Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Tegucigalpa - Forum on Human Rights in Honduras

On May 12th, the International Human Rights Observation Mission organized by COFADEH held a forum in Tegucigalpa to present its key preliminary findings and recommendations. The forum was attended by a large group of social movement rank and file and leaders including campesino organizations, teachers' unions, LGBTI, LIBRE, human rights defenders, journalists, and indigenous rights defenders (see my photos here).  The family of Berta Caceres participated from the podium. Below this introduction I am posting the English translation of journalist Giorgio Trucchi's report on the forum with a link to the original Spanish.
One of the participants in the open discussion at the  forum was Sandra Zambrano of the LGBT HIV education organization, APUVIMEH, who talked about the attacks on the LGBTI community,  well known activists like Victoria Gomez Cruz who was the first transgender woman to run for office in the primary elections for LIBRE in 2013 have had to leave the country due to threats on their lives. She also talked about the constant threats and pressures against organizations and individual defenders of human rights for LGBTI community. She and her brother José have had move two members of their family out of the country. Sadly, after the forum on May 14th came the news that Allan Yoni Banega Godoy, nephew of Sandra and José was kidnapped and later found dead in Tegucigalpa. 
Also participating in the same discussion were members of a parents and family organization "Madres y Padres de Familia" that are organized to support and defend the student movement, especially around the attacks on public education and the very violent response of the JOH government to the protests of the last few weeks. The Madre y Padres reported that in the last 3 weeks alone there have been 5 students murdered after participating in protests. They are mostly high school students and the wave of protests has to do with a new "educational reform" that requires public high school students to find two illiterate adults and teach them to read, also paying the adults their transportation costs, a meal and other expenses. Most of the public high school students come from poor families and absolutely cannot afford to pay these costs. The head of the high school teachers union (COPEMH) Jaime Rodriquez was also at the Thursday forum and he added that teachers are being accused of inciting the students and being threatened also. A week ago the JOH Education Ministry suspended Jaime's teaching license because he has been supporting the students. The suspension of his license means that he will not receive any salary. Jaime also denounced strongly the terrible violence against the youth and noted that earlier deaths of student activists remain in impunity, for example Nicole Soad Bustillo, the 13 year old murdered  a year ago, shortly after she publicly insulted and denounced Juan Orlando at a student protest. On Friday, May 13th there were reports that the student organizations in San Pedro Sula had negotiated some agreements with the Ministry of Education that may end up resolving this most recent conflict, but the struggle to defend public education will continue. The Radio Globo journalist David Romero also spoke from the floor about the criminal defamation cases against him used as a method to try and silence his voice against the government and about the violence and harassment against journalists in general. The precarious position of journalists was further illustrated by the presence of Felix Molina, journalist and community radio organizer who survived two attempts on his life on May 2nd.  -V. Cervantes  
Human Rights Hit Bottom in Honduras
by Giorgio Trucchi, May 16, 2016
Managua, Nicaragua (Conexihon)

G. Trucchi
On May 12th, as part of the International Mission for Human Rights Observation, a Forum on Human Rights in the Aguán was held in Tegucigalpa. During the activities the main findings of the Mission were presented and recommendations made, and the basis was laid for the creation of an analytic space to prevent risks for human rights defenders. 

“We are living in very difficult moments and we must work to avoid a deepening of human rights violations in Honduras,” said Bertha Oliva, Coordinator of the Committee of the Families of the Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH) during her speech at the opening of the Forum. 

“We are putting forth all of our positive energy and we are ready to gather and transform memory, not in pain, but as a collective proposal,” stated the human rights defender.

Organized by COFADEH and made up of delegates from organizations in Europe, the United States and Latin America, among them REL-UITA(1), the Mission presented its findings to the national and international community and formulated recommendations for the State of Honduras. 

The Extractive Model - Death Projects 
According to members of the Mission, in the Lower Aguán Valley, “threats, attacks and assassination attempts continue” against campesino leaders, human rights defenders, community leaders and defenders of natural resources that are threatened by the extractive projects.”

The acceleration of granting concessions of territories in the upper regions of the Aguán Valley to mining companies, on top of the uncontrollable expansion of African Palm as a mono-crop, is responsible for an interminable wave of assassinations in the framework of an agrarian conflict that originates from the lack of access to land for thousands of campesino families. The effects of mining on water sources will deepen the social conflict and violence. 

The criminalization of the struggle for the defense of the territories and human rights as well as the systematic threats, displacement and forced evictions, exile, torture and dispossession “remain in total and absolute impunity.”, states a press communique from the Mission. 

Criminalization and Repression — Crushing Human Rights
The ever more selective persecution is participated in by “private security forces and death squads protected by the State that has militarized the region with the sponsorship and to the benefit of the regional economic powers.”, states the communique. “Sadly, we note that not only have many of the recommendations made some years ago not been implemented but that the statistics on murders have risen and impunity is absolute”, said Luis Guillermo Pérez, member of the International Human Rights Federation (FIDH). 

There is a perception of a lack of will and an investigative conflagration that was corroborated in a meeting of the Mission with local and regional authorities and that continues to repeat  and deepen the criminalization of the campesino organizations. 

Esly Banegas, from the Coordination of Popular Organization of the Aguan (COPA) explained that of the campesino leaders that signed the agreements of 2010 with the government, the immense majority have been assassinated or had to flee into either internal or external exile. 
“More that 300 colleagues are in judicial processes. They are criminalizing and assassinating us. If we don’t unite they will decimate us until we disappear.”,  said Banega sounding the alarm. 
She also noted that the agreements of 2010 as well as those of 2012 (2) for the purchase of thousands of hectares of land were never fulfilled. 

“The campesino enterprises are confronting a grave economic crisis, the product of the international price for palm oil and the lack of will on the part of the current government to create a consensus for a reduction of the (campesino ) debt. If this problem is not resolved, the situation could return again to an explosive situation”, said the leader of COPA. 

Given this situation, a demand by the Mission was proposed by the Forum: the creation of a grouping to formulate analysis to prevent risk for human rights defenders. 

Justice for Berta - No More Violence Against Copinh
The International Mission for Human Rights Observation also strongly took up the theme of the assassination of the Lenca indigenous leader, Berta Cáceres, calling it a “political crime for which the State is responsible, not only because an army official has been linked to the crime but because the State” was obligated to protect her life and physical integrity. ”
The Mission stated that it joins the call of the family and of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh) to create an international investigative commission that is autonomous from the Honduran State, “so that all the material and intellectural authors of the crime are punished”. 

The Mission also condemned the police repression unleashed against Copinh’s protests on May 9th and demanded that the government of Honduras “avoid all forms of criminalization of social protest”. 

Recommendations - The right to truth and justice is primary
Among the main recommendations formulation by the Observation Mission notable is that of the “assurance of an investigation of the crimes committed “as the premise for the guarantee of the right to truth, justice and reparation/restoration for the victims”. 
As well, that the Honduran government assures the fulfillment of the agreements signed with the campesino organizations of the Aguán, that the repression and stigmatization does not continue against those who defend their rights, as well as the guarantee of strict fulfillment of the preventative measures ordered by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC). 
Finally, it recommends the creation of mechanisms for a participatory consultations with the campesino organizations “related to the projects that are implemented in their territories”. 

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