Press Release

IACHR Condemns Murder of Human Rights Defender in Honduras

September 17, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder in Honduras of the campesino leader and human rights defender Margarita Murillo, president of the Las Ventanas Campesino Production Association and leader of the Valle del Sula Social Forum, together with the reported kidnapping of her 23-year-old son. The Commission urges the State to investigate this murder and to prosecute and punish the guilty, and also to clear up the facts surrounding the abduction of the human rights defender’s son.

According to the publicly available information, on August 27, 2014, in the community of El Planón, Villanueva, department of Cortés, Margarita Murillo — a campesino leader who had spent more than 40 years defending the rights of Honduran campesinos — was killed by a group of hooded men who shot her in the face four times. The plot of land where the incident took place had reportedly been recovered by the Las Ventanas Campesino Production Association, of which she was the president.

According to publicly available information, Ms. Murillo was also the coordinator of the National People’s Resistance Front (FNRP) and of other Honduran political and social organizations, and she was a congressional candidate to represent the department of Cortés for the LIBRE Party, of which she was also a founder. Ms. Murillo had recently received a number of death threats in connection with her work defending campesino rights. In addition, according to reports, on July 26, 2014, her 23-year-old son was abducted from his home in the community of Marañón by a group of members of the military, and his whereabouts remains unknown.

In 2009 the Commission received information on Ms. Murillo’s situation, with the reports claiming that she and other political leaders had been threatened with arrest warrants, followed, beaten, and illegally arrested by the security forces. The IACHR noted its concern about Ms. Murillo’s situation in its 2009 country report Honduras: Human Rights and the Coup d’État, and, in its 2010 follow-up report, it recommended that the State adopt determined measures to prevent murders, threats, and intimidations against human rights defenders, journalists, social communicators, and social leaders. In particular, it recommended that the steps necessary to protect their lives and physical integrity be taken.

The IACHR reiterates that States are obliged to conduct investigations on its own initiative into incidents of this kind and to punish both the masterminds behind them and the physical perpetrators. In particular, the IACHR urges the State of Honduras to pursue lines of investigation to establish whether Ms. Murillo’s was murdered on account of her human rights defense work. The investigation must also be undertaken with due diligence and be exhaustive, serious, and impartial. In addition, the IACHR urges the State to adopt all the measures necessary to ensure the right to life, to physical integrity, and to security of human rights defenders, in particular those campesino leaders who have been gravely impacted by the violence surrounding ongoing land conflicts. Furthermore, it is vital that the State take all the steps available to it to conduct an urgent investigation into the situation of Ms. Murillo’s son.

As the Commission has stated on previous occasions, not only do acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders affect the guarantees inherent to all persons; they also undermine the essential role defenders play within society and leave all the people on whose behalf they work in a state of defenselessness. The Commission further reiterates that defenders’ work is essential in constructing a solid and lasting democratic society, and that they play a leading role in achieving the full rule of law and in strengthening democracy.

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.

No. 101/14