You are here

Environmental Human Rights: News & Updates

News Article

Honduras has seen massive oppression towards Indigenous land defenders. In the past two months alone, seven social movement members were assassinated in the northern Honduran Bajo Aguán Valley. All of these murders are traceable to a rising food and African palm industry in the country. The largest for-export player in the Honduran African palm business is the Dinant Corporation, controlled by the most powerful land baron family Facussé. Some members of the infamous Facussé family are already directly implicated as the 'intellectual authors' and financiers of the assassination of prominent land and Indigenous rights defender Berta Cáceres in 2016. For years one of the largest investors and profiteers of Dinant's violent operations was the internationally known World Bank. 

The post below provides summaries and links to a collection of articles on topics like the recent assassination of Hipólito Rivas and his 15-year-old son on February 12, the assassinations of Berta Cáceres and Gregorio Chavez in 2016, the history of violence and oppression in the Bajo Aguán area between 2009 and 2014, the US and Canadian backed coup, activism by Rights Action and  the connections between the food and African palm industry, Dinant Corporation and its business partners like the World Bank and violent land barons.

As one article points out, violence against Indigenous communities and land defenders is far from a local Honduran problem. All over the world, corporations work together with oppressive industrial agriculture land owners, paramilitary groups and friendly governments as a means to smash any opposition and generate as much profit as possible.              

News Article

In 2009 Honduras saw a violent military coup, overthrowing the then president Manuel Zelaya. With this coup a new system to generate foreign investment was established. The new president and Congress came forward with a law which would allow the creation of so called "Zones for Employment and Economic Development" (ZEDE). ZEDE's are near-tax-free areas within Honduras, governed by private corporations. 

The first attempt to create these ZEDE's was blocked by the Honduran Supreme Court, but this didn't stop the political actuaries. First the Congress impeached the opposing Supreme Court judges, then engineered a new ZEDE law, working around regulations. 

The newly established ZEDE's operate comparable to so-called Charter Cities and are influenced by economic powerhouses like Hong Kong and Singapore. The self-governing corporate territories are known for providing barely any public services besides private police and military forces. Furthermore they:

  • trample rights of the Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean populations
  • force small farmers to sell their land 
  • put extra wight on surrounding communities providing schools, hospitals etc.
  • avoid usage of national currency by using crypto  
  • worsen tax evasion and drug trafficking
  • deny international labor and environmental regulations 
  • violate basic principles of democracy and undermining the national sovereignty

The problems with the ZEDE's are especially notable in Honduras' tax income. If the charter cities weren't shut down, Honduras would lose as much as half of its current sales taxes by 2025 and the equivalent of all of its current import taxes by 2026. 

So far the Honduran Congress has always worked in favor of the ZEDE's, for example toughening the punishment for blocking properties and businesses, making it easier for (private) police forces to repress protests. But the table has turned. With the election of the first opposition government since the coup in 2009, ZEDE's became a hot topic. In its electoral campaign the Liberty and Refoundation (Libre) party promised the elimination of the ZEDE's, a promise they acted on. Among the first laws passed by the new Congress was the outlawing of charter cities. 

To stop this long overdue step, supporters of the ZEDE's pointed out unproven benefits like,

  • helping in the fight against unemployment, a false statement. Since the establishing of the ZEDE's numbers of employment haven't changed. 
  • addressing corruption. An absurd claim remembering the fact, that the former director of the oversight board was secretary for the now jailed ex-president. Till today he still draws a salary, even after going into exile in Nicaragua to escape corruption and a drug trafficking investigation against him.
  • heading off the influence of China. In fact, China is the biggest investor into ZEDE's and already has a massive influence through the charter cities. 
  • pushing trade, investment and growth. The facts show a different picture. Since the introduction of the ZEDE's, the GDP trade percentage dropped in five of the eight years and is now lower than before. In the same time period, the foreign direct investment GDP percentage decreased every year except for 2018, and the GDP growth was below four percent in six of the eight years. 

Supporters additionally compare the ZEDE's to nearshoring in Central and South America, while concealing the fact that Honduras'  ZEDE profits have always lagged behind those of 8 other Latin American countries' nearshoring profits.

But the strongest opposition comes from the usual suspects. Members of the United States Congress are threatening Honduras with withdrawal of aid, forced restitution payments and a limitation of Honduras' share of the private Partnership for Central America investment plan, led by Vice President Kamala Harris. This would undermine the core intent of the plan, to invest to stem migration from Central America.

One thing is definite: the end to the ZEDE's is a necessary and long overdue step to secure labor, environmental and human rights. It is outrageous, though not surprising, that United States congresspersons make themselves accomplices to corporations oppressing the population and destroying a country physically, and politically as a means of profit generation.

We have to support Honduras in its struggle for a democratic future.    


News Article

In Guatemala the struggle for water protection has been grueling for activists and inhabitants of reserves alike. In few areas is this as visible as in Huehuetenango, an department that borders Mexico. This natural paradise containing rivers, forests and mountains is home to a majority Indigenous population,  cultivating coffee and other native crops. But the diverse and untouched land is endangered. More and more immigrants moving northwards and being funneled through Huehuetenango as well as the rapid militarization of the Mexican border disturbs the peace. And that is only the slightest problem. For years, more and more corporations and mining actors have been invading the land, robbing it of its natural resources and poisoning and privatizing water for use in production. To protect their profits, corporations build up militarized and violent security networks. Support for these activities comes from the Guatemalan state, which in coalition with invaders, uses military grade equipment against civilians who are demanding their right to clean and safe water supplies. 

But the habitants are putting up a fierce fight for the security of their homes and utilities with their weapon of choice, community organizing. In 2016 hundreds of mostly poor and Indigenous protesters joined forces in Guatemala City to fight for water protection. Events like these are not only important as a means to put forward their demands, but also serve as get-togethers and  conferences to discuss strategies and goals. For the Huehuetenago residents, this means establishing municipal water protection in 31 communities in their western  territory.

Although the organizing on a municipal level may seem inefficient, the communities have good reason for this strategy. The so-called Municipal Water Agreements state that under national and international law, the Guatemalan government is responsible for the insurance of its peoples survival, a duty that can only be fulfilled by the protection of water as an essential resource. If this agreement would pass, it would make the privatization of water illegal and punishable by law. This is a major blow to mining companies. But for the law to come into effect, the agreement has to be signed by all municipal mayors, an unlikely event. Thirty-three mayors have allied themselves with the industry, being spoiled by political power and bribery. The only way to push these mayors to support the project is an organized community that builds up pressure as a means to save their livelihood. To reach free and organized communities, activists get together to educate the residents by providing workshops, posters, having individual conversations with the community, and organizing events to establish a united voice in the struggle for water and land protection. 

But a dark shadow lies over the organizations and their leaders. Internationally, Guatemala is known for its violence against activists with many ending up in prison or even dead. In Guatemala the rate of environmentalists killed is one of the highest in the world. 

We need to shed a light on this violence by the state and companies alike, while learning from the water protection fighters. There is an urgent need for international solidarity in the fight for human rights as well as the preservation of our planet.         

News Article

After an attack on an Indigenous community in a territory belonging to the Miskito, Mayangna and other indigenous groups, Nicaraguan police have arrested 24 invading settlers. The 22 men and two women allegedly were armed with machetes, sticks and stones during the assault but were overwhelmed and detained by community members. The residents handed the offenders over to the police who took the group to jail. Officials stated that the attackers will be charged with organized crime, land seizure and environmental crimes, but activists and residents doubt that the investigations will be followed through. 

This was the first large arrest and announcement of detention since the beginning of the invasion of non-Indigenous settlers years ago. So far the authorities are known for their slow investigations or ignorance towards these crimes. 

Since the beginning of the logging invasion into the Mayangna's and Miskito's land in 2015, at least 28 community members and leaders have been killed and 3,000 displaced. So far big mining and logging companies have invaded 60% of the Indigenous territory, bringing in at least 5,000 settlers many of whom are former soldiers. 

Indigenous communities denounced the government for a lack of protection. Authorities deny these accusations.

To efficiently protect Indigenous land and communities, it is not enough to call the government for help. The perpetrator in this injustice is an industry of mass production which puts profit over the environment and the communities suffering from their land exploitation. We need to support Indigenous communities in their struggle for peace and defense against these offenders.

News Article

On behalf of IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) members, we wrote six letters this month to heads of state and other high-level officials in Colombia, El Salvador, and Honduras, urging their swift action in response to human rights abuses occurring in their countries.  We join with civil society groups in Latin America to: (1) protect people living under threat, (2) demand investigations into human rights crimes, (3) bring human rights criminals to justice.

IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) volunteers write six letters in response to urgent human rights cases each month. We send copies of these letters to US ambassadors, embassy human rights officers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, regional representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and desk officers at the US State Department. To read the letters, see , or ask us to mail you hard copies.