IACHR and Its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression Condemn the Murder of Community Journalist and Indigenous Leader Pablo Isabel Hernández Rivera in Honduras, Call on the State to Diligently Investigate It

January 18, 2022

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression condemn the murder of Lenca indigenous leader and community journalist Pablo Isabel Hernández Rivera in Honduras and urge the State to investigate this crime in a timely, diligent manner. Both institutions ask the State to establish—in keeping with inter-American standards—whether Hernández Rivera's activities as a human rights defender and a journalist may have been a motive for his murder.

According to publicly available reports, unknown attackers shot Hernández Rivera on January 9, 2022, while he was on his way to church in the municipality of San Marcos de Caiquín, in the Lempira department. The journalist died instantly. Hernández Rivera was the director of the community radio station Radio Tenán 94.1 FM, "The Lenca indigenous voice." He was well-known in his community for his critical reporting on matters of local interest. Radio Tenán 94.1 FM also broadcast the program "Voces contra el olvido" (Voices to Not Forget), produced by the Committee of Relatives of Individuals Who Went Missing While in Detention in Honduras (COFADEH, by its Spanish acronym).

As well as being a community journalist, Hernández Rivera stood out as an indigenous leader and a member of the Lempira Network of Human Rights Defenders (founded by the COFADEH), as a leader of the traditional government of the Lenca people, as president of the Indigenous Cultural Association, as secretary of the local indigenous council of Tierra Colorada, and as chairperson of the network of agroecology experts of the Cacique Lempira Señor de Las Montañas Biosphere Reserve.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship know that Hernández Rivera had reported death threats in recent years. In December 2020, he had also been the target of stigmatizing comments. Radio Tenán had also been threatened with a shutdown and, in February 2021, had been sabotaged by unknown attackers who cut off wires and caused further damage to its infrastructure.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship stress that murders of journalists entail not only a violation of the right to life, but also the most extreme form of censorship. Further, impunity leads to self-censorship by the media themselves. Principle 9 of the IACHR's Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression states: "[T]he murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and/or threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of communications media violate the fundamental rights of individuals and strongly restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of the State to prevent and investigate such occurrences, to punish their perpetrators and to ensure that victims receive due compensation."

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression also note the impact of this crime on the exercise of community journalism and on the defense of the human rights of indigenous peoples in Honduras. In a recent decision, the Inter-American Court said that community radio stations enable "indigenous peoples to engage more fully in public dialogue" and that they are "essential tools to ensure constant preservation, broadcasting, and development." For indigenous peoples, the loss of a leader or a defender might affect a given community's effective involvement in matters affecting its rights, inclusion, and self-determination and its free development within a multicultural and democratic State.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship urge the State of Honduras to investigate these events on its own initiative (ex officio) and to try and punish both their perpetrators and their masterminds. In particular, the Commission and its Special Rapporteurship urge the State to conduct a thorough, serious, and impartial investigation that focuses on Hernández Rivera's role as a community journalist and as an indigenous leader as a potential motive for his murder. Similarly, the State must seek to adopt a differentiated ethnic–racial approach when investigating, trying, and punishing these crimes and when providing reparations for the families of all victims, as well as providing guarantees of non-recurrence.

Finally, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship stress the important work done by rights defenders and journalists within democratic societies, and the fact that these individuals can only do their work freely when they are not being subjected to physical or emotional attacks, threats, or any other form of harassment. Both institutions therefore ask the State to strengthen mechanisms to protect community journalists and social and indigenous leaders, as well as to take all necessary measures to protect the right to life, the integrity, and the safety of all human rights defenders and journalists in Honduras.

The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the IACHR to promote the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the Americas, considering the fundamental role that right plays in the consolidation and development of any democratic system.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 015/22

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