Press Release

IACHR expresses concern over threats against and arrests of campesino leaders in Bajo Aguán, Honduras

August 29, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses concern over a series of violent evictions in the Bajo Aguán region that allegedly occurred in the context of the agrarian conflict in the area, as well as over the threats against and arrest of various campesino leaders who were beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the Commission on May 8, 2014. These acts presumably took place between May and the present time. The Commission urges the State to investigate these acts of violence and to prosecute and punish those responsible. The IACHR also urges the State to immediately adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the right to life, integrity, and security of the human rights defenders in the country.

As is publicly known, on May 21, 2014, members of the police force and the army as well as private security guards allegedly took part in the violent eviction of the La Trinidad and El Despertar farms in the municipality of Trujillo, Colón. According to available information, 300 families affiliated with the Movimiento Auténtico Reivindicador Campesino del Aguán [Authentic Peasant Reclamation Movement of Aguán] (MARCA) were evicted. The security forces presumably used tear gas and pepper spray and fired shots into the air to frighten and dislodge the families who had been living on the farms since July 2012. As a result of this operation, some 50 peasants and eight members of the security forces were allegedly injured and 15 people were arrested and presumably beaten. Among those arrested were Walter Cárcamo, Jaime Cabrera, and Antonio Rodríguez, beneficiaries of the precautionary measures granted by the Commission a few weeks before the incident. Jaime Cabrera was supposedly threatened with death by members of the army and the police, who allegedly put a rifle to his left ear.

Moreover, according to information received by the IACHR, on July 3 the National Preventive Police, members of the Xatruch III Joint Task Force, and the 15th battalion of Special Forces evicted 350 families of the Movimiento Campesino Fundación Gregorio Chávez [Gregorio Chávez Peasant Movement for Reestablishment] (MCRCG) who had been living at the Paso Aguán farm since May of this year. Allegedly, the families were violently dislodged with the use of tear gas. In addition, several campesinos were wounded and seven arrested, among them two of the leaders who were beneficiaries of the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR.

Moreover, according to information received by the Commission, on July 30 and 31 the human rights defenders Martha Arnold, Irma Lemus, and Rigoberto Durán, members of the Permanent Human Rights Observatory of Bajo Aguán, were allegedly followed by two white vehicles. Further, on August 19, the campesino leader Santos Torres, a member of the Movimiento Campesino Fundación Gregorio Chávez and a beneficiary of the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR, was presumably threatened at his home by members of the military and security guards, who it is claimed pointed firearms at him and his wife. That same group of military and security guards presumably went to the home of Glenda Chávez, a member of the Permanent Human Rights Observatory of Bajo Aguán and a leader of this campesino movement.

There exists a long-standing land conflict between peasants and businesspersons in the Bajo Aguán region. According to a network of national and international organizations monitoring the situation, 112 campesinos have allegedly been killed in the past four years in the context of the agrarian conflict affecting the region. The Inter-American Commission has spoken out about the situation in Bajo Aguán on repeated occasions, including in the section on Honduras in Chapter IV of its 2012 and 2013 Annual Reports. The IACHR notes that the situation remains a matter of great concern.

In this connection, on May 8, 2014, the IACHR granted precautionary measures in favor of 123 members of the organizations “Movimiento Campesino Recuperación del Aguán” [Peasant Movement for the Recovery of the Aguán] (MOCRA), “Movimiento Campesino Fundación Gregorio Chávez” (MCRGC), “Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguán” [Unified Peasant Movement of Aguán] (MUCA), and “Movimiento Auténtico Reivindicador Campesino del Aguán” (MARCA), requesting the Government of Honduras to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the life and physical integrity of said members.

The IACHR recalls that it is the obligation of the State to investigate on its own initiative acts of this nature and to punish those responsible. As the Commission has stated previously, acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders not only affect the guarantees of every human being but also undermine the fundamental role that human rights defenders play in society and leave all those for whom they fight defenseless. The Commission also recalls that the work of human rights defenders is essential for the construction of a solid, lasting democratic society and that rights defenders play a leading role in the process of pursuing the full attainment of the rule of law and the strengthening of 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. 94/14