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Environmental Human Rights: News & Updates

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For years, Garífuna community members and leaders have been threatened, arrested, abducted and murdered. Most notably, in July 2020, four Garífuna men were abducted at gunpoint by men wearing uniforms bearing the logo of a Honduran security forces unit. Instead of calling for an investigation into those responsible, the Honduran Attorney General has called for criminal proceedings against leaders of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH).

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have determined that the Garífuna community’s rights have repeatedly been violated by the Honduran government, yet little has changed regarding their treatment. This resolution condemns the violence toward the Garífuna people while calling for accountability from the Honduran government and other international institutions for their role in these abuses.

In the US House of Represenatives on June 5, Representatives Cori Bush (MO-01), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Jesus “Chuy” García (IL-04), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), and Jamaal Bowman Ed.D. (NY-16) reintroduced a resolution that affirms the rights of the Afro-Indigenous Garífuna people in Honduras. IRTF calls on all US representatives from Ohio to support this resolution. 

News Article

Cultural and territorial rights of the Afro-descendant Indigenous Garífuna people along the Atlantic coast of Honduras are under attack.

Starting in 2003, OFRANEH (Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras) began filing several cases with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (based in Washington, DC) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (based in San Jose, Costa Rica) for their government’s violation of its cultural and territorial rights.  When OFRANEH got their first favorable ruling in 2015, they weren’t exactly hopeful that the administration of the narco-dictator President Juan Orlando Hernández would do anything. But after President Castro, of the left-leaning LIBRE party, took office in January 2022, they did expect advancement of their cause.

A big stumbling block is that the communities that won their cases in the Inter-American Court (2015: Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra; 2023: San Juan) are fighting private corporations and foreign investors who have a lot at stake. Some have already illegally usurped lands and built tourist resorts. It will be tricky to figure out how to return ancestral lands to the Garífuna people and compensate the companies and investors for their losses. Also at stake is the very security of Garífuna communities. Since Garífuna leaders have become more vocal after the 2015 ruling, the persecution against them has increased—surveillance, intimidation, violence, criminalization.

During the first week of June 2024, a delegation of Garífuna leaders with OFRANEH are visiting US legislators on Capitol Hill to gain support for a US House resolution to affirm the rights of the Garífuna people.

You can read the press release from Rep. Cori Bush who introduced the resolution here.

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Since January 2023 when the Bukele administration arrested five water defenders in Cabañas Department on criminal allegations from 34 years ago, IRTF has been part of an international campaign to Free the Santa Marta 5. The five community leaders from Cabañas Department were instrumental in the national campaign—a 13-year mobilization—that led to the national ban on open-pit metal mining—the first in the world! They fought against the Pacific Rim company (aka OceanaGold) because there would be untold contamination of regional waterways.

President Bukele’s crackdown on gangs and violent crime that he calls the State of Exception (initiated in March 2022) has resulted in suspension of constitutional rights, mass arrests and mass incarceration. Many critics have pointed out that Bukele’s crackdown on violent crime is being used to mask arrests of political dissidents. President Bukele, in efforts to attract foreign investment, is suspected of wanting to get rid of the monumental national ban on open-pit metal mining.

TAKE ACTION: We need folks in the U.S. to call on their congresspersons to 1) reach out to the US State Department and encourage them to call for due process and send representatives to observe the trial of the Santa Marta 5; 2) tweet to demand that the charges against the #SantaMarta5 be dropped; 3) take action to halt US police and military assistance to El Salvador in light of the suspension of constitutional rights and mass incarceration currently happening under President Bukele’s State of Exception (State of Emergency). 

Copy and send the sample letter pasted in this news article.

Contact us with any questions: irtf@irtfcleveland.org or (216) 961 0003.

Thank you!

News Article

In Jericó, Colombia, farmers and villagers are resisting the construction of a large copper mine by AngloGold Ashanti, fearing it will harm their water supply and agricultural livelihood. The company, seeking to extract significant amounts of copper, gold, and silver, has faced opposition from locals who blocked environmental impact studies necessary for the mining license. The town is divided, with some residents supporting the mine for its economic benefits, including job creation and community investments. Despite these benefits, environmental concerns and potential impacts on local water sources have fueled protests. The project remains stalled, awaiting further environmental studies and government approval.

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Over 700 campesinos in Cartagena del Chairá, Colombia, are restoring 4,762 hectares of degraded rainforest, planting nearly a million trees in a deforestation hotspot. Collaborating with researchers from SINCHI and the Association of Community Action Boards (Asojuntas), they have documented over 600 plant and 100 animal species. This initiative, involving environmental education and restoration activities for all ages, has inspired many youths to pursue environmental careers. Economic pressures previously drove deforestation, but now, communities are actively replanting and protecting the forest, valuing its biodiversity and ecological importance. The restoration project has fostered environmental awareness and a commitment to sustainable development among locals, with a long-term vision of a greener, biodiverse future.

News Article

A new report from the Organization of American States (OAS) highlights the severe human rights crisis in Honduras, focusing on violence against environmental defenders, particularly in agrarian land disputes affecting Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. The report underscores that many human rights abuses, including threats, murders, and violence, are disproportionately targeted at those defending the environment, land, and territory. The OAS recommends that the Honduran government improve land titling and strengthen institutions to hold perpetrators accountable. Long-standing agrarian conflicts, inadequate land titles, and large-scale industrial projects have exacerbated violence and social unrest. The report calls for better legislation to protect collective territories and ensure prior consultation processes for affected communities.

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San Pedro Sula, Honduras, currently has the worst air quality in the Americas due to forest fires exacerbated by El Niño and climate change. IQAir reported PM2.5 levels at 249.1 mcg/m³, far above the WHO's safe limit of 5 mcg/m³. Authorities have issued high-level health warnings, closed schools, and advised residents to stay indoors. The health sector has seen a 20% rise in respiratory infections, with increased emergencies among children and seniors.

Thick smog has disrupted air travel, forcing flight diversions and airport closures. The El Niño phenomenon has intensified droughts and wildfires, particularly affecting Central America's "dry corridor." Over 2,500 fires have burned 211,292 hectares in Honduras this year. La Tigra national park near Tegucigalpa was nearly destroyed, harming the ecosystem.

Officials warn that without policy changes, such environmental crises could become more frequent, threatening millions. The International Federation of the Red Cross anticipates more climate-related disasters across Central America, highlighting the need for enhanced response preparations.

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