Honduras: attacks on human rights activists increase

Some 10 armed men identified as security guards from a mining project threatened and detained two foreign volunteers for the Honduras Accompaniment Project (PROAH) for more than two hours on July 25 in the Nueva Esperanza community in the northern Honduran department of Atlántida. Area communities have faced threats and harassment for at least a year while organizing in opposition to open-pit mining by Minerales Victoria, part of the Alutech metal company owned by Lenir Pérez. The two international volunteers, one French and one Swiss, went to Nueva Esperanza hoping that their presence would deter further aggression by the mining company. Less than 24 hours later security guards and a group of mineworkers threatened them and forced them to leave the community. 

The Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) has issued precautionary measures for two community leaders in the area, César Alvarenga and Roberto García, members of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), because of death threats texted by Lenir Pérez in August 2012. Catholic priest César Espinoza and a group of nuns received threats in January, and armed men assaulted and threatened community residents in June. “The terror we lived for two hours is the tragic everyday life in this town,” Orlane Vidal, one of the detained volunteers, told the Lista Informativa Nicaragua y Más (LINyM) blog in an interview. On July 26 some 250 people marched to Nueva Esperanza in support of the community’s peaceful opposition to the mine and of the work of international human rights observers. (LINyM, July 27, English translation at Upside Down World, July 31; Friendship Office of the Americas urgent action, July 29)

On July 29 the London-based rights organization Amnesty International (AI) issued a statement “condemn[ing] the recent killings of people defending justice, equality and human rights” in Honduras. The organization noted that at least three were killed in less than two weeks in July.

The first was Tomás García Domínguez, a leader of the indigenous Lenca who was killed by the military on July 15 in Intibucá department in western Honduras during a demonstration at the headquarters for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project. On July 21 Herwin Alexis Ramírez Chamorro, an Afro-Honduran transsexual also known as “Africa Noxema Howell,” was found dead in La Ceiba, Atlántida department; he was active in the Ceiba Pro-Union Organization (OPROUCE), which works for HIV prevention and LGBT rights, and the Ethnic Community Development Organization (ODECO), which works for the development of Afro-Honduran communities. On July 24 armed men on a motorbike shot and killed Judge Mireya Efigenía Mendoza Peña in El Progreso, in the northern department of Yoro. Mendoza was a judge in the El Progreso Trial Court and also a member of the Association of Judges for Democracy (AJD), a nongovernmental organization working to strengthen the Honduran justice system. AI said it “call[ed] on the Honduran authorities to conduct a prompt, impartial and effective investigation” into each of the killings. (AI, July 29; Adital, Brazil, July 30)

On July 27 the authorities arrested a man named Bairon Martínez for Judge Mendoza’s murder, citing evidence from a surveillance camera that they said captured the incident. Mendoza’s killing brought to 64 the number of attorneys and judges murdered since President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa took office in January 2010, according to the government’s own Human Rights Commission (CONADEH). (EFE, July 27 via Latin American Herald Tribune)

In related news, on Aug. 1 a criminal court in Tegucigalpa sentenced each of four former police agents to at least 43 years in prison for the Oct. 22, 2011 murder of two university students, Alejandro Rafael Vargas Castellanos and Carlos David Pineda Rodríguez; Vargas Castellanos’ mother, Julieta Castellanos, is the rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH). The crime exposed the level of corruption and other criminal activity in the Honduran police force; after the four agents were first detained in October 2011, the Tegucigalpa police chief released them, allowing them to escape temporarily. (AP, Aug. 1, via New York TimesEl Heraldo, Tegucigalpa, Aug. 2)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, August 4.