IACHR Takes Case involving Honduras to the Inter-American Court
April 4, 2013
Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case No. 12.548, Garífuna Community of "Triunfo de la Cruz" and its Members, Honduras.
The facts of this case refer to the failure to act to protect the ancestral territory of the Triunfo de la Cruz Community from occupation and dispossession by third parties. This has triggered and maintained a situation of permanent conflict for the community due to actions in its territory by third parties, both private individuals and public authorities. Moreover, the sale of communal lands by public authorities has negatively affected the community's ancestral territory and led to pressure, threats, and even murders or arrests of community leaders and authorities. In addition, the community does not have proper and culturally appropriate title to its ancestral territory, and access to certain parts of its territory has been restricted by the establishment of protected areas, which has hampered its ability to maintain its traditional way of life.
The case also has to do with the lack of prior, free, and informed consultation of the Triunfo de la Cruz Community and its members concerning the adoption of decisions affecting the territory they have occupied historically, including the execution of tourism projects and megaprojects, the creation of a protected area in part of their ancestral territory, and sales of communal lands. Moreover, the community has not had a remedy that takes into account its particular features, its economic and social characteristics, its customary law, its values, and its customs and usage in the context of procedures related to collective property. The Commission deemed that the victims have not had effective access to justice in the context of complaints related to the sale of ancestral lands; acts of threats, aggression, harassment, and persecution suffered by community authorities; and the situation of ongoing violence and insecurity caused by third parties in their territory.
The case was sent to the Inter-American Court on February 21, 2013, because the State had not informed the Commission on compliance with the recommendations contained in its Report on the Merits regarding this case. In that report, the Inter-American Commission recommended that the State of Honduras adopt the measures needed to give effect to the right to communal property and possession of the Garífuna Community of Triunfo de la Cruz and its members with respect to its ancestral territory-in particular, the legislative, administrative, or other measures needed for the appropriate delimitation, demarcation, and titling of its lands, in accordance with its customary law, values, habits, and customs, and to guarantee to members of the Garífuna Community the development and continuity of its cosmovision in such a way that they can continue their traditional lifestyle, in keeping with their distinct cultural identity, social structure, economic system, customs, beliefs, and traditions. In addition, the Commission recommended that the State establish, with the participation of indigenous peoples, legislative or other measures needed to give effect to the right to prior, free, informed, and good-faith consultation, in accordance with international human rights standards; to adopt an effective and simple recourse that protects the right of the indigenous peoples of Honduras to claim and gain access to their traditional territories and that protects those territories against actions by the State or third parties that violate their right to property; to investigate and punish those responsible for the threats, harassment, acts of violence and intimidation, and damage done to the property of members of the Community of Triunfo de la Cruz and especially its leaders and authorities; to make reparation, both individual and collective, for the consequences of the violation of the aforementioned rights; and to adopt any measures needed to avoid similar acts occurring in the future, in line with its duty to prevent and guarantee fundamental rights recognized in the American Convention.
In addition to the need to obtain justice for the victims, the IACHR believes that this case will allow the Inter-American Court to establish the parameters that should be considered when creating legislation regarding the territory claims of indigenous and tribal peoples, so that such laws can achieve their objectives and meet international standards in this area.
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 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.