Members of Congress Call for Suspension of Security Funding to Honduras

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 7, 2016

Reps. Ellison and Johnson Call for Accountability for Human Rights Abuses in Honduras

WASHINGTON– Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Hank Johnson (D-GA), along with 27 Members of the House, sent a letter today to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Treasury Jacob Lew expressing growing concern about human rights violations in Honduras. This letter coincides with the nine-month anniversary of Berta Cáceres’s tragic murder.

The full text of the letter appears below, and the signed letter can be viewed here.

Dear Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew:

We write to follow up on our letter of March 17, 2016, signed by 62 Members of Congress, in which we expressed our concerns regarding the murder of Berta Cáceres — the internationally-renowned Honduran Indigenous rights advocate– and regarding human rights and U.S. policy in Honduras more generally. Since that time, our fears have only increased.

​We are concerned that the Government of Honduras continues to unduly limit access to the investigation into the murder of Ms. Cáceras and Gustavo Castro, a key witness who was shot along with Ms. Cáceres. Under Honduran law, victims and their families have the right to actively participate in the prosecution of the case; however, Ms. Cáceres’s investigative file remains secret seven months later. This significantly constrains the family’s legally guaranteed involvement in the case and limits its ability to advocate for a speedy prosecution of those implicated.

We are also alarmed that Honduran authorities were careless in handling the case file, as the file was allowed off government property and subsequently stolen. This raises further questions about the ability of Honduran authorities to manage Ms. Cáceres’s case and impartially prosecute the case.

​We were pleased to learn that five suspects were arrested in connection with Ms. Cáceres’s murder in May 2016 and a sixth suspect was arrested in September. Those arrested include: a current employee of the hydroelectric dam development company DESA, the builder of the dam that Ms. Cáceres and the Lenca Indigenous communities in Rio Blanco actively opposed; an active duty major in the Honduran military; and two former members of the Honduran military, one of whom was also a former employee of DESA.

Concerns remain that authorities have not brought into custody those that allegedly masterminded Ms. Cáceres’s murder, and authorities also did not seize relevant evidence during searches of DESA headquarters. On June 21st, the Guardian reported that a former soldier in a U.S.-funded Special Forces unit recounted he had seen Ms. Cáceres’s name on a death list allegedly belonging to the Honduran military. This, along with the identities of those previously arrested, suggests the involvement of high-ranking Honduran military figures in Ms. Cáceres’s assassination.

We welcome the November 14, 2016, announcement of the creation of the International Expert Advisory Panel (GAIPE), which was formed at the request of the Cáceres family with the support of COPINH and multiple civil society organizations. We hope that GAIPE can contribute to an impartial and independent examination of the pending criminal investigation. However, the GAIPE does not have access to information beyond that available to the family. In our March 2016 letter, we requested your assistance in pressuring the Honduran government to support an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) -led independent international investigation of Ms. Cáceres’s case. Despite offers of assistance from the IACHR, the Government of Honduras has not allowed such an investigation to proceed nor has the State Department taken a clear and public position in support of an independent IACHR investigation. We ask that you do so immediately.

Furthermore, violence against rights activists continues. COPINH activist Nelson García was killed in March 2016 and threats have forced his family to flee Honduras. In October 2016, Tomás Gómez Membreño, Ms. Cáceres’s successor as the general coordinator of COPINH, and Alexander García, a local COPINH leader in Llano Grande, survived assassination attempts. Most recently, on October 18, 2016, four masked men gunned down two land reform advocates from the cooperative MUCA in the Aguán Valley — an area where over 150 land rights advocates have been killed since 2009. MUCA members are protected by the IACHR, as was Ms. Cáceres, but the Honduran government has not yet complied with the commission’s protection order.

Finally, American taxpayer money should not be given to a government facing accusations of operating outside the rule of law and collaborating in targeted assassinations. We request that the U.S. government immediately suspend all police and military aid to Honduras until these mounting human rights concerns are addressed. We were disturbed to learn that on September 30, 2016, the Department of State certified the Honduran government had complied with the human rights conditions placed on aid in the FY2016 Appropriations Act, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The Act’s requirements for aid included the protection of human rights defenders and other political activists, prosecution of security forces who have committed human rights abuses, and the removal of the military from internal policing. Violations of these and other threshold requirements for aid have not been adequately addressed. We ask for the Department of State to reconsider immediately its decision. In addition, we reiterate the concerns expressed in our March 2016 letter regarding the termination of the Agua Zarca dam and reconsideration of U.S. support for loans from multilateral development banks to Honduras.

It is our hope that Ms. Cáceres’s death will lead to greater justice for the Honduran people. We appreciate your assistance in the realization of that goal and the consideration of the above requests.

###

Guardian-Berta Cáceres murder: international lawyers launch new investigation

A group of international legal experts has launched an independent inquiry into the murder of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres amid widespread concerns over the official investigation.

Five lawyers from the US, Guatemala and Colombia are in Honduras to try to uncover the intellectual authors behind the assassination of Cáceres and the attempted murder of her colleague the Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro.

The International Advisory Group of Experts (Gaipe, by its Spanish acronym) has been convened at the behest of Cáceres’s family, whose calls for an independent international investigation have been rejected by the government.

Read more here.

As killings and attempted killings continue in Honduras, State Department decides to give passing grade.

From: “U.S. Department of State” Daily Press Briefing – October 14,

QUESTION: Uh, yeah. Yes. And then the second one is on Honduras.

MR TONER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Have you guys certified that they have met their human rights obligations? I think I asked about this a couple weeks ago and then it slipped my —

MR TONER: Sure. So we – yes. We certified that Honduras is taking effective steps to meet the criteria specified in the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations – appropriation legislation. So that’s not to say that all is well and good. Obviously, corruption, crime, impunity are real problems, continue to be real problems in Honduras. But we have seen, I think, a demonstration of political will by the Honduran Government that has taken on and made progress against some of the country’s security and developmental challenges. So we want to see that progress continue.

QUESTION: When was that certification done?

MR TONER: My understanding is it was – oh, September 30th, 2016.

QUESTION: Any reason why it’s taken so long to —

MR TONER: Publicly announce it?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR TONER: I don’t know. Honestly, I mean, I don’t —

QUESTION: I mean —

MR TONER: I don’t know how we generally make —

QUESTION: Was it published in the Federal Register?

MR TONER: I don’t know. I’ll ask.

QUESTION: All right. And then can you be more specific about what effective steps they have taken? Because as you are aware, there have been numerous reports over the course of – well, over a while, but certainly this – over the course of the last couple months about new abuses and about new —

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — committed by the police and by the – by security forces there.

MR TONER: I mean, I can speak a little bit about what our assistance programs do in Honduras, but I don’t have specific —

QUESTION: No, no, no. I want to know what —

MR TONER: Yeah, I don’t have a specific – I’ll get that for you.

QUESTION: So when you made the certification, there wasn’t any attempt to define what it was that you think they’re doing —

MR TONER: I’m sure there was. I just don’t have it in front of me. And I’m not following as closely as I probably should —

QUESTION: All right. What’s the —

MR TONER: — Honduran human rights situation.

QUESTION: What’s the total assistance that this frees up?

MR TONER: I will get that for you as well. I don’t have it in front of me. I apologize.

QUESTION: All right. I – and please, if you could get the actual – the —

MR TONER: Yeah. So what I propose, we’ll do —

QUESTION: — because these reports have been —

MR TONER: — we’ll do this as a formally – we’ll do this as a formal taken question. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, because there have been persistent —

MR TONER: You have my pledge.

QUESTION: — reports of violations.

MR TONER: I understand that. No, I understand that, Matt. And I understand – again, I’m not trying to create the appearance that all is well, that —

QUESTION: Well, I know. But if all is not well and all is not good, why did they get certified?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we look for progress. And we’ve seen significant enough progress in their efforts – and I should have more detail to provide to you —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: — on that; I apologize for it – but to give them a passing grade.

That it, guys? Thank so much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR TONER: Yep.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:21 p.m.)

End U.S. Support for the Thugs of Honduras

“I have no doubt that she has been killed because of her struggle, and that soldiers and people from the dam are responsible, I am sure of that,” her 84-year-old mother told a local radio station. “I hold the government responsible.”

Read More.

Berta Cáceres: September 2, 6 Months On

Friday September 2nd just before midnight Honduras time (Sept. 3 EST) is the 6-month anniversary of Berta’s assassination, and nothing has changed in the investigation. The government has still not captured the intellectual authors, nor have they provided any new information to the family about the proceedings as we have a right to under the Honduran constitution (Article 16).

There are events planned in La Esperanza, Honduras where Berta’s family lives. But, if you can’t be there then we hope you will join us on social media by sharing videos, news reports, and statements from those who worked with Berta who supported indigenous, civil, human and environmental rights.

We encourage you to use the hashtags listed below and help us create a whirlwind online atmosphere calling on support of for the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act HR5474 in Congress and for the government of Honduras to allow an international independent investigation into her assassination as has been requested by her family and many on Capitol Hill including Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Hashtags:
English
#HR5474
#JusticeforBerta
#BertaCaceres

Spanish:
#6mesessinjusticia
#BertaCaceres
#JusticiaParaBerta

New Yorker: Should the U.S. Still Be Sending Military Aid to Honduras?

When the activist Berta Cáceres was assassinated in Honduras, in March, the news was devastating but not exactly surprising. Honduras has one of the world’s highest murder rates, and social activists are frequently targets—more than a hundred have been killed in the country since 2010. Cáceres, though, was someone with a significant international reputation. Ever since she won the Goldman Prize, a high-profile environmental award, in 2015, many had assumed that her prominence gave her a degree of protection. The fact that it didn’t—that her killers didn’t care about any potential fallout from her murder—was a reminder of the staggering impunity afforded to criminals in a country where ninety-eight per cent of crimes go unsolved. In the five months since Cáceres’s murder, two more members of the group that she led, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (copinh), have been killed.

Read more.

Fusion: It happened again in Honduras

It happened again in Honduras. Another environmental activist has been murdered.

Yaneth Urquia, a 49-year-old mother of three, was a member of COPINH, an indigenous rights group that was co-founded by my aunt Berta Cáceres, who was also murdered for her activism.

Read more.