Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Honduras

Political context

In 2007, the Government of Mr. Manuel Zelaya adopted several texts which, among other things, aim to emphasise the fight against corruption, guarantee free access to information, and strengthen law enforcement and security. Initiatives have also been taken to reduce poverty and improve access to education and medical care.

Despite these efforts, demonstrations have continued throughout the years to protest, in particular against the Government's policy regarding mining (damage to health and the environment due to open mining; disregard of ancestral rights of indigenous communities, particularly the Garifuna communities, etc.). The authorities have generally responded by violence to these demonstrations.

In addition, the country faced a surprising rise in violence and crime linked in part to petty crimes but also to organised crime, drug traffickers and gangs (maras), activities in which police were very often involved (illegal trafficking, kidnappings for ransom, etc.). In this regard, it should be noted that a special bill relative to the national police (Ley Especial de Policía Nacional) was submitted in early May 2007 to Parliament, primarily to instil a sense of security within the population. However, at present, this bill, which has not been submitted to the people, does not guarantee the full control of the penitentiary institution and of the general direction of investigation by civilian bodies instead of the military or the police. It considerably weakens the position of the National Security Council (Consejo Nacional de Seguridad) and thus citizen participation in monitoring and evaluating public security issues. Lastly, the project further criminalises freedom of expression within the national police to deter staff from denouncing internal acts of corruption.1

Regarding freedom of expression, a Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information (Ley de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública), which was approved by Congress in November 2006, entered into force on January 19, 2007, but its implementation has been postponed for one year to allow the institutions concerned to comply with it. The law aims to establish mechanisms to guarantee the right of citizens to take part in the management of public affairs, to render effective the transparent management of the State and its relations with individuals, and to combat corruption. The National Institute for Access to Public Information (Instituto Nacional de Acceso a la Información Pública – IAIP), whose creation was provided by law, was also introduced in August 2007. This independent body is responsible for handling requests for information on the Government and for overseeing the implementation of the law.

Finally, it is regrettable that the precautionary measures of protection granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for people at risk, including human rights defenders, are only very rarely implemented by Honduran authorities.

Acts of retaliation against defenders fighting impunity and corruption

In 2007, defenders who denounced the corruption within State institutions and fought against impunity found themselves on the frontline of repression. On June 20, 2007, the Centre for the Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims and Families of Victims of Torture (Centro para la Prevención, Tratamiento y la Rehabilitación de víctimas de Tortura y sus familiares – CPTRT) received death threats targeting several human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists, accusing them of being a "social nuisance". These threats were probably linked to the struggle waged by these human rights NGOs against corruption within the General Directorate of Criminal Investigation and the prison system. Many cases of corruption were also revealed by the press, which has also suffered reprisals against its journalists. Mr. Martín Omar Ramirez, a journalist for La Tribuna, received threats after publishing, on September 7, 2007, an article on "maras" members and their possible links to the police, and following an investigation into alleged corruption within the Honduran Institute of Social Security (IHSS). Some journalists have had to flee the country following threats.2 For example, on November 23, 2007, Mr. Geovanny García, a journalist for the television channel Canal 13, had to leave the country after receiving death threats. He had already been forced to flee Honduras in October, following an assassination attempt against him, after publishing an investigation into alleged corruption by senior officials of the Ministry of Public Works in connection with the tarring of streets.3

Several journalists have also been the target of criminal prosecutions for "offences against honour." As pointed out by Special Rapporteur Mr. Ambeyi Ligabo, "offences against good reputation" continue to be considered as offences in the Honduran Criminal Code. This prompts journalists to exercise self-censorship for fear of prosecution if they denounce human rights violations or acts of corruption by authorities.4 Legal proceedings were initiated on September 28, 2007 by the Director of the public telecommunications company Hondutel against Mr. Renato Alvárez and Ms. Rossana Guevara, from the television channel Televicentro, Ms. Melissa Amaya and Mr. Juan Carlos Funes, of Radio Cadena Voces, Mr. Carlos Mauricio Flores, Editor-in-chief of El Heraldo, and Mr. Nelson Fernandez, Editor-in-chief of La Prensa, after they rebroadcasted information alleging serious acts of corruption by Hondutel.5 On October 4, 2007, several Honduran courts unanimously concluded that the complaints filed against Mr. Alvarez, Mr. Funes, Mr. Mauricio, Ms. Guevara and Ms. Amaya were inadmissible.

Attempts to intimidate defenders of the rights of indigenous and peasant communities, particularly in connection with the protest against the exploitation of natural resources

In 2007, indigenous leaders continued to be subjected to harassment. Indigenous communities, like the Garifuna community, of African origin, have been fighting for several years for the respect of their rights to the lands they occupy, in part because the natural resources present on the territory, particularly timber, are exploited by national and international corporations. Members of the Garifuna community have been the target of multiple threats and intimidation that appear to be linked to their struggle to retain their rights over these lands. For example, on April 14, 2007, Ms. Joselyn Lizet Rivas, daughter of Ms. Jessica García, a leader of the Garifuna community, was attacked by unidentified assailants who fired on the taxi in which she was riding.6 In 2006, Ms. Jessica García was the target of a campaign of harassment and received death threats.7 Additionally, on October 4, 2007, officials from the Department of Homeland Security arrested Mr. Wilfredo Guerrero, a member of the Garifuna community in San Juan Tela particularly active in defending the rights of his community, even though Mr. Guerrero had been granted precautionary measures of protection (medidas cautelares) by the IACHR in July 2006.8 After a few hours of detention, Mr. Guerrero was released without charges.

Because claims relating to indigenous rights are generally linked to requests for environmentally friendly exploitations of natural resources, defenders who expose abuses of national and international corporations in the use of these resources are often targeted. Aboriginal communities and environmental groups have organised large-scale demonstrations to protest against governmental policy regarding mining, which, according to them, led to an absence of real consultation and constituted a threat to the environment and health of people living near mining sites. Thus, on July 17, 2007, demonstrations were held across the country to protest against open mining and to require the adoption of a new law governing mining. These demonstrations were violently repressed by police in certain areas, particularly in Quarter 6 of Mayo, in Macuelizo, in the department of Santa Bárbara, and in Siguatepeque, in the department of Comayagua. These incidents resulted in the arbitrary detention of some 50 to 70 people, including Messrs. Justo Sorto and Pablo Munguía, journalists at Radio La Voz Lenca and Radio Progreso, and members of the general coordination of the Civic Council of Indigenous Organisations (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Indígenas Populares – COPINH), who were arrested and physically abused in Siguatepeque while covering the event.9 In August, during a press conference, the Civic Alliance for Democracy (Alianza Cívica por la Democracia – ACD) and the Committee of Families of Prisoners and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) denounced the threats and harassment against members of the ACD, as well as the existence of a campaign to discredit the Most Reverend Luis Alfonso Santos, Bishop of Copan, a figurehead of the popular movement against mining in the western region.10

Discrimination against defenders of LGBT rights

In Honduras, defenders of the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) continued to be subjected to discrimination and harassment because of their activities. On March 18, 2007, Mr. Donny Reyes, Treasurer of the Rainbow Association (Asociación Arcoiris), an organisation for LGBT rights, was arbitrarily arrested by police in Comayagüela. He was beaten by the police and then taken to a police station. They left him more than six hours in a cell where other detainees beat and raped him repeatedly, apparently with the encouragement of a policeman.11 On April 20, 2007, one of his colleagues, Mr. Josef Fabio Estrada (alias Debora), coordinator of a group in the association devoted to transgenders, was attacked in Tegucigalpa by a group of five men. Police officers who were nearby encouraged the attackers to beat him and arrested him on the grounds of creating a "public scandal" and "breach of security". He was released after eight months of detention. In May 2007, the association was forced to move because of the magnitude of police harassment to which it was subjected.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 See Letter to the authorities from the Committee of Families of Prisoners and Disappeared in Honduras (Comité de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos en Honduras – COFADEH), April 23, 2007.

2 Following his visit to Honduras, which took place from November 26-30, 2007, Mr. Ambeyi Ligabo, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, "strongly condemn[ed] the assassination of a journalist, Mr. Carlos Salgado, and the voluntary exile of two other journalists, Mr. Geovanny García and Mr. Dagoberto Rodríguez, who ran away for fear of being assassinated", stressing the "impact of organized crime in the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression". The Special Rapporteur also said he was "concerned by the impunity of the perpetrators of these acts" (See Press Release of the UN, December 6, 2007).

3 See Joint Press Release by PROBIDAD and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), December 10, 2007.

4 See United Nations Press Release, December 6, 2007.

5 See IFEX Press Release, October 1, 2007.

6 See the Organisation for Black Honduran Fraternity (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña – OFRANEH).

7 See Annual Report 2006 of the Observatory.

8 See OFRANEH Press Release, October 4, 2007.

9 See Press Release of COPINH, July 17, 2007, and Joint Press Release of the COFADEH and the Civic Alliance for Democracy (ACD), July 25, 2007.


11 See Arcoiris.


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