Amid systematic violence against Indigenous and environmental activists in Honduras, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz met with affected communities and urged the Honduran government to increase dialogue with Indigenous peoples and to respect their land and cultural rights.
Honduras was named the most dangerous country in the world for land and environmental defenders this year by NGO Global Witness. Tauli-Corpuz noted that the government has taken some steps in improving its consultation with local communities and in particular noted the importance of a newly submitted bill which would require the government to first consult with affected communities before projects such as mining and infrastructure projects are given approval.
However, she urged the government to increase its dialogue with Indigenous and Afro-Honduran communities before the bill is voted on as many communities so far feel that they have been left of the process.
Miriam Miranda, from OFRANEH, which represents the Afro-Honduran Garifuna community, said that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez wanted to portray to the international community that it has been including community voices, but in reality, they were being suppressed where a number of community leaders face trials for fighting for their rights.
Honduras' atrocious record of violence and the systematic impunity which plagues the country was brought to the forefront in March 2016 when prominent Honduran Indigenous activist Berta Caceres was assassinated by gunmen in her own home.
Caceres helped to lead an Indigenous struggle against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, and many believed that she was killed by state forces in collusion with the security forces from the company behind the project. While eight suspects have been arrested in connection with the murder, the case remains unsolved.
This week’s talks are a follow up from when Tauli-Corpuz visited in late 2015. At the time she warned that “Indigenous people of Honduras are facing regarding the lack of effective protection over their territories and natural resources, and lack of access to justice, education and health.”
Based on the 2015 visit, the Special Rapporteur’s report from last year made a number of important recommendations, particularly in the role that government and the military have played in violence and the killing of a number Indigenous people across the country.
The report detailed some of the abuses against communities in opposition to the Agua Zarca noting that “It is very concerning that the response by the company and local authorities has been the heavy militarization of the zone,” where supporters of the project that perpetrated violence was tolerated by authorities.
It even noted that when workers on the project threatened Caceres and others on the way to a protest, police and military personnel were present while she was close to being stabbed, and referred to Caceres as “the old bitch that must be killed.”
The Special Rapporteur recommended that the state should “include effective measures to regulate and oversee private security agents hired by private companies, and to sanction human rights violations that they commit.”
In cases of grave abuses such as Berta Caceres and Tomas Garcia -- another community leader that was killed in 2013 -- the report said that because of the military’s involvement it is the responsibility of the state to “provide justice and reparations.”