Honduras risks becoming ‘lawless killing zone’ for human rights and environment defenders – UN urges government to address ‘the flagrant impunity of the increased number of executions targeting those who defend environmental and land rights’Posted by Jim at Saturday, March 19, 2016
18 March 2016 (UN) – An independent United Nations expert on the situation of human rights defenders today urged the Government of Honduras “to take immediate and concrete actions, or risk turning the country into a lawless killing zone for human rights defenders.”
UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst’s appeal came after the killing of yet another outspoken leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations Honduras (COPINH), Nelson García, reportedly occurred on 15 March.
Earlier this month, Berta Cáceres, COPINH founder, prominent indigenous leader and environmental and women human rights defender, was slain.
García was allegedly killed shortly after he had witnessed a forced eviction carried out by security forces in the Río Lindo area, South of San Pedro Sula. “This new tragedy points once again to major faults in the protection of rights defenders in the country,” Mr. Forst said in a press release.
“Amid unrelenting attacks against environmental and indigenous defenders, it is high time the Honduran authorities take concrete steps to ensure safety for all human rights defenders in the country, and their families,” he stressed, recalling States’ obligation to guarantee security and protection for all human rights defender or activists within its borders.
“I urge the Honduran Government to publicly condemn the assassination of Nelson García and ensure an immediate, independent and impartial investigation into his death,” he said. “This cycle of violence will only stop when impunity is addressed and perpetrators of such attacks are put to justice.”
According to numerous reports received by the special rapporteur, Honduras has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders, particularly those promoting rights related to environment and land issues.
On 5 March, after the death of Berta Cáceres, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decided to call for precautionary measures for all members of COPINH as they were suffering an escalation of threats and harassment. “However, this has regrettably not prevented Mr. García’s murder,” Mr. Forst concluded.
Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
GENEVA, 10 March 2016 (UNHCR) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, today called upon the Government of Honduras to ensure the safety and protection of Gustavo Castro Soto, Mexican defender, who was hurt during the assassination of Berta Cáceres.
Honduran authorities prevented Mr. Castro Soto, founder of the organization Otros Mundos and defender of land and environmental rights, from leaving the country for Mexico. He is prevented from leaving Honduras for 30 days due to a ‘migratory alert’, but the grounds for this alert are yet to be confirmed.
“I urge the authorities of Honduras to guarantee that the life of Mr. Castro Soto is not put to risk and to allow his return to Mexico as soon as possible”, expressed the Rapporteur, while noting the assistance provided to the defender by the Mexican Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
“It is high time that the Government of Honduras addressed the flagrant impunity of the increased number of executions of human rights defenders in the country, especially targeting those who defend environmental and land rights,” Mr. Forst stressed.
Additionally, the Special Rapporteur insisted that the Government of Honduras should make sure that an immediate, independent and impartial investigation takes place on the death of Berta Cáceres.
“Berta’s assassination is a tragic wake-up call for the State to prevent such murderous acts, protect defenders and bring the responsible criminals to justice,” the Rapporteur noted.
“Gustavo should immediately be provided with effective protection and permitted to return to his country,” he concluded, expressing deep concern for the safety of the Mexican defender while he remains in Honduras.
The statement by Mr. Michel Forst has been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye and on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, John Knox.
Mr. Michel Forst (France) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in 2014. Michel Forst has extensive experience on human rights issues and particularly on the situation of human rights defenders. In particular, he was the Director General of Amnesty International (France) and Secretary General of the first World Summit on Human Rights Defenders in 1998. For more information, log on to:
Read the Special Rapporteur’s reports on the global threats facing human rights defenders, and on the situation of women human rights defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx
The UN human rights experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx
UN Human Rights, country page – Honduras: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/HNIndex.aspx
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8 March 2016 (Democracy Now!) – Honduras is still reeling from last week’s assassination of Berta Cáceres, one of the country’s most well-known environmental and indigenous leaders. She was gunned down in her home early Thursday, less than a year after she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. Cáceres is at least the 110th environmental or land defender to be killed in Honduras since 2010 in the wake of a U.S.-supported coup. At the time of her assassination, Cáceres was with Gustavo Castro Soto, another well-known environmental campaigner and coordinator of Friends of the Earth Mexico. He witnessed the shooting and sustained two bullet wounds. Now, human rights activists say the Honduran government is detaining Castro without cause and refusing him permission to return to his native Mexico. We speak with Beverly Bell, longtime colleague of both Castro and Cáceres and coordinator of Other Worlds, a social and economic justice organization.
AMY GOODMAN: Today is International Women’s Day. And a shout-out to the students at P.S. 128 in Washington Heights, who have come to watch Democracy Now! today in our studios. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to Honduras, which is still reeling from last week’s assassination of Berta Cáceres, one of the country’s most well-known indigenous environmental leaders. She was gunned down in her home early Thursday, less than a year after she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. She is at least the 110th environmental or land defender to be killed in Honduras since 2010 in the wake of a U.S.-supported coup. Her death has sparked protests across the Americas. A demonstration is scheduled today outside the United Nations.
At the time of her assassination, Berta was with another well-known environmental campaigner, Gustavo Castro Soto, coordinator of Friends of the Earth Mexico. He was shot twice in the attack. Over the weekend, Castro attempted to leave Honduras, but authorities blocked his exit, even though he was accompanied by the Mexican ambassador. Castro was eventually ordered to return to the town of La Esperanza, where Berta Cáceres had been gunned down. Castro has been held there ever since for additional questioning, the Honduran government says.
Well, for more, we’re giong to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we’re joined by Beverly Bell, longtime friend of both Gustavo and Berta. She’s currently the coordinator of Other Worlds, a social and economic justice organization. Bell is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Beverly Bell. What is happening right now in the wake and the horror of the Berta Cáceres assassination? What’s happening to Gustavo Castro Soto?
BEVERLY BELL: Well, the first thing to point out is that Gustavo is not only the sole witness, he also was a target for assassination. He was, as you mentioned, Amy, shot twice. And in the one letter that he has been able to get out to a few of us, he said, "They tried to assassinate me, and they are still trying to assassinate me." Gustavo feigned death after having been shot twice. The death squads, who were sent, we are certain, by the Honduran government, thought that he was dead. They left. Berta died in Gustavo’s arms. He was then immediately picked up for questioning. He is now in his fifth day of questioning. It reads like the worst horror movie you could ever imagine. It’s just been crazy, where Gustavo was locked up in horrible conditions, horrible, denied food and drink and other things, which I have been asked not to report until he leaves the country, for his security. [more]