IACHR Condemns Murders of Rights Defenders in Honduras

February 14, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murders of at least five defenders of land rights and territorial rights in Honduras in 2023 so far. The Commission calls on the State to investigate these events effectively and with due diligence and to protect human rights defenders in the country.

According to publicly available reports, the five activists who were killed focused their efforts on the defense of rights linked to land, territory, and/or the environment. On February 12, peasant rights defender Santos Hipólito Rivas, a member of the Gregorio Chávez Peasant Organization, was murdered in Trujillo, Colón, along with his son Javier Rivas. On January 29, Ricardo Arnaúl Montero, a defender of the rights of Garifuna Afro-indigenous communities and a member of the Land Defense Committee, was murdered in the Triunfo de la Cruz community in Tela, Atlántida. On January 18, Omar Cruz Tomé, a peasant leader and land defender who was president of Los Laureles Cooperative, was murdered in Tocoa, Colón. On January 7, environmental and territorial rights defenders Aly Domínguez and Jairo Bonilla were murdered in the Guapinol community, also in Tocoa. The State told the IACHR that the case concerning the death of Ricardo Arnaúl Montero was in the process of being solved.

The Commission is concerned that these events have happened in a context of historical violence that constantly affects rights defenders in Honduras, particularly in the Bajo Aguán region and in Garifuna territories. The IACHR has identified acts of violence ranging from harassment and threats to criminalization through an unwarranted use of criminal law and to attacks on personal integrity and murders.

According to the reports the Commission has had access to, the Bajo Aguán region has been particularly affected by violence since February 2022, when the government, the organization Plataforma Agraria, and the Aguán Cooperative of Peasant Organizations (COPA) signed an agreement. The State told the IACHR that it had launched talks to establish a course of action to ensure compliance with the commitments made in this agreement. The IACHR reminds the Honduran State of the importance of ensuring compliance with precautionary measures, notably PM 50-14, which seeks to protect a significant group of peasants in the Bajo Aguán region.

Concerning the Garifuna people, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights asked the State to take all necessary measures to effectively protect the rights to life and personal integrity of Garifuna communities in Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra, who collectively advocate for the rights of the Garifuna people.

The Commission notes that the Honduran Department of Human Rights (SEDH) has publicly rejected recent violence. The IACHR calls on the State to continue to investigate these events with due diligence and to prosecute and punish both their perpetrators and their masterminds. The State must adopt as a line of investigation the potential link between the violence and victims' efforts as rights defenders. Similarly, the State must adopt a differentiated ethnic–racial approach when investigating, trying, and punishing these crimes and when providing reparations for the families of all victims, as well as providing guarantees of non-recurrence.

Murders and other acts of violence against human rights defenders have a multiplier effect that goes beyond these individuals. Attacks against them in retaliation for their activities as defenders frighten others who advocate for similar causes. For indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples in particular, the loss of a leader or a defender might affect a given community's effective involvement in matters affecting its rights, inclusion, and self-determination and its free development within a multicultural and democratic State, as well as impact their peoples' social and community fabric.

The IACHR calls on the State to take all measures necessary to protect the rights to life, integrity, and safety of human rights defenders, particularly indigenous and Afro-Honduran leaders and defenders of indigenous land and territories and of the environment. It is essential for Honduras to make progress in its fight against the structural causes that have enabled persistent violence against these groups. The State must therefore strengthen mechanisms to recognize and protect the territorial rights of indigenous, Afro-descendant, and peasant communities.

The Commission calls on the State to prioritize measures to ensure effective action by the National System to Protect Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communications Experts, and Judicial Officers. The IACHR is available to provide support and technical assistance that may enable Honduras to overcome the challenges it faces and to comply with its international obligations.

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

No. 022/23

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