Human Rights Situation in the Bajo Aguan, Honduras

Luis Guillermo Pérez Casas, FIDH; Martin Woolpold, FIAN Internacional; Rudy Hernández, Bajo Aguán. Photo by Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS.

Commissioners: Commissioner Felipe González, Commissioner Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Commissioner Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero, and Commissioner Jesús Orozco Henríquez
Participants:
Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH), State of Honduras, Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos (FIDH), Centro de Investigación y Promoción de Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH), FIAN International, Asociación de Agencias de Desarrollo ligadas al Concejo Mundial de Iglesias (APRODEV), Regional Latinoamericana de la Unión Internacional de los Trabajadores de la Alimentación, Agrícolas, Hoteles, Restaurantes, Tabaco y Afines (Rel-UITA), Iniciativa de Copenhague para Centroamérica y Mexico (CIFCA)
Countries:
Honduras
Topics:
General Human Rights Situation

In a hearing on October 24, 2011, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) received information about the situation in the Bajo Aguán, Honduras, where human rights violations continue in the context of a longstanding land conflict. The petioners classified the situation as “the most severe repression and aggression against peasant communities in a sub-region in Central American in the past 15 years.” In response, the state described steps it has taken to work with certain peasant organizations to negotiate an end to the conflict and investigate the crimes.

The current conflict arose out of a longstanding dispute over land that the government had allocated to peasants during an agrarian reform project in the 1970s. In the 1990s, largely through sales the government has confirmed were illegal, much of the land that had been redistributed again became concentrated in the hands of a few landowners and businesses. The ongoing conflict was exacerbated by the insecurity surrounding the 2009 coup, and as a result, 42 people have been assassinated in the context of the conflict since January 2010. The IACHR visited Honduras in May 2010, and in its report, the Commission expressed concern about the ongoing conflict and the military presence in the Bajo Aguán. In response to escalating violence, the government increased its military presence in the Bajo Aguán in August 2011.

Speaking for the petitioners, Martin Woolpold of FIAN International (FIAN) described the numerous cases of disappearances, torture, threats, and forced displacement that continue in the Bajo Aguán.  He alleged that the failure to investigate these crimes facilitates their repetition, and the result has been the criminalization of the peasant movement and the militarization of the area. Rudy Hernández, a human rights defender in Bajo Aguán, explained that there are more than eleven peasant organizations in the area, but the government has only entered into agreements with two of them and has failed to carry out the terms of those agreements. He also stated that human rights defenders are often under surveillance and subject to threats, which prevents them from completing their work. Luis Guillermo Pérez Casas of Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos (FIDH) pointed out that the State has an obligation to protect the rights of its citizens, and alleged that the Bajo Aguán was host to violations of the rights to life, integrity, fair trial, privacy, equal protection, and judicial protection under the American Convention on Human Rights.

Representing the state, César Ham, Director of the National Agrarian Institute (INA), provided the historical context of the conflict, which he emphasized has been ongoing since the 1990s.  He described government negotiations with the Unified Peasant Movement of Aguán (MUCA) and the Authentic Peasant Reclamation Movement of Aguán (MARCA) to reallocate land that had been illegally sold. He also laid out concrete steps the government has taken in an effort to protect rights to work, housing, education and liberty. Danelia Ferrera, General Director of the Public Ministry’s District Attorneys’ office, provided details about specific investigations currently underway in cases of forced displacement and assassination. Marcela Castañeda, Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Security, stated that the conflict has been categorized as one that affects national security, and she named other factors fueling the conflict, including drug trafficking, organized crime, and common crime. In response to questions regarding the reasons for sending military troops to the Bajo Aguán, she explained that the purpose of the military presence in the area was to maintain public order and protect peace, property, and life.

Commissioners Felipe González, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero, and Jesús Orozco Henríquez requested information to reconcile the disparities between information presented by the petitioners and the State, specifically regarding the State’s negotiations with peasant organizations and the role of the military forces in the conflict and investigations. The commissioners further asked what actions the state was taking to control the private security forces of landowners and business in the area that had allegedly committed human rights violates. The commissions expressed concern for the situation of human rights defenders in the Bajo Aguán and asked what measures the state was taking to ensure their safety and right to continue their work.

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