The recent murder of environmental and indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres has brought attention to the extreme danger faced by human rights defenders in Honduras. Less than two weeks after Berta’s murder, Nelson García, another activist with the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was murdered following the eviction of Lenca communities from their land by state security forces. In the past few years, COPINH members have been killed by state forces, as in the case of Tomás García in 2013, and have faced intimidation, harassment and continual criminalization by the government (including the arrest in 2013 of Berta Cáceres along with two other COPINH leaders on trumped-up charges).
Within a context of increasing persecution and intimidation against Honduran social activists, COPINH’s experience is not unique. Activists across Honduras — whether they are from environmental, labor, indigenous or LGBT rights organizations — have faced intense repression and violence. These acts of violence almost never result in prosecutions, and rather than protect activists, Honduran security forces are frequently suspected of criminal complicity in the attacks.
On Thursday, April 7, 2016, human rights defenders discussed the disturbing pattern of violence and repression in Honduras targeting social activists. The congressional briefing, “The U.S. Policy Response to Violence and Repression Against Human Rights Defenders in Honduras” was hosted by Representative Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and moderated by Timi Gerson, Director of Advocacy with American Jewish World Service. Speakers included Tomás Gómez Membreño, General Coordinator of COPINH; Alejando Tercero, LGBT activist with the Rainbow Collective (Colectivo Arcoiris); Bertha Oliva, Executive Director of the Committee for the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH); and Víctor Fernández, COPINH Attorney and Coordinator of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ).
The panelists discussed the current climate in Honduras from the perspective of different communities of human rights activists and highlighted what reforms to U.S.-Honduras policy are needed to curb rights abuses and to support the work of human rights advocates and civil society more broadly.
The event, in its entirety, can be viewed here and below, with the four panelists’ comments in untranslated Spanish and the panel moderated in English.