A new report by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders says human rights defenders in Honduras face killings, constant threats, and criminalization, making the Central American country one of the most dangerous in the world for human rights activists.
The report highlights that structural factors, such as the militarization of the state, the lack of an independent judiciary, systematic stigmatization of defenders, and government institutional failures around civil rights, show a lack of any real willingness to protect those who speak out and defend human rights.
The situation for human rights defenders in Honduras received a great deal of international attention in 2016, after the murder of Berta Cáceres, a Lenca Indigenous leader and land defender. According to the report Cáceres murder is part of a disturbing pattern. Since 2001, 17 activists have been killed, an average of one per year. Since May 2015, the Observatory has reported 16 killings of human rights defenders. Attacks against defenders tend to go unpunished, largely due to inefficiencies in the administration of justice.
According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, IACHR, since 2010 there have been 3,064 cases in Honduras where human rights defenders have been criminalized as a means of intimidation.
The report concludes that Honduras needs a clear and explicitly protective national framework that fully recognizes the human rights of the rural population, Indigenous people and the LGBTI community. This would improve the working environment of activists, especially in situations of conflict over natural resources such as Berta Cáceres' attempts to stop a dam which threatens her Lenca community.
Cáceres' case has come to epitomize the grave human rights situation in Honduras and the systemic impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of political violence.
Cáceres was shot dead in her home after leading a years-long movement against unwanted corporate projects on Indigenous land in western Honduras. A prominent resistance leader in the fight against neoliberalism at the national level, Cáceres had faced dozens of death threats leading up to her assassination and was reportedly at the top of a U.S.-backed military squad hitlist.