Good morning ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to begin by warmly thanking the Government of Honduras for inviting me to undertake an official mission, which took place from 29 April to 12 May 2018. I wish to commend the Government for its excellent cooperation and efforts to ensure this fruitful visit.
I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with the President of the Republic, Ministers and high-level representatives of various ministries, judicial authorities and other State institutions at the department and municipal level.
Knowing that human rights defenders living in remote areas are the most at risk and I wanted to have a global overview of the situation in all parts of the country, I travelled to Tegucigalpa, La Paz, La Esperanza, Santa Barbara San Pedro Sula, El Progreso, Tela, La Ceiba, Tocoa and Choluteca. Overall, I met with 400 human rights defenders from all over the country, 40 % of whom were women. Some of them even travelled two days to meet with me. I am particularly grateful for their testimonies, recommendations and insights as well as for their efforts in the preparation of my meetings and visit. I would also like to thank everyone who helped in organizing this visit, with special thanks to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras.
The objective of my visit was to assess, in the spirit of cooperation and dialogue if Honduras provides the basic elements of a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders. In other words, the visit was seeking to answer the question whether human rights defenders feel safe and empowered in Honduras.
Ensuring these conditions is a principal part of the responsibility of the State of Honduras since it has adopted the UN Declaration on Human rights defenders in 1998. I have therefore focused primarily on assessing some of the basic elements of such a safe and enabling environment, namely: a conducive legal and institutional framework; access to justice; an independent and strong national human rights institution; effective protection policies and mechanisms paying attention to groups at risk and applying gender-sensitive approach; non-State actors that respect and support the work of defenders; and a strong and dynamic community of defenders.
I have also looked carefully into the report of my predecessor, Margaret Sekaggya who visited Honduras in 2012.
At the outset, I wish to recall that I am not employed by the United Nations and the position I hold is honorary. As an independent expert, I exercise my professional and impartial judgement and report directly to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
Today, I will confine myself to preliminary observations and recommendations on some of the main issues, which will be elaborated in more detail in the report, once I fully review the materials and documents that I have collected during the visit. I will present my final report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in March 2019.
2. Overall Assessment: Is there a safe an enabling environment in Honduras for human rights defenders?
This mission and all meetings and discussions with defenders took place in the context of the post electoral crisis and the declaration of a state of emergency for ten days. I have received dozens of testimonies of a country-wide extreme violence which has been largely documented by a number of international observers who confirmed the excessive use of force by the security forces, the military police and the army who caused the death of protesters and passers-by as well as mass arrests and detention.
I have been really moved by all meetings, testimonies and stories of families of disappeared persons, as well as defenders who have been arbitrarily arrested, some of whom were ill-treated by the police or the army, community leaders and indigenous people, who reported having been deprived from their land, their crops being destroyed and their harvest stolen, defenders working on sensitive issues such as sexual and reproductive rights or sexual orientation and gender identity. I have been impressed by the brave, active, vibrant and engaged civil society who operates all across the country.
Having carefully considered the information received from the Government, civil society and other stakeholders, I regret to conclude that, despite strong efforts to establish an effective mechanism of protection, the vast majority of human rights defenders in Honduras are not able to operate in a safe and enabling environment.
They are at risk in most parts of the country and do not feel safe due to numerous attacks and threats, criminalization of their activities and lack of access to justice. Stigmatization spearheaded by high-ranking officials and media not only disempowers them but it exposes them to heightened risks. They face smear campaigns aimed at discrediting their work, often equating them with political opposition, or branding them as anti-national, criminals or even as traitors.
On numerous instances, defenders have been attacked, threatened, brought to court and sentenced under political or fabricated charges. I have received a number of credible testimonies of defenders who reported having been threatened, targeted by companies, especially in the field of extractive or hydro-electric industries. I have also received testimonies of alleged collusion between international or national companies and politicians, sometimes at a high level of the Congress.
3. Legislative and Institutional framework
The 1982 Constitution of Honduras guarantees the principle of non-discrimination, including on the basis of sex (art. 60), the inviolable rights to life, dignity, physical, moral and mental integrity, and the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment. It also guarantees freedom of opinion and expression (art. 72), movement (Art. 81) thought, religion, assembly and association (art. 78), and recognizes the right of habeas corpus and the remedy of amparo (art. 182).
Under the Constitution, international treaties ratified by the State, form part of domestic law as soon as they enter into force and take precedence over national legislation1. As of April 2018, Honduras has ratified almost all relevant Human Rights Treaties, including all 9 core human rights treaties. However, Honduras is not yet a State party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The ratification of these instruments would provide human rights defenders with important tools to realize the rights of women, children and economic social rights and would help increasing accountability.
Honduras has also ratified ILO Convention No.169 and voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Despite initial steps, Honduras still needs to adopt domestic regulations to give effect to the right of indigenous people to free, prior and informed consent in accordance with the ILO Convention and UN Declaration of Indigenous Peoples. It is important that this is undertaken in consultation with the widest range of indigenous peoples’ Representative organizations in the country.
I encourage the Government of Honduras to reactivate this dialogue process and to follow the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. This is a fundamental question and one of the root cause of ongoing human rights violations affecting indigenous peoples in Honduras, as well as a key demand of indigenous peoples, land and environmental defenders.
Criminalization of human rights defenders
I am very concerned about the widespread practice of criminalizing human rights defenders for their human rights work, in particular in the context of exercising their right to protest and freedom of expression. I have received manifold testimonies of human rights defenders and regular citizens, organizing or taking part in peaceful protest in the form of sittings or rallies using public spaces (roads, roundabouts, parks etc.), for which they may face criminal charges. Testimonies received related to protests against projects of hydroelectric, mining and other extractive industries; sexual and reproductive rights; elections and university related matters.
Criminalization usually takes place through filing of unfounded allegations or complaints based on criminal offenses, which might not conform to the principle of legality or comply with international human rights standards. Subjecting defenders to lengthy legal proceedings is clearly a tool to intimidate them and subdue their human rights advocacy
In most cases involving environment and land rights, criminal charges used in Honduras include coercion, trespassing and unlawful seizing, or land encroachment related charges. In the case of students, criminalization came through the charge of sedition, and encroachment of public property. In the context of participation or organization of post-electoral protests, the great majority of cases related to the short-term arrest of protesters for violating the curfew, but without formal charges. In my opinion, the latter also constitutes a form of criminalization of protesters in the broader sense of the term2. I have also received testimonies of journalists, social communicators and human rights defenders facing legal actions for defamation and slander, as well as the threat thereof.
From the experiences I gathered, criminalization also meant the stigmatization and intimidation of those affected. In the majority of cases, it involved financial fines and the obligation to report on a weekly basis to police, which for peasants and indigenous living in remote areas implies high costs and long travel. For some, criminalization also entailed prison and for students the expulsion from university and other administrative measures such as suspension of grants. I would like to note that arbitrary arrest and detention is also used as a way to deter dissent.
Criminalization of defenders has a chilling effect not only on them but also on broader society. It weakens civil society movements. Defenders increasingly have to spend a great amount of time and resources to defend themselves, which weakens their ability to protect more vulnerable individuals in society. Criminalization also undermines the trust of civil society in the Government.
Also of concern is the approval by Congress of amendment to article 335 a and 335 b on terrorism of the new Criminal Code, which appears extremely broad. I am concerned of the impact that these new articles may have on human rights defenders and on the right to freedom of expression. Likewise, the proposed bill on cybersecurity is problematic. It threatens freedom of expression under the grounds of regulating hate and discrimination campaigns on social networks and the Internet. Fines would range from 50,000 to one million lempiras and may include the closure and blocking of the website. The Media Association (AMC) has asked the Honduran Parliament not to approve this bill for violating "fundamental rights and constitutional guarantees3.”
I recommend that laws used to criminalize human rights defenders for their legitimate work, are revised with a view to bringing their content and execution in compliance with the principle of legality and other international human rights standards.
I would like to highlight as a positive development the recent upgrade of the Secretary of Human Rights to a ministerial level. This includes a broader mandate to promote and protect human rights and the rule of law and more resources for the protection of human rights defenders.
Six years ago, when my predecessor visited the country, organized crime, drug trafficking, gang violence and widely reported police corruption made Honduras one of the most dangerous places in the world. According to official data, in less than six years, the State of Honduras halved the homicide rate in the country. A combination of concerted efforts, including policies to counter gang violence; corruption and white-collar crimes; the dismantling of large criminal structures; a process of national police purge and prison reform have contributed to these results. Unfortunately, the reduction in homicides was not coupled with an even reduction in the number of killings of human rights defenders, which, on the contrary, dramatically increased over the past years.
Further, in 2014 the National Council of Defence and Security, a high level Institution headed by the President of the Republic established the Fuerza Nacional de Seguridad Interinstitucional. The militarization of law enforcement functions is a question that has been raised with concern by various Human Rights Mechanisms. Human rights defenders continue to identify both national police and the military among the main perpetrators of attacks and violations against them.
The current process of selection and election of the Attorney General is key to strengthening the rule of law, the fight against impunity and corruption and the protection of human rights.
I urge all relevant stakeholders involved in the selection process to adhere to the highest standards and to strict criteria to evaluate the integrity, suitability and competence of the applicants. I underline the importance of transparency, publicity and access to information in this process, and stress the need for independent observation of the full process, stressing the role of civil society in particular.
4. Impunity and access to justice
Widespread impunity for attacks against human rights defenders
At the end of the official visit of my predecessor to Honduras in 2012, she concluded that there had “been little or no progress in investigating attacks and threats made against journalists, human rights defenders and political activists since 2009.”
During the past six years, the State of Honduras adopted multiple initiatives to improve access to justice and accountability for violations. These have included: the set-up of ten Special Prosecutors’ Offices, including one for Human Rights with a special section devoted to human rights defenders; the doubling of the number of prosecutors and of the budget of the Attorney General’s Office; a vetting process that led to the dismissal of 4,925 police officers allegedly linked to misconduct and corruption; a new competitive selection process for the selection of 191 judges; new courts in rural areas and a plan to reduce delays in judicial proceedings.
Most recently, in March 2018, the Attorney General announced the decision to set up within its institution a Special Public Prosecutor’s Office for the protection of human rights defenders, journalists, and persons responsible for the administration of justice.
I encourage relevant authorities to speed up the process of establishing and operationalising this institution and call for strong cooperation and collaboration with the Human Rights Special Public Prosecutor’s Office/Fiscalía Especial de Derechos Humanos in view of the specific dimension of these attacks and threats.
Despite State efforts to improve overall access to justice, results are still minimal. As to human rights defenders, the levels of impunity for attacks and violations against them have not improved. According to several reports, in Honduras approximately 97 percent of crimes committed against human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders remain unresolved.
Lack of accountability for killings and other crimes committed against human rights defenders and journalists fuel further violence against them. It does not come as a surprise that Honduras remains one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America for human rights defenders, especially for those who stand for rights relating to land, territory and the environment. The situation of journalists is also critical. Since 2001, 75 journalists, social communicators and media staff were killed and in only 6 cases perpetrators were identified4. Impunity and lack of investigation of attacks against human rights defenders and journalists remain the rule, rather than the exception.
The killing of woman rights defender Berta Cáceres, in March 2016, is an emblematic case. Berta Cáceres was – like many other less known human rights defenders in Honduras - killed for the defence of the environment and of the right to water. Nine individuals have been charged with homicide or attempted homicide to date and are currently being detained. Recently, two years after her assassination, Mr. Castillo, the executive president of DESA, the Honduran company building the Agua Zarca dam that Berta Cáceres opposed, was arrested. He was the fourth detainee with ties to the Honduran military and the first person charged as being the intellectual author of the crime.
I knew Berta personally and I met two of her daughters and mother during my visit. They are seeking justice for the killing of their loved one and will not stop until this is achieved. I will continue to follow and support their plight. I regret profoundly that they also face threats, risking their lives for this same reason, and thus needing protection measures. Nevertheless, not all cases of human rights defenders in Honduras are progressing this far.
I am seriously concerned about the snowball effect of impunity for the killings, violence and attacks against human rights defenders. I urge the Government to urgently reverse the trend of impunity in Honduras.
Fight against corruption and impunity
During my visit, I had the opportunity to learn about the important work and challenges faced by the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH).The MACCIH was established pursuant to an agreement between the Organization of American States (OAS) and the government of Honduras in early 2016, in response to a strong social movement against corruption (Los indignados)5. Since then, initial efforts have focused on strengthening Honduras’s anticorruption legal and institutional framework, the set-up of integrated units of local and international prosecutors and the investigation and adjudication of corruption cases.
The outcomes of integrated investigations and adjudication of cases represent a milestone development in the anticorruption struggle in Honduras. I also commend MACCIH-OAS’s decision in July 2017 to take up the investigation (with the Office of the Attorney General) of alleged corruption in the Agua Zarca Project. Berta Cáceres had repeatedly denounced, including at the time of her murder, the corruption in the awarding of contracts, lack of free, informed consultation with indigenous people and other related violations of the Lenca indigenous peoples6. I underline the importance of shedding light on these allegations of corruption and of the possible links with her killing.
However, the continuity of the MACCIH might be at risk. On 6 March 2018, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) accepted an appeal of unconstitutionality filed by a group of lawyers representing the five congressional representatives (diputados) linked to one of the corruption cases under consideration by MACCIH, known as the “Red de Diputados.”7 If the Court ruled in favour of the appeal, the MACCIH might have to leave the country and it would appear that the anti-corruption institution so far established and the cases investigated might then risk becoming devoid of legal basis.
I would like to recall that it was a social movement, “Los Indignados” who took the streets back in 2015 demanding an end to corruption. It is of key importance for the respect of human rights, rule of law and the fight against organized crime and corruption that the MACCIH is allowed to continue its important work. Those responsible for corruption, no matter how close they may be to the Government or to powerful sectors in society must be hold accountable for their crimes.
I call for a strong support by the President of the Republic, the Government and all relevant State institutions to the important work of the MACCIH and the Office of the Attorney General.
5. National Human Rights Institution/CONADEH
I have met with the National Commission on Human Rights, a constitutional body with a strong mandate to protect and promote human rights in Honduras. In my meetings with rights defenders, many of them pointed out their disappointment and the lack of confidence in the institution and the weaknesses of its actions. They also questioned the lack of credibility and leadership of the Commissioner. In 2013, the CONADEH was downgraded to a “B status” by the Sub-Committee of Accreditation of National Human Rights Institute for lack of compliance with the Paris Principles.
At each and every occasion, I recall that, as part of the institutional architecture of the State, national human rights institutions play a key role in ensuring a safe and conducive environment for defenders. National human rights institutions that comply with the Paris Principles are in a unique position to guide and advise Governments on their human rights obligations and ensure that international principles and standards are adequately incorporated into domestic law and mainstreamed into public policies including that of Human Rights Defenders.
Evidence shows that when the mandate of national human rights institutions includes competence to investigate individual complaints and provide effective protection to citizens, they can play a leading role in cases where States’ judicial systems are unable or unwilling to adjudicate on alleged violations against defenders.
CONADEH should consider prioritizing human rights defenders on its agenda and complaints submitted by them. It should therefore have a designated focal point for human rights defenders with responsibility to monitor their situation and should foster closer ties with civil society.
In a similar vein, it is crucial that CONADEH strengthen its methods of work and develop a more proactive strategy to reach out to human rights defenders looking for protection. The institution should be more vocal and publicly calls for action when human rights defenders are at risk or are murdered.
6- National Protection Mechanism
In 2015, the Honduran Congress adopted a law to protect human rights defenders, journalists, social communicators and persons responsible for the administration of justice8. With the support of human rights defenders and civil society, this law led to the set-up of the National Protection Mechanism – and the development of its regulatory framework.
The adoption of the law and the mechanism represents a landmark development for the protection of human rights defenders in Honduras9. They help recognize the dimension of the risks and violations that human rights defenders face in Honduras as well as their positive role and contribution to society. Both the law and the mechanism respond to one of the key recommendations made by my predecessor after she visited Honduras in 2012. They also addressed at least five recommendations to Honduras during its last Universal Periodic Review and some aspects of the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the Lopez Lone versus Honduras case.
As of today, the National Protection Mechanism has provided 810 protection measures to 211 persons, the great majority of which were human rights defenders. Within the current caseload of the Mechanism, there are 198 open cases out of which: 125 pertain to human rights defenders, 37 to journalists, 22 to social communicators and 14 to officials of the justice system. In response to demands by beneficiaries and civil society, the mechanism broadened the type of protection responses provided to human rights defenders beyond police measures (police escorts, temporary relocation, evacuation, etc.). New measures include self-protection trainings, psychosocial support, transport and communication allowance. Since February 2017, the Mechanism also enables the provision of other measures such as psychosocial support, transport and communication allowances, technological and infrastructure measures, self-protection courses and notifications to police and military authorities requesting to enable the work of human rights defenders. Nevertheless, police type measures prevail.
The National Protection Mechanism has also strengthened its internal structure, working procedures and functioning, and has increased its annual budget in some 60 percent. In spite of ongoing challenges, it has managed to build increased trust with human rights defenders, as evidenced by the gradual raise in protection requests despite a steady rate of attacks against defenders (the National Protection Mechanism processed 9 cases in 2015 and 143 in 2017),
Despite these important achievements, the current reality of surveillance, threats, harassment, stigmatization and criminalization of human rights defenders, as well as attacks against them in almost total impunity, requires a greater comprehensive and more efficient response by the Mechanism. Based on the information and testimonies I gathered from State authorities, human rights defenders and civil society during my visit, I have identified a number of obstacles that need to be addressed and concrete actions that if implemented would improve significantly the efficiency of the Protection Mechanism:
- There is an urgent need to adopt a comprehensive public policy to protect human rights defenders, and to allocate the necessary budget for its effective implementation. The State of Honduras must comply with the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and in particular, with the obligations enshrined in Lopez Lone and Carlos Escaleras sentences, which have only been partially met with the current Protection Mechanism. The current budget of the National Protection Mechanism, only represents a very small percentage of the total budget of the Ministry of Human Rights. (0,00018%).
- There is an underlying lack of trust of human rights defenders and civil society towards the National Protection Mechanism, in particular in the departments and municipalities: An important number of the over 400 human rights defenders I met with have expressed a profound mistrust in the National Protection Mechanism, and its main protection response, namely police type measures. This relates to a variety of factors that intersect with each other. Despite State efforts and achievements in the purge of national police10, defenders still identify national (and military) police – as the main perpetrators of human rights violations, abuse and attacks against them. Strengthening the accountability of members of the security sector should be a priority. According to official data provided by the Ministry of Security, no disciplinary actions were taken against police officers in 2017, when 52 police officers were under investigation for homicide and 39 for torture.
- The recent and ongoing excessive use of force by national (and military) police in the repression of demonstrations, police role in forced evictions and the lack of results in police investigations into attacks against defenders only exacerbate this lack of trust. The fight against impunity for crimes and abuses against human rights defenders committed by law enforcement and military police is key for the protection of human rights defenders and for the success of the Mechanism.
- The lack of knowledge and awareness of the Mechanism by State authorities and human rights defenders in particular in the departments and municipalities requires further dissemination of the Protection Law and of the Mechanism outside Tegucigalpa. More needs to be done to ensure that State institutions in all parts of the country identify and understand the role of human rights defenders, their important role and the work of the national mechanism.
- The lack of effective coordination and regular participation among high-level State actors involved in the implementation of protection measures and poor participation of civil society in the Mechanism often explains the inaccuracy and inefficiency of protection measures granted to defenders. The absence and frequent rotation of the officials participating in the National Protection System hampers effective coordination to the detriment of the protection of human rights defenders and helps perpetuating further the prevailing mutual distrust between State authorities and civil society and beneficiaries. The Office of Attorney General and the Supreme Court of Justice need regular and high-level representation in the meetings of the National Protection Committee and in the Technical Committee. There is also a need to strengthen the participation of civil society in the Mechanism, now limited to two seats out of 14 in the National Council for Protection.
In light of the challenges recently mentioned, I urge the Honduras State to advance key areas of work of the Mechanism, in particular:
- The adoption of a protocol to investigate crimes against human rights defenders, journalists and persons responsible for the administration of justice, that would support the work of the new Fiscalía on Human Rights Defenders;
- The consolidation of individual and collective risk analysis that assesses the differentiated risks of the various categories and gender of defenders and that identifies as well differentiated responses accordingly. For women human rights defenders, indigenous individual and communities and defenders of LGBTI rights and groups the need for differentiated risks assessments and protection measures is acute;
- The identification and adoption of collective protection measures in consultation with communities at risk, in particular in the rural areas; And the need to increase the provision of non-police type protection measures, such as psychosocial support.
- The need to address undue delays and long waiting periods between the time the first complaint is registered, the risk analysis, until the actual implementation of the measures. Such delays put human rights defenders at greater risk.
- The set-up of the Prevention and Context Analysis Unit.
- The increased role of and systematic follow-up by the National Protection Mechanism in the investigations of cases against human rights defenders, journalists, social communicators and justice operators with the Attorney General’s Office
- Human Rights Defenders at aggravated risk
Some groups of defenders are particularly vulnerable due to the very nature of the rights they are defending, their own identity or the specificities of their work. These include women woman rights defenders, LGBTI rights defenders, bloggers, judges and lawyers, journalists, community and indigenous leaders as well as legal professionals. The list is long and still not exhaustive.
Human Rights Defenders in the context of election and post-electoral period
I was moved by the dozens of testimonies of a country-wide extreme violence against ordinary citizens and human rights defenders, who had decided to take the streets to express their profound discontent and to rally for their civil and political rights to participate in free and fair elections. I will not forget the testimony of the fathers, mothers, sisters and spouses who shared with me how they lost their loved ones or their own experience of having been beaten by law enforcement officials.
Within the same period, the High Commissioner for Human Rights had verified at least 23 people killed in the context of protests, out of these one was a police officer, at least and 16 it considered were killed by the security forces. I found particularly worrying OHCHR findings that “while some of the protesters became violent, analysis of the type of injuries suffered by the victims indicate that the security forces made intentional lethal use of firearms”.
According to the information received, as of April 2018, no charges had been brought against security forces, whereas at least 114 persons had been charged with crimes against the security of the state and public order, crimes against the person, and crimes against the property.
I also received testimonies of mass arrests, beatings of protesters and repression and use of violence against journalists trying to record and document demonstrations. In the course of my meetings, I also met with students who participated in various demonstrations linked to educational demands who are now facing risk of expulsion.
I was pleased to learn that recently la Sala constitutional del Tribunal Supremo decided that the UNAH's administrative proceedings and decision on expulsion of students violated the principle of legality. I hope that these students are soon allowed to return and that the UNAH decision will be reoriented accordingly.
Defenders working on environmental and land rights issues
I am appalled by the number of conflicts related to the protection of natural resources and land rights. According to international reports, Honduras has sadly become one of the deadliest countries in the world for environmentalists. We all have in mind the murder of Bertha Cáceres and the harassment against COPINH members but multiple examples can be found in many parts of the country, particularly those rich in natural resources.
During my visit in Honduras, I had the opportunity to meet with many individuals and communities who are engaged in the protection of their land and who opposed large-scale projects such as mining, dams, logging or tourism. I did not see in these people the terrorists, criminals or anti-development often depicted in the media. Instead, I saw humble farmers, indigenous and peaceful communities who are genuinely worried about the future of their children because the forests that surround their communities are disappearing or the water they drink is poisoned. In many situations, these persons became human rights defenders out of necessity because they did not have choice other than to speak up to defend their very livelihood.
I heard worrying testimonies on situaciones in el Bajo Aguán, Santa Barbara, la Aurora, Pajuiles, la isla de la Exposición, among others. There is no doubt that there is a general pattern of criminalization and judicial harassment against those who denounce the spoliation of their lands and those who defend the interests of these communities. The use of criminal justice system such as land-grabbing offenses are commonly used to forcibly evict farmers and silence local resistance. Organizations such as the CNTC, el Movimiento amplio por la dignidad y la justicia, MILPAH or el MAS are among the movements whose members are regularly targeted both by State and non-State actors. According to some reports, approximately 5000 farmers are currently facing legal prosecution. The deployment of military forces is also depicted as a strategy to intimidate communities instead of protecting them from private actors such as security companies. Many defenders who have been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Court of human rights or by the inter-American Commission on human rights are still facing great danger for they have not found any or very little response from State authorities, both at national and local levels.
In such context, I urge the Honduran authorities to conduct prompt and independent investigations on attacks against environmental rights defenders and to publicly recognize the role of they play as key actors in the protection of common goods.
I also encourage the State to develop independent environmental impacts assessments, complying with international standards on environment, human rights and sustainable development goals. These assessments should be developed with the active participation of local communities and human rights defenders.
Defenders working for the rights of indigenous peoples
In a great number of cases, the threats facing Indigenous people are intrinsically linked to the defence of their lands and close environment. Lenca, Tolupan, Garífuna, Chortí, Pech and Miskito communities who seek to protect their ancestral lands often face criminalization, stigmatization and judicial harassment and are often treated as second-class citizens. The lack or misuse of meaningful consultation as stated in ILO Convention n°169 is also a great factor of risk as entire communities are being deprived from their lands and natural resources. This is the case of Garifuna communities from Punta Piedra, Triunfo de la Cruz and Cayos Cochinos, located on the Caribbean coast and whose situation is still precarious because of the development of model cities (ZEDE Act).
Once again, many indigenous leaders that have been killed had been granted precautionary measures, showing the lack of implementation and proper follow-up by State authorities, including the Protection Mechanism and the CONADEH.
I was shocked to hear the countless obstacles facing indigenous community to access information on so-called development projects. I must also mention the numerous testimonies highlighting the strategies set by companies in collusion with local authorities to divide communities, trying to get the buy-in of community members which can lead to the destruction of their social fabric and their displacement to other areas of the country. I am also worried by the involvement of international companies and investors taking to court human rights defenders, in particular Garífuna leaders opposed to development projects.
I urge the Honduran authorities to implement all recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples at the end of her official visit in 2016.
Defenders of the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex people
I am very concerned about the high number of violent killings and attacks against LGBT people and prevailing the lack of accountability and almost total impunity. According to reports received, since 2008 until early 2018, there has been at least 295 killings against LGBT people in Honduras, 11 of which were human rights defenders. Only in 2017, there has been 34 reported killings against LGBTI people.
Also of serious concern were the testimonies of Defenders of the human rights of LGBTI persons denouncing the inaction of the State to reduce Media use of hate speech against them and the LGBTI community. I was explained how TV programmes often broadcast programmes and moral debates where religion is used to discriminate, disapprove and generate hatred against members of these communities. I would like to take a moment and honour some those human rights defenders that lost their lives in the promotion and protection of the rights of LGBTI persons: Maria Lourdes Madariaga, Marco Tulio Montoya Sánchez, René Antoni Martínez, Williams Afif Hernández and Wilmer Alvarado.
I would like also to use this opportunity to recall, as I have done in my communications to the State of Honduras, that sexual orientation and gender identity are grounds of discrimination prohibited under international law, and Honduras is a State Party to all relevant human rights treaties. In 2016, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights established that "any other social condition", as set forth in article 2.2 of the ICESCR, includes sexual orientation. The Human Rights Committee also underlined the legal obligation of States Parties to guarantee all individuals the rights recognized in the ICCPR, without distinction based on sexual orientation or gender identity and established that "States parties must respond adequately to violence against certain categories of victims, including violence against persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
I urge Honduran authorities to develop investigative protocols against attacks on LGBTI defenders.
Women human rights defenders (WHRDs)
I would like to celebrate the role played by thousands of women human rights defenders in the promotion of democracy, justice and security in Honduras. In line with my commitment to develop a gender-specific approach to the situation of human rights defenders, I hold a series of private meetings with women human rights defenders across the country. I was impressed by their strength, determination and resilience. But I was also deeply shocked by the diversity and magnitude of threats, attacks and « re-victimization », women face when they seek protection and access to justice.
According to reports, between 2016 and 2017, more than 1232 attacks have been reported against women human rights defenders, their families and their organisations. Women human rights defenders face the same risks as their male counterparts but they are also exposed to gender-specific threats and attacks. Women who promote and defend human rights often face public defamation, attacks against their credibility and integrity, physical attacks and judicial harassment. This is particularly the case of women actively engaged in the promotion of sexual and reproductive rights, indigenous and minority rights, land rights movements, students’ mobilizations and against domestic violence. I heard many worrying testimonies of women highlighting the role of police, military and private actors such as national and international companies in the attacks they face, particularly in La Paz, Santa Barbara, La Esperanza or in el Bajo Aguán. I was also extremely shocked to learn that many pregnant farmworkers like Ana Mirian Romero who faced physical violence during evictions from their lands.
Women have often highlighted the indifference - when not the hostility - of public authorities, religious groups and mass media. But their isolation can also stem from their own communities and close environment who do not support their human rights commitment. Because they challenge patriarchy, inequality and injustice, women are often depicted as “bad women”, “bad mothers” or as threats to morality and traditional values. Finally, the lack of gender-specific approach to protection measures and access to justice also constitutes a major risk factor for all these women, especially those living in remote areas.
I want to publicly acknowledge and support the great work done by the National network of women human rights defenders and other networks dedicated to women’s rights. In many cases, these networks have provided valuable response to immediate risk for women activists, developing emergency shelters, security trainings and safe spaces for reconstruction that have proved to be critical for the safety of women and the continuity of their human rights work.
Finally, I would like to honour the memory of Margarita Murillo, Bertha Cáceres, Gladys Lanza, Magdalena Morales and many other women activists who paved the way for generations of women in Honduras but who paid the ultimate price for their human rights work.
Protection measures should include a gender-specific approach both in the risk analysis and in the identification of protection measures.
I also encourage State authorities to develop awareness campaigns and trainings on the specific risks facing WHRDs for public servants, particularly those who are in regular contact with women activists.
Journalists and media workers
In Honduras, journalists continue to be killed for their critical analysis on the political context and for exposing human rights violations and perpetrators. According to CONADEH Annual report, from 2001 until 2017: 75 journalists and media staff were killed and in 91% of the cases there has been no conviction and no perpetrators were brought to justice.
During my meetings with journalists and social communicators, I have listened with concern to their testimonies and experience of harassment, intimidation and violence in the hands of the military and national police for filming or covering protests, in particular during the post-electoral crisis and in relation to demonstrations of students. Journalists have also shared their experience of being subjected to discredit and defamation campaigns as well as death threats, many of them living in precarious financial situation for not benefiting from permanent employment contracts. They brought to my attention the Law of Secretos Oficiales, and how it limits their access to official information.
I also had the opportunity to learn about the very costly and burdensome process that community radios need to undergo to be able to obtain a broadcasting licence. According to information received, out of the 442 frequencies of community radio stations, only 25 were granted by the State. Media workers (comunicadores comunitarios) denounced receiving death and other threats from majors or politicians often via phone messages or while on line for their critical work. I was impressed by the personal stories of media workers benefiting from protection measures and their continued commitment to their work and human rights commitment.
In the course of the visit I met with committed judges, magistrates, prosecutors, lawyers and public lawyers. Those working in anticorruption, organized crime and drug trafficking cases are particularly at risk. They also denounced the need to strengthen the protected witness unit. Legal professionals demanded the establishment of the protection mechanism foreseen in the law on the National Protection Mechanism for human rights defenders, to enhance their protection.
The role of the international community
A large number of NGOs and defenders that I met during the course of the mission complained about the lack of support of the international community. Many of them, mostly outside of the capital explained that they had never met with embassies or representatives of the international community nor been invited to share their concerns with embassies. Almost all of them complained of the absence of funding when trying to set up new activities or new organizations, not having been informed of any call for applications for funding whatsoever. They also referred to the lack of presence from international observers when being brought to court.
I strongly recommend that the international community reinforces their efforts to fully implement the provisions of the international or national guidelines on the protection of human rights defenders, including through trial observation, political and financial support to defenders at risk. Embassies should travel in the regions to try and reach out remote defenders and communities.
I had also have heard many testimonies of defenders claiming better Protection from the international community. I strongly support the establishment of local OHCHR offices in the departments
I am also extremely concerned with the increasing number of acts of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders in connection with their engagement with the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms or with regional human rights organizations. These reprisals take the form of smear campaigns, harassment, intimidation, threats, physical attacks and killings. We urgently need to put an end to acts of reprisals against human rights defenders.
I would like to conclude by saying that there is still a gap between international engagement and domestic implementation. I would like to express my continued commitment to provide technical support to the Honduran authorities. As we celebrate this year the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on human rights defenders, I would like to invite the Honduran government to take strong actions against impunity and for the recognition of the role that human rights defenders play here in Honduras and across the world.
1. See Art 15 and 18 of Constitution of Honduras.
2. The Special Rapporteur has received information that in at least 80 cases, charges are connected with the use of violence and relate to alleged crimes committed during protests, ranging from damages, arson, production and detention of explosive material, robbery, unlawful possession of weapons, unlawful association, attacks against the integrity of the person and homicide.
4. CONADEH, 2017 Annual report.
5. According to the agreement, the MACCIH is intended to support, strengthen, and collaborate with Honduran institutions to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of corruption. ”http://www.oas.org/documents/spa/press/convenio-MACCIH-1.19.16.pdf
6. OEA MACCIH, Third Semi Annual Report, pp 22-23. http://www.oas.org/documents/eng/press/Third-Semi-Annual-Report-MACCIH-Oct2017.pdf
7. While there is limited public information available on the content of the appeal, it appears to question the constitutionality of the agreement between the OAS and the Government of Honduras establishing the MACCIH. For more info on the “Red de diputados case see ”http://www.elheraldo.hn/pais/1134032-466/mp-y-maccih-oea-revelan-nombres-de-diputados-implicados-en-desv%C3%ADo-de-fondos
8. La Ley de Protección fue publicada en el Diario Oficial La Gaceta No. 33,730 de fecha 15 de mayo del 2015
9. Decree No 34 Importantly, the law recognizes the right of every person, individually or collectively, to strive to promote and protect the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as the adoption of a broad definition of human rights defenders in line with the Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders. (art.1 and 5 of the law). 2015
10. By the end of 2017, the Special Commission on police corruption had screened 10,206 officials and dismissed 4,925.