OHCHR – UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Author)
GENEVA (19 November 2021) –UN human rights experts* today urged Honduras, elected to the Human Rights Council last month, to release eight environmental defenders in line with recommendations made by another UN body.
"As a new member of the UN Human Rights Council, Honduras should be redoubling efforts to clean up its human rights record, and an obvious first step is to release the Guapinol defenders," said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
The defenders were placed in pre-trial detention two years ago for opposing an iron oxide mine inside a protected national park in Tocoa, a municipality in the country's northern Colón department. The defenders – Jeremías Martínez Díaz, José Daniel Márquez Márquez, Kelvin Alejandro Romero Martínez, José Abelino Cedillo, Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, Orbín Nahúm Hernández, Arnold Javier Alemán and Ewer Alexander Cedillo Cruz – come from the community of Guapinol on the Guapinol River, polluted by the mine.
They belong to the Municipal Committee for the Defence of Common and Public Goods (CMDBPC), a network of local groups dedicated to land and environmental defence. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in February that their detention was arbitrary and breached a number of human rights standards including the guarantee to a fair trial. Delivering an official Opinion in the case, the Working Group called for their immediate release.
However, a Honduran court in August extended their preventive detention; they are to go on trial on 1 December 2021.
The Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises raised concerns on this specific case following its visit to Honduras in 2019. It recommended that the government of Honduras take immediate measures to protect the life and integrity of human rights defenders working to protect the rights of communities, their land or the environment in the context of development projects. It also called for prompt and impartial investigations of cases involving threats and violence against them.
"Since the beginning, serious questions have been raised about the basis of the charges and the impartiality of court rulings," said Lawlor. "There appears to be no justification of the extension of their detention. In fact, the continued detention of the Guapinol environmental defenders discredits Honduras' efforts to improve the situation for human rights defenders."
When the General Assembly elected Honduras to the Human Rights Council for the first time in its history last month, the country made a number of pledges to strengthen international human rights mechanisms and compliance with global human rights instruments.
In addition to failing to honour the opinion of the Working Group, Lawlor noted that Honduras has not yet ratified the Escazú Agreement, the first legally binding instrument in the world to include provisions on environmental human rights defenders. She also noted the historical recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment by the Human Rights Council on 8 October 2021 through the adoption of a resolution.
"How can Honduras be expected to promote meaningful engagement with international mechanisms if it is unwilling to do so itself?" asked Lawlor. She is in contact with the Honduran authorities on the Guapinol issue.
Her call was endorsed by: Mr. Pedro Arrojo Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Mr. David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; and Ms. Elina Steinerte (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Vice-chairperson), Ms. Leigh Toomey, Mr. Mumba Malila, Ms. Priya Gopalan, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
* Ms Mary Lawlor (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was the founder of Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, after becoming a member of the Board of Directors 1975 and being elected its President from 1983 to 1987.
*The Working Group on the Question of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises: Mr. Surya Deva (Chairperson), Ms. Elżbieta Karska (Vice-Chairperson), Mr. Githu Muigai , Ms. Fernanda Hopenhaym , and Ms. Anita Ramasastry.
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.