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Honduras: Human rights defenders between a rock and a hard place

Everyday in Honduras, human rights defenders face killings, threats and criminalisation. The Honduran authorities must show genuine political willingness to confront this crisis, urge today the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an OMCT – FIDH partnership), Honduran human rights organisations CEHPRODEC, CIPRODEH, COFADEH and the International Platform Against Impunity. This call was launched in the framework of a public hearing held in Panama City before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the situation of human rights defenders in Honduras.

The predicament of human rights defenders in Honduras has received a great deal of international attention in 2016, following the murder of Berta Cáceres, an emblematic Lenca indigenous defender. This crime is just the tip of the iceberg; the high levels of violence directed against defenders in Honduras have made it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defence.

Since 2001, 17 defenders have been murdered, although they were beneficiaries of IACHR precautionary measures – an average of one per year. Since May 2015, the Observatory has documented 16 killings of human rights defenders – almost one per month. These figures clearly demonstrate that the situation is becoming more acute.

Attacks against defenders tend to go unpunished, largely due to inefficiencies in the administration of justice as well as a number of other structural factors. Meanwhile, there have been a great many incidences of defenders being criminalised, and the judicial system has shown remarkable diligence in pursuing these cases. According to IACHR, since 2010 there have been 3,064 cases in Honduras where human rights defenders have been criminalised as a means of intimidation.

The report concludes that Honduras needs a clearer and more protective national framework, one which fully recognises the human rights of the rural population, indigenous peoples and the LGBTI community. This would improve the working environment of defenders of these rights, and would allow them to enjoy a greater degree of legitimacy and visibility, especially in situations of conflict over natural resources and hetero-patriarchal stereotypes respectively.

Specifically, in a context where 35% of the country’s land area is set to be soon affected by 837 potential mining projects, the establishment of a clear domestic legislative framework that shows respect for international human rights standards related to the use of land would help to channel situations where there is a risk of conflict through institutional processes based on dialogue, instead of giving rise to violence and social strife. That is why our organisations are advocating for a participatory discussion process to be adopted, with the full involvement of civil society and particularly representatives of the indigenous and Garifuna people.

Furthermore, the report concludes that structural factors, such as the militarisation of the State, the lack of a truly independent judiciary, systematic stigmatisation of defenders and institutional failings on the part of the State with respect to human rights are evidence that the government lacks any real willingness to protect those who speak out to defend human rights.

This is illustrated by the recent and worrying statements by President Juan Orlando Hernández, in which he irresponsibly criminalised human rights organisations by assimilating them to gangs. Such statements only contribute to increasing risks of attacks against defenders.

In view of the conclusions of our report, our organisations formulate specific recommendations in terms of the necessary structural reforms that were identified over the course of the study.

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