We, the undersigned international organisations and civil society networks, would like to express our severe concern with respect to the recent acts of repression, violence and criminalization of peasant organisations of the Bajo Aguán.

On 21 August 2012
, in front of the Supreme Court of Justice in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the police violently dispersed a peaceful demonstration of hundreds of peasant farmers from the Bajo Aguán who had been asking to meet with the President of the Court to request for an impartial judgement in the case of three farms currently in the possession of the peasant organization MARCA1,  and to end the criminalisation of the peasants’ struggle.

Instead of accepting the request for dialogue, the State security forces, specifically the preventative police, used excessive force to disperse the protestors, including the use of teargas, leaving three people wounded, including a 16-year-old. Furthermore, 27 protestors were detained, among them two women, the President of the National Association of Honduran Peasants (ANACH), the lawyer and legal representative of MARCA, and the Secretary General and Public Relations Secretary of the Unified Peasant Movement of the Aguán (MUCA).2

On 22 August 2012, hundreds of peasants from the Bajo Aguán region in Honduras occupied the police station in Planes, Sonaguera in the Department of Colon, in protest of the repression and demanding the release of their colleagues in the capital. In response, a strong contingent of police attacked the protestors and the excessive use of force resulted in various protestors being injured, including a 77-year-old who was taken to hospital for treatment. The police also detained 19 people, among them three children and a human rights defender who documented the events on behalf of the Permanent Observatory of Human Rights of the Aguán.

On 23 August 2012, the 27 detained in Tegucigalpa were conditionally released and 25 of them were charged with “illicit protesting and association, and criminal damage.” The conditions attached to their release included a prohibition on leaving the country, a prohibition on participating in public protests and an obligation to present themselves before a judge once a week. On the same day, the courts in Tocoa, Colon, ordered preventive measures against 19 people detained in Planes, among them three minors and two elderly adults.

On 26 August 2012, Leonel Acosta Aviles, who was one of the 27 people detained on 21 August in Tegucigalpa, and who had been released from prison on preventive measures, was shot at by unknown individuals while he was driving on the road from Tocoa to Sinoloa in the Department of Colon. As a consequence, his car overturned. Fortunately, members of his community managed to reach him and took him to hospital.

On 27 August 2012, José Braulio Díaz López, secretary of the Associative Peasant Enterprise of El Tranvio, a member of MUCA, was assassinated by unknown gunmen.
These latest acts of repression and criminalisation demonstrate that the Honduran authorities have maintained the same position against the peasant communities involved in the agrarian conflict with the effect of preventing an integral, just, peaceful and sustainable solution to this conflict. Human rights violations and impunity have persisted as a consequence of the failure of the authorities to investigate and punish those responsible for the attacks and murders of members of the peasant organisations in the region.

International organizations have been constantly monitoring the situation in Bajo Aguán, inter alia, through an international fact finding mission on human rights in Bajo Aguán, conducted in March 20113 and the international public hearing on the human rights situation in Bajo Aguán, held on 28 May in Tocoá, Colón.4

According to our documentation, 53 people belonging to or affiliated with peasant organisations, as well as a journalist and his partner, have been killed since September 2009, in the context of an agrarian conflict in the region.Furthermore, a peasant was disappeared on 15 May 2011. According to the information provided by the Office of the Human Rights Prosecutor in Honduras, there have been no investigations into any of these cases.

We consider that the protest carried out by the organisations on 21 August in front of the Supreme Court of Justice, as well as the requested audience with the President of the Court, had a very valid legal and political basis. It is regrettable that the response of the authorities was to reject this attempt at dialogue, and to use violence and criminalisation.5 Furthermore, the threat of violent evictions against the communities who have been awarded their land rights continues. Our organizations and networks are convinced that the route to the solution of the conflict in the Bajo Aguán is through the respect and protection of human rights and not through violence, repression and criminalisation of the peasant struggle.

We recall that the Republic of Honduras is a State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and is therefore required to respect, protect and guarantee the rights of the peasant communities, rights which are also protected in Chapter Three of the Constitution of the Republic of Honduras.

We reiterate the recommendations made following the Public Hearing on the Human Rights Situation of the Peasant Communities of Bajo Aguán, Honduras, which took place on 28 May 2012 in Tocoa, Honduras.

To the Honduran state:
a.  Investigate and prosecute in a serious and prompt manner all of the crimes and human rights violations committed in the Bajo Aguán, including the perpetrators and instigators of these acts.
b. Cease immediately the repression, harassment and violence directed at the peasant movement.
c.   Adopt effective means for protecting people at risk.
d.  Do not undertake more forced evictions.
e. Seek a full, just, peaceful and sustainable solution to the peasants’ demands by fulfilling the legal and political commitments made in agreements with the peasant organizations.
f. Regulate the functioning of private security companies in order to guarantee full respect for human rights.
g. Take measures to prevent all threats and acts of intimidation against persons who participated in the Public Hearing, particularly those who testified there.
h. Invite the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to carry out an in loco visit.

To the international community:
a. Take measures to ensure that bilateral and multilateral economic aid to Honduras and to private companies does not contribute to human rights violations and is conditioned on the full respect of human rights.

b. Review all aid agreements between international cooperation agencies or multilateral banks and Honduran security forces or the private companies allegedly involved in acts of violence, harassment and human rights violations in the region.

c. Promote a framework for aid and cooperation which includes a concept of security based on the promotion of justice and full respect for human rights.

d. Suspend international aid that promotes militarization and that worsens the human rights situation, in particular military aid from the United States.

We are making an urgent appeal to all the actors involved, and in particular, the State institutions, to prevent any acts of violence and guarantee full respect for human rights.
We, the international organizations, will continue to attentively monitor the situation in Bajo Aguán, considering this agrarian conflict to be the most severe in terms of the degree of violence committed against peasants in Central America over the past 15 years.

APRODEV (Association of World Council of Churches related Development Organizations)
CIFCA (Copenhague Initiative for Central America and Mexico)
CIDSE (International Alliance of Catholic Development Agencies)
FESPAD (Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho)
FIAN International (International Human Rights Organisation for the Right to Food)
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
HIC (Habitat International Coalition)
LAWG (Latin America Working Group)
La Vía Campesina
PIDHDD (Inter-American Platform of Human Rights, Democracy and Development)
Rel-UITA (Latin American regional branch of the International Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Tabacco and Allied Workers’ Association)

31 August 2012

1. See previous International Statement of 17 July 2012. On 29 June, public security forces turned over the estates San Isidrio, La Trinidad and El Espertar, to the members of the Authentic Peasant Reclamation Movement of Aguán (MARCA) in implementation of the decision of the Civil Trial Court of Francisco Morazán and the District Trial Court of Trujillo decided. After 18 years of litigation, these decisions are definitive as the businessman involved did not present any recourse against them within the time period stipulated by Honduran law and finally returned the land to the MARCA peasants. This ruling confirms that the acquisition of these three estates, totaling 1,776 hectares, by businessmen Miguel Facussé and René Morales was illegal. Nevertheless, the businessmen filed an amparo petition to reverse the land restitution, abusing the legal recourses provided by the Honduran system to render the judicial protection of the peasants inefficient. Moreover, said amparo petitions were arbitrarily granted clearly contradicting the legal requirements in force that indicate that no amparo petition can be interposed against a ruling that has not been appealed, as is the case of the rulings herein. The protection granted reversed the restitution of land and ordered the eviction of the peasants from these estates, to be executed starting on 11 July 2012. The unjustified delay of 18 years in the judicial administration and the abuse of power committed by these same judicial powers to reverse this decision along with the threats received by the cooperatives´ lawyer demonstrate the defenseless situation of the peasants in Honduras, where rulings are blocked by the actual judicial powers. Seehttp://fian.org/news/news/international-orgs-warn-the-state-of-honduras-must-guarantee-judicial-independence-and-impartiality
2. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers that security forces may impose reasonable restrictions to ensure that protests are peaceful or to contain those which are violent and disperse demonstrations that turn violent or obstructive. However, the actions of the security forces should not discourage but protect the right to assembly, so the dispersing of a demonstration must be justified by the duty of protecting people. The security operation deployed in such contexts must contemplate the safest and quickest methods of dispersal and those least likely to injure protestors.http://www.cidh.oas.org/Comunicados/Spanish/2010/77-10sp.htm
3. See Mission Report Honduras: Human Rights Violations in Bajo Aguán”, July 2011, available at:  www.fian.org/resources/documents/others/honduras-human-rights-violations-in-bajo-aguan
4. Convened by: APRODEV (Association of World Council of Churches related Development Organizations), headquarters in Brussels; CIFCA (Copenhague Initiative for Central America and Mexico), headquarters in Brussels; FIAN International (International Right to Food Organization), headquarters in Heidelberg; FIDH (International Human Rights Federation), with headquarters in Paris; (LAWG) Latin America Working Group, with headquarters in Washington DC; (PIDHDD) Inter-American Platform of Human Rights, Democracy and Development, with headquarters in Quito; Rel-UITA (Latin American regional branch of the International Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Tabacco and Allied Workers’ Association), with headquarters in Montevideo; TROCAIRE, with headquarters in Dublin; and Vía Campesina Internacional, with headquarters in Jakarta. See the Declaration on the International Public Hearing at: http://www.cifca.org/spip.php?article161
5. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Opinion, Mr Frank La Rue, following his official visit to Honduras, on 15 August 2012, stated that “Freedom of expression can be expressed through a variety of means which includes the right to public protest and mobilisation through which organisations and social sectors can express their dissatisfaction with public policies, concessions for natural resources, or the behaviour of public officials.” http://www.ohchr.org/sp/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12434&LangID=S