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Environmental Human Rights: News & Updates

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The assassination of Berta Cáceres has been dealt on various occasions in Honduran courts. In June the sentencing of David Castillo finally took place and the case even entered the Dutch legal system. This month, another important aspect of the case, corruption dealt in the Gualcarque Fraud case, went to trial. July also saw the devastating second anniversary of the forced disappearance of the four Garifuna men and leaders from the Garifuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz. Two social leaders, Edward Iván Cáceres and Ubodoro Arriaga Izaguirre were murdered this month. But there was also some good news. A judge dropped the usurpation charges against members of indigenous defenders from Marcala and the Radio Progreso correspondent Sonia Pérez. A key topic this month continued to be the selection of the new Supreme Court judges which should take place in September. After weeks of debates, in Congress, but also more broadly, a new framework for the selection of the Nominating Board for the judges was approved on July 19. It is now up to the seven mandated organizations to appoint their representatives to the board. July also saw another highlevel multiple murder. Among the victims were the 19-year old son of former president Pepe Lobo, the 23-year old nephew of former general Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, and the nephew of Nationalist congressman Walter Chávez. Welcome to another month in Honduras.

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Four years after the installation of the Camp for Water and for Life, defenders of Guapinol reiterated their commitment to the defense of the river and the demand for the cancellation of illegal mining operations in the Carlos Escaleras National Park. “They tried to silence our opposition to illegal mining with jail and repression. They tried to end our love for the river, but they can't." The Committee for the Defense of Common and Public Assets pointed out that the opposition of the communities to the mining projects and the defense of the Carlos Escaleras National Park persists despite the violent attacks, criminalization, imprisonment, and hate campaigns against them.

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Nacla reports on the destruction of a 200-year old Maya Chortí cemetery by the mining company Aura Minerals. "MINOSA, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based multinational mining company Aura Minerals, enjoys free rein in the municipality of La Unión. Despite the legally binding decision taken at the 2015 cabildo abierto, the company had exhumed over a hundred bodies by 2018 as part of its strategy to exploit the gold deposits below the cemetery. The company did so in full view of municipal authorities, who on a number of occasions colluded with MINOSA to undermine community decision-making power. (...) In the weeks and months that followed, MINOSA seems to have given up any pretense of respect for Honduran law. Shortly after the initial mass exhumations, an appeals court overturned Judge Tabora’s ruling. In March, the Ministry of Natural Resources issued a subsequent executive notice reiterating the company’s obligation to halt all activity in the area. Video footage of mining activities taken after the communique’s publication indicate that the company has continued to prepare the area for exploitation."

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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, Guatemala, 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 https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn , or ask us to mail you hard copies.

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 Five months and 22 days into government, open-pit mining continues to be an unaddressed promise by the administration of President Xiomara Castro. In her government plan, Castro promised to "eliminate open-pit mining concessions that threaten the nation's natural heritage and displace communities". The leader of the Municipal Committee in Defense of the Common and Public Goods of Tocoa, Reynaldo Domínguez, made a call to retake President Castro's speech regarding the suspension of projects that involve open pit mining and that hurt the life of the communities. Domínguez pointed out that in the communities surrounding the Carlos Escaleras National Park, environmental contamination is an ongoing and pressing issue.

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A petition for a criminal probe against the Dutch state-run development bank FMO has been filed in the Netherlands for alleged complicity in bloodshed in Honduras. FMO, the acronym for the Netherlands Development Finance Company, had been involved in financing the controversial Agua Zarca dam project in northwest Honduras from 2014 to 2017. The project, slated for construction in Indigenous Lenca territory, drew international scrutiny after several murders surrounding the project, including the 2016 assassination of world-renowned Indigenous water defender Berta Cáceres. Cáceres had led the resistance to the dam, which many Indigenous people said would displace them from the Gualcarque river, regarded as sacred. She was later killed by a hit squad whose members had connections to both the Honduran military as well as DESA, the dam-building company receiving loan money from FMO. “For the Lenca people this new legal action is the opportunity to reveal the criminal activity inherent to the financing of the Agua Zarca,” Berta's daughter Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres told Al Jazeera. It is also a way, she said, “to know that my mother wasn’t mistaken in establishing that these businesses and these banks are criminals”.

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Despite the recent sentencing of a company executive for his responsibility in the murder of Lenca defender, Berta Cáceres, documents show alleged omissions and involvement of financial and corporate entities in her murder. Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI) urges the Honduran and Dutch States to ensure justice in the murder of Berta Cáceres. No one should remain in impunity.

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