corruption within public institutions, therefore implicating persons holding important political and economic positions in the country.9
Violent repression of defenders of economic, social and cultural rights
Defenders who protest exploitation of natural resources that affects the rights of indigenous peoples and the right to land
Defenders of the environmental rights continued to be victims of assassinations, judicial harassment, arbitrary detentions and other acts of harassment in 2008, especially for denouncing abusive exploitation of natural resources by companies whose activities threaten both the environment and the way of living of the population that lives or works nearby.
Several environmentalist groups and individuals were victims of judicial harassment and accused of hindering development projects. Through the Prosecutor's Office, the Public Ministry took legal action against individuals who exercised social rights, but not against persons who violated these rights. In May 2008, the Public Ministry opened a criminal case against 16 defenders of the right to environment who opposed logging and contamination of the few community water sources in the Orica municipality in the Francisco Morazán department. The Judge ordered a provisional stay of proceedings in the case put forward by the Public Ministry.10 At the end of 2008, this decision remained in force. In addition, on February 26, 2008, in the Agua Blanca community, in the Talanga municipality, Francisco Morazán department, eight environmentalists11 were arbitrarily and brutally detained by the special operations police squad (Comando de Operaciones Especiales) and subsequently subjected to judicial proceedings.12 At the end of 2008, they were at liberty, but the charges against them remained pending.13 Likewise, on July 20, 2008, Messrs. Raymundo Rodríguez, Abel Hernández, Jairo Domingo and Franklin Martínez, members of the Orica and Agalteca Environmental Committee (Comité Ambientalista de Orico y Agalteca),14 in the Francisco Morazán department, were arrested without warrant and taken to the San Francisco police station, in Orica. They were released on August 17, 2008 and the Public Ministry did not press charges or present evidence against them. They subsequently filed a complaint against the police officers who had detained them for "unlawful detention", "abuse of authority" and "failure to carry out official duties". At the end of 2008, the complaint was being investigated by the Public Ministry's Human Rights Prosecutor's Office. Mr. Raymundo Rodríguez had to be hospitalised for several days in Tegucigalpa due to fractured ribs and other injuries he suffered in police custody. The COFADEH later lodged a complaint with the Internal Affairs Unit of the Ministry of Security, the Special Human Rights Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Security. At the end of 2008, there had been no progress in these investigations.15
Defenders of the rights of indigenous peoples and the right to land were also victims of physical assaults and even assassinations in 2008. In May 2008, Ms. Karla Patricia Jiménez, member of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Honduras (Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Honduras – CODEH), was subject to harassment. Ms. Jiménez lives in the Mangos community in the Villade San Antonio municipality, Comayagua department, and is known for defending community rights affected by the construction of the Canal Seco.16 In addition, on July 10 and November 14, 2008, attacks were made on Ms. Jiménez' home.17 After the last attack, precautionary measures were adopted and she was moved to another community.18 After receiving four threatening phone calls, on May 2, 2008, a man approached her to photograph her and another CODEH member, Mr. Ricardo Vanegas. On May 12, 2008, another man approached her and asked where she lived. From this date on, vehicles began to stay at night in front of her house. Furthermore, in a context of strong tensions between exploitation companies and peasants who were defending their lands, several local peasant leaders were assassinated19 after the Decree 18-2008 came into force on April 29, 2008, allowing the land conflict in connection with the former Regional Military Training Centre (Centro Regional de Entranamiento Militar – CREM) to be resolved.20 The statements made by some leaders of the peasant movement provoked reactions from landowners and breeders, who not only made an appeal for legal protection (recurso de amparo) before the Supreme Court of Justice, but also carried out evictions against and threatened principal peasant leaders. On May 23, 2008 for instance, Mr. Israel García, the leader of a group affiliated with the National Association of Honduran Peasants (Asociación Nacional de Campesinos de Honduras – ANACH), was assassinated by the bodyguards of the entrepreneur of a company who had been claiming the land where these peasants live since 1982.21 In the same context, on June 11, 2008, Mr. Irene Ramírez, a member of the rural workers cooperative "July 14" of the Aguán Peasant Movement (Movimiento Campesino del Aguán) of the National Centre for Rural Workers (Centro Nacional de Trabajadores del Campo – CNTC), was assassinated in Trujillo, in Colón. At the end of 2008, this crime remained unpunished, and the Prosecutor's Office had not yet requested an indictment. Likewise, on June 22, 2008, Mr. Lino Herrera Quiroz, a peasant leader and President of the ANACH, was assassinated together with his wife by men who shot at them from a car.22 The defence of the right to land was reportedly also the reason why three community leaders were assassinated: Messrs. Fredis Osorto (on October 2), Elías Murcia (on October 9) and Ubence Aguilar (on October 14), in Cofradía, Cortés department. They were organising activities in favour of the recognition of the right to land and filing complaints concerning the delays in the work of the Land Administration Programme's (Programa de Administración de Tierras – PATH) in the region.23
Repression of trade union leaders
Trade unionists were also targets of criminal acts in 2008 for defending labour and workers' rights. On April 23, 2008, Ms. Rosa Altagracia Fuentes, Secretary General of the Honduras Workers' Confederation (Confederación de Trabajadores de Honduras – CTH) and substitute member of the recently founded Trade Union Confederation of the Americas' (TUCA) Executive Committee, and Ms. Virginia García de Sánchez, member of the CTH Executive Committee and leader of the INFOP National Institute for Professional Formation Workers' Union (Sindicato de Trabajadores del Instituto Nacional de Formación Profesional INFOP – SITRAINFOP), were assassinated in their car. Ms. Altagracia Fuentes had already been watched for a while. At the end of 2008, Mr. José Rafael Reyes was arrested in the capital of El Salvador. He was wanted in Honduras as a suspect of the double assassination, but still had to be extradited. Moreover, on September 11, 2008, Ms. Lorna Jackson García and Ms. Juana Leticia Maldonado Gutiérrez, leaders of the Motor Vehicle SITRAFL Workers' Union (Sindicato de Trabajadores de Vehículos a Motor SITRAFL), were shot at in an assassination attempt, but escaped unharmed. Furthermore, the six members sitting at the executive committee of the last-mentioned trade union also received constant telephone threats as well as death threats from unknown armed men in the street. The threats began before the assassination attempt and continued afterwards. As a consequence, the victims considered it necessary to leave their homes and move every two weeks during four consecutive months. They lodged a complaint with the Progreso Yoro General Investigation Office, but at the end of 2008 little progress had been made in the investigation.24
Urgent Interventions issued by The Observatory in 200825
|Names of human rights defenders / NGOs||Violations||Intervention Reference||Date of Issuance|
|Mr. Luis Gustavo Galeano Romero, Ramón Custodio, Mr. Juan Antonio Frañó López, Ms. Elena Judith Marriaga Aranda, Ms. Luz del Carmen Fúnez Osorio, Mr. Rossel Marel Padilla Mejía||Assassination / Fear for safety and personal integrity||Urgent Appeal HND 001/0408/OBS 054||April 11, 2008|
|Ms. Rosa Altagracia Fuentes and Ms. Virginia García de Sánchez||Assassination / Fear for safety and personal integrity||Urgent Appeal HND 002/0408/OBS 070||April 29, 2008|
|Mr. Iban Guardado||Assassination||Urgent Appeal HND 003/0508/OBS 076||May 14, 2008|
|Ms. Bertha Oliva de Nativí||Looting / Harassment||Urgent Appeal HND 004/0708/OBS 117||July 11, 2008|
|Mr. Irene Ramírez||Assassination||Open Letter to the authorities||August 4, 2008|
|Mr. Luis Javier Santos||Assault / Assassination attempt||Urgent Appeal HND 005/0908/OBS 146||September 5, 2008|
1 His term will end on January 10, 2010, and the general election is scheduled for November 2009.
2 See Committee of Relatives of Disappeared and Detainees in Honduras (Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras – COFADEH). These programmes have indeed an enormous impact on the vital environment of indigenous peoples, and the lack of respect for their environment increases their anti-Western feelings.
3 The four police officers were found guilty and sentenced to forty years in prison for "assassination" on September 18, 2008. In October 2008, three of the officers escaped from a military base in the Olancho department. On November 26, 2008, the officers' lawyers appealed before the Supreme Court of Justice, which at the end of 2008 had not notified the parties of whether it would consider the appeal.
4 On December 10, 2008, International Human Rights Day, President Manuel Zelaya Rosales sent to COFADEH an Executive Decree establishing a National Reparation Programme for Victims of Human Rights Violations in the 1980s (Programa Nacional de Reparaciones para víctimas de violaciones a los derechos humanos de los años ochenta). The decree also ordered the peaceful resolution of two cases under consideration by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR). On the next day, on December 11, 2008, a campaign to discredit Ms. Bertha Oliva de Nativí began, as well as a campaign promoting hate and violence against her. During several weeks, several newspapers printed material misinforming the population about the content of the decree, claiming that it was excluding and would only benefit Ms. Oliva de Nativí and the lawyer Milton Jiménez Puerto. This material was widely reproduced after December 11, 2008. Apart from serving to discredit Ms. Oliva de Nativí as COFADEH General Coordinator, they also contributed to compromising her safety considerably.
5 The transparency commissions are part of the Honduran Municipal Transparency Project, of which Mr. Misael Cárcamo is a member.
6 In particular on September 2 and 4, 2008.
7 See COFADEH.
8 IACHR has granted him precautionary measures since August 2007 after he received several threats to his safety and personal integrity due to his investigations into and documentation of various cases of corruption.
9 See COFADEH.
11 Messrs. Ángel Adrián Turcios, Santos Margarito Gálvez Almendarez, Omar Orlando Gálvez Almendarez, Luis Amílcar Hernández Munguia, Juan Pablo Turcios, Pedro Roberto Turcios, Ms. Nohemí Salgado Gutiérrez and Ms. Rosa Maribel Vázquez.
12 The environmentalists opposed logging activity that affected their community by blocking a road. Shortly after, the owner of the lumber company arrived, accompanied by the police, who ordered the demonstrators to leave. After they refused, criminal proceedings were initiated against them for causing loss of income and disobeying the authorities.
13 See COFADEH.
14 The Environmental Committee defends the environment and natural resources.
15 See COFADEH.
16 The Canal Seco is defined as CA-5 in the framework of the projects derived from the Puebla Panamá Plan and will link the Pacific in El Salvador (Puerto La Unión) with the Atlantic in Honduras (Puerto Cortes). In the community of Puerto Cortes, the construction company PRODECON destroyed a community cemetery, which the population opposed.
17 During the violent eviction of the populations in connection with the destruction of the cemetery, Ms. Jiménez was hit twice, and consequently had to be admitted to an emergency ward. In addition, she lost the child she was expecting. A complaint was lodged with the Public Ministry, and at the end of 2008 the investigation was still open.
18 See CODEH Press Release, August 14, 2008.
19 See COFADEH.
20 This new land legislation makes it easier to transfer former army property to peasant families that fight for it.
21 See COFADEH. The peasant association and the victims' families held the company accountable for this murder, since they were subjected for some months to constant threats and evictions, which had been reported to the National Agrarian Institute (Instituto Nacional Agrario) but the latter had been unable to solve the conflict.
22 See COFADEH. The Prosecutor's Office for Common Crimes in the northern region opened an investigation, but has not yet been able to find any conclusive information about the perpetrators or the masterminds of the crime. ANACH attributed the assassination to a business owner from San Pedro Sula, Mr. Miguel Carrón, who has a long history of land conflict. He bought land from the current Mayor of San Pedro Sula, Mr. Rodolfo Padilla Sunceri, after the peasants had taken the land.
23 See COFADEH. The Prosecutor's Office for Common Crimes initiated a summary trial against the perpetrators, but without the awaited results and no subsequent indictment.
24 See COFADEH.
25 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.