IACHR and OHCHR Call on State to Refrain from Criminalizing Garifuna Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras

July 27, 2021

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Situation of Human Rights in Honduras

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Tegucigalpa/Washington, D.C. — The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Honduras and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called on the State of Honduras to adopt measures to prevent the criminalization of Garifuna human rights defenders, particularly those who defend land, territory, and natural resources. They also urged the State to guarantee a hostility-free environment for those defending human rights and to step up measures to respect and protect the rights of the Garifuna people over their lands, territories, and natural resources, in accordance with international and inter-American standards.

The IACHR and OHCHR noted with concern that at times, the criminal justice system continues to be misused to harass human rights defenders in Honduras, especially in relation to the defense of the territories of indigenous and Afro-Honduran communities. According to the information received, several Garifuna women defenders have been detained and are being subjected to criminal proceedings arising from two injunctions filed by the Public Prosecutor's Office for their allegedly having committed the crimes of damage, threats, theft, and the usurpation of lands, the origins of which allegedly lie in a civil dispute with third parties over the lack of demarcation of the ancestral lands of the Garifuna communities of Cristales and Río Negro.

The following information has been received on the detainment of women defenders so far in 2021. Jenny Boden Ruiz, a Garifuna woman who is currently being subjected to alternative measures to pretrial detention, was detained on July 10, 2020, as was Silvia Bonilla, a member of the Black Honduran Brotherhood (OFRANEH), on June 16. During the initial hearing, both charges were dismissed provisionally, as it was concluded that there was no evidence to prove that the accused were responsible for the alleged crimes. On March 3, 2021, sisters Marianela and Jennifer Mejía Solórzano were detained. The two are also members of OFRANEH. During the initial hearing, a formal indictment was issued against these defenders and instructions were given for alternative measures to pretrial detention. It was also learned that at least another 28 arrest warrants were pending for these two defenders.

The IACHR and OHCHR had already learned of the territorial conflict affecting Garifuna communities due to the lack of demarcation, title deeds, and restitution of their ancestral lands and territories. This was also acknowledged by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in its rulings regarding the Garifuna communities of Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra in 2015.

In its report on the Situation of Human Rights in Honduras, the IACHR expressed concern regarding the information it had received in relation to accusations and lawsuits over the usurpation of land, accusations, and slander against multiple Garifuna leaders.

The criminalization of human rights defenders promotes collective stigmatization and sends a message of intimidation. Likewise, the bringing of unfounded criminal investigations or lawsuits against these groups or individuals may hinder or paralyze their work defending human rights. In the specific case of women human rights defenders, criminalization may inhibit the defense work they carry out while also increasing and exacerbating existing social inequality.

Groundless criminal proceedings against those engaged in legitimate activities, of which human rights defenders are an example, are intended to harass the individuals in question and hinder this work. In response, the IACHR and OHCHR called on the State of Honduras to adopt all the measures needed to prevent people who legitimately protest or demand respect and protection for human rights from being subjected to unfair or unfounded trials and criminal proceedings.

Finally, they urged the State to step up its actions to respect and guarantee Garifuna community lands, territories, and natural resources, including duly demarcating and restituting these, in line with the decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in its rulings, taking into account the special relationship between the Garifuna people and their ancestral territory.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is the leading UN entity on human rights. The UN General Assembly has entrusted both the High Commissioner and her office with a mandate to promote and protect all human rights for all people. The OHCHR provides assistance in the form of technical expertise and capacity-development in order to support the implementation of international human rights standards on the ground. It assists governments, which bear the primary responsibility for the protection of human rights, to fulfill their obligations and supports individuals to claim their rights. It also speaks out objectively on human rights violations.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 195/21

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