Press Release

IACHR Condemns Attack on Human Rights Defenders Berta Zúñiga Cáceres, Sotero Chavarría, and Asunción Martínez in Honduras

July 25, 2017

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the recent attack on three human rights defenders in Honduras.

According to publicly available information, on June 30 three members of a civil society organization—Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras, COPINH [Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras]—were reportedly targets of an attack. The three individuals were Berta Zúñiga Cáceres Flores, general coordinator of COPINH and daughter of Berta Cáceres Flores, a recognized human rights defender and indigenous leader who was killed in March 2016; Sotero Chavarría; and Asunción Martínez.

Published reports indicate that people with machetes blocked off the road to the COPINH vehicle. The three human rights defenders escaped the blockade and were pursued by the assailants. According to information the IACHR received, attempts were made to ram the COPINH vehicle, presumably to force it off the road, until the rights defenders were able to take a detour and escape pursuit.

The three members of the organization recently campaigned for the right to free, prior, and informed consent in connection with megaprojects that reportedly would threaten the economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights of the Lenca people.

The Inter-American Commission reiterates its alarm over the continuing attacks on human rights defenders in Honduras. In August 2016, the IACHR Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, warned that Honduras has become one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders. They urged the government of Honduras to adopt and immediately apply effective measures to protect the defenders.

In the past year, the IACHR has tracked various cases involving violence against rights defenders in the country; these include, among others, the killings of Berta Cáceres, Nelson Noé García, José Ángel Flores, and Silmer Dionisio George, all of whom were beneficiaries of IACHR precautionary measures. The Inter-American Commission expresses its consternation and concern over the recent attack on Berta Zúñiga Cáceres, which was perpetrated against the rights defender despite the precautionary measures granted on her behalf and after the last working meeting on the measures held in Tegucigalpa on May 18, 2017.

The Inter-American Commission urges the State to immediately adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the life, integrity, and safety of all members of COPINH who are beneficiaries of Precautionary Measure 112-16. It also urges the State to reinforce protections for human rights defenders and ensure that they can carry out their activities without subject to violence, threats, and harassment. As stated in its report Situation of Human Rights in Honduras, the IACHR reiterates its recommendation to implement an overall policy to protect human rights defenders, adopt an effective and comprehensive prevention strategy, and intensify efforts to promptly, diligently, and impartially investigate all acts of violence against rights defenders, in order to avoid future attacks against them.

“The State of Honduras must immediately adopt protection measures to combat the risk factors that give rise to violence against human rights defenders,” said the IACHR Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco. “It is essential and urgent for the State to guarantee the safety of rights defenders so that they can freely carry out their important work without fear or reprisals, and free of any restriction. This includes protection plans designed so that they respond to the specific risk faced by each defender and the characteristics of his or her work,” he added.

“The Commission is concerned about the information related to the attacks against human rights defenders in Honduras, especially against those who defend the right to a healthy environment, as well as the right of indigenous peoples to land and territory,” said the IACHR Rapporteur for Honduras, Commissioner James Cavallaro. “We reiterate that it is the obligation of the State of Honduras to take urgent steps to prevent any attempt on the lives and integrity of those who defend the environment, land, and territory,” he added.

The Commission reiterates that acts of violence and other attacks on human rights defenders not only infringe on the defenders’ own rights as human beings but also undermine the critical role they play in society. Such attacks also harm the people on whose behalf they work and leave them more vulnerable, even to the point of being defenseless.

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. 104/17