IACHR Files Honduras Case with IA Court over Violations of the Rights of Members of the Aguán Campesino Movement

October 26, 2023

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed a petition with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) over case 13.514, concerning violations of the rights of Members of the Aguán Campesino Movement in Honduras.

The 1962 Agrarian Reform Law allocated land to 84 cooperatives within the Bajo Aguán region. However, in 1992, the Law for the Modernization and Development of the Agricultural Sector allowed entrepreneurs to acquire much of these lands in an irregular manner, using deceptive and threatening tactics.

In response, the campesinos formed the United Campesino Movement of Aguán (MUCA) in 2001. Between 2006 and 2010, MUCA and other groups filed lawsuits to rescind the purchase agreements for three farms in the area, two of which were successful but later dismissed, while the third remained pending.

There were high levels of violence in relation to the land claims, which put the people living in the region at the time in a high-risk situation, including numerous deaths, threats, and evictions. In response, the military authorities took over security in the area, and local companies hired private security guards who were constantly involved in attacks against the campesinos.

Although the State has taken some measures, such as establishing the Unit for Violent Deaths in Bajo Aguán (UMVIBA) to investigate crimes in the region, there has been no effective response to investigate the events in question.

In its Admissibility and Merits Report, the IACHR found that the State was responsible for violating the rights to life and integrity of the victims and their relatives by failing to protect them and respond promptly.

The IACHR also found that the right to freedom and personal integrity had been violated through the multiple arrests and acts of aggression against people associated with peasant movements, particularly in the case of Carlos Alberto Hernández, who was kidnapped and assaulted by the authorities during Operation Xatruch II.

The IACHR also established that several violent evictions were carried out with the support of the armed forces and the police. After examining the State's response through actions such as the filing of nullity appeals on land sales and the land buyback initiative, it was concluded that victims did not have access to an effective remedy to address allegations of irregularities in land sales or to resolve land tenure issues.

As a result, the IACHR found that the State had violated the victims' rights to personal integrity, judicial guarantees, and protection of their rights to property and housing. Finally, the IACHR found that the violence against the people of Bajo Aguán has created a climate of reprisals aimed at intimidating campesinos in the area from exercising their human rights and violating the rights to freedom of expression and association of members of the campesino movements in the region.

In summary, the IACHR concluded that the Honduran State is responsible for the violation of the rights to life (article 4), personal integrity (article 5), personal liberty (article 7), freedom of expression (article 13), freedom of association (article 16), and private property (article 21) in relation to the obligations established in article 1(1) of the American Convention. It concluded that the State was responsible for violating the rights to a fair trial and judicial protection enshrined in articles 8.1 and 25 in relation to articles 21, 26, and 1.1 of the American Convention, to the detriment of the campesino communities of the Aguán region.

In light of these points, the IACHR has recommended the following measures of reparation to the State of Honduras:

  1. Make full reparations to the victims identified in the report, including material and nonmaterial damages.
  2. Seriously and diligently investigate the killings and other violations against the victims identified in the report, strengthen the UMVIBA, and ensure that victims, their families, and human rights defenders have full access to investigations and judicial proceedings.
  3. Ensure that any legal appeals related to the ownership of the properties mentioned in the report are resolved promptly.
  4. Adopt measures of nonrepetition, including:
    1. Strengthen the Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
    2. Avoid forced evictions and expulsions in the Bajo Aguán region.
    3. Conduct an independent evaluation of the situation of campesinos in land conflicts in Bajo Aguán that addresses the origins of land claims as a structural source of violence, identifies strategies to resolve conflicts, and regulates the activities of companies in accordance with the IACHR's Report on Business and Human Rights.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate stems from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as an advisory body to the OAS on the matter. The IACHR is made up of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 251/23

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