This Holiday Season You Might Consider Adding a New Tradition –Write for Rights in Honduras

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By Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, Advocacy Director for the Americas, Amnesty International USA

If you think you had it rough this year, look around and you will find many reasons to count your blessings and stand in solidarity with others. Regardless of what holiday tradition you celebrate, consider the opportunity to support the people of Honduras.

As many were celebrating Thanksgiving in the U.S, more than 50,000 families with ties to Honduras were plagued with uncertainty about their legal status in the U.S. As the Holiday season took off, Hondurans were on the street demonstrating for fair elections. While some families were lighting up Hanukkah and advent candles, other families were burying loved ones killed by the military police’s excessive use of force. Before Christmas Day arrives, a deep political crisis is seeping in Honduras, heightening further the struggle of many communities against deep-rooted human rights challenges.

There is a lot to unpack and much you can do.

In early November, I spent a week with an Amnesty International delegation in Honduras and Guatemala. We traveled to the far flung hills of these two Central America countries to meet with rural and Indigenous Peoples’ communities, social leaders, and government officials for the purpose of examining the situation of land and environment rights, human rights, and conditions on the ground for returned migrants, and asylum seekers.

Brave Human Rights Defenders from MILPAH

Amnesty International important dialogue with authorities

Who are these human rights defenders?

Many of us take for granted the water that flows from our tap in the morning to brush our teeth, take a shower or indulge in a warm bath. In the meantime, peasant farmers and indigenous people residing in the foggy hills and green valleys of Central America are sacrificing their lives to protect “Mother Earth.” While many of these communities of land and environment rights defenders live among idyllic landscapes and rich soil, a great number of them live in abject poverty.

Local activists in Central America are the frontline defenders of their communities’ struggle to guarantee land, environmental, and human rights — they are people who brave the odds at all costs to defend their ancestral lands from large multinational corporation abuse and exploitation. For the Indigenous Lenca People of Honduras, the land is their life. Sadly, huge hydroelectric, mining and other interests are out to exploit their land, disregarding respect for due diligence and consultation processes.

MILPAH, the Independent Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz, is at the forefront of the struggle against them. They brave smear campaigns, death threats and physical assault to protect the land where they have lived for generations, yet their attackers are rarely brought to justice. During our Honduras mission, MILPAH activists explained that they are not against development, but rather want to be part of a conversation in which Indigenous Peoples’ communities are duly consulted.

Waves of threats, bogus charges, smear campaigns, attacks and killings of environmental and land activists recently made Honduras one of the most dangerous countries on earth for those protecting natural resources. MILPAH members also told us discrimination Indigenous children face in school, and added vulnerability women Indigenous leaders suffer for being women, mothers, Indigenous and human rights defenders.

MILPAH Members are risking their lives to save their land

MILPAH members experience is typical for land activists in Honduras. Some are lucky enough to survive. Others are not: Berta Cáceres, from COPINH who campaigned against a hydroelectric dam, was murdered in 2016, and despite international attention to her case, the intellectual authors have not being apprehended or faced trial.

There is a common feeling amongst these rural and Indigenous Peoples’ communities that they are abandoned by their government, that the only presence of the State is through security forces, to protect the territory, to protect the transnationals, and not to render service to the population. That promised development doesn’t benefit them, that their land gets exploited, that they are left to deal with the consequences of contaminated water, dried rivers and destroyed habitat and not real development that they need or want.

In many of the communities we visited, there is also a perception that the U.S government policy is supporting a government that has not done enough to respect and protect their rights.

Defending the land and environment should not be a utopia. One should not be killed for demonstrating and expressing one’s thoughts.

Since the November 26 Presidential elections, at least 20 people have reportedly been killed, hundreds detained, and others injured following the violent repression of protests by Honduran security forces. Amnesty International, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights have documented excessive use of force by Honduran security forces, and lack of accountability.

Three days before Christmas, the State Department issued a statement recognizing the highly contested Presidential election. In that, the U.S Government also accentuated an unhelpful rhetoric that there are two sides with equal forces perpetuating violence. That is not true! Any message coming out of U.S Government and Congress must be an unequivocal one — that Honduran security forces must stop using excessive use of force, not one insinuating all Hondurans are using violence. There are not, two sides with equal forces perpetuating violence and using force.

U.S. policymakers and State Department officials must send a strong message to the Honduran government to refrain from unnecessary or disproportionate use of force and to fully respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, without lumping peaceful protestors, together with abusive security forces.

You can also stand in solidarity with the people of Honduras:

1- Write4Rights and call on the Honduran government to recognize the legitimate work of MILPAH’s Indigenous People’s movement, investigate threats against them, and properly protect them from danger.

2- Call on the Honduran authorities to initiate a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into illegal raids, persecution, threats and damaged facilities reported by human rights defenders and organizations, and bring those responsible to justice.

3- Call urgently on the Honduran Authorities to halt all use of unnecessary or excessive force against protesters by security forces, end arbitrary detentions, and investigate all instances of human rights violations.

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