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Environmental Human Rights: News & Updates

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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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Perched on an incline where the road splits the countryside as much as the community, Webster’s home on the island of Roatán is at the center of a battle over land rights and sovereignty that has galvanized Honduras. It’s also symptomatic of a broader phenomenon throughout the region, where foreigners – often cryptocurrency enthusiasts, libertarians or both – have flocked in recent years, supporting controversial projects – such as the proposed “Bitcoin City” in El Salvador – threatening to displace local residents and drawing comparisons to colonialists. When the new Honduran government repealed a pair of laws in late April that had allowed for the creation of semi-autonomous zones called a Zede, it sent a similar message. But investors in the Zede on Roatán, known as Honduras Próspera, have challenged the move.

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An international coalition of activists delivered a petition to Pan American Silver leadership at the company’s annual meeting yesterday calling on the company to respect communities’ self-determination in Guatemala and Argentina. The petition, organized by corporate watchdog SumOfUs, garnered more than 85,000 signatures in just two weeks. But Pan American Silver took advantage of the lack of transparency afforded by the virtual platform at this year's Annual General Meeting in Vancouver, Canada to silence community voices and dodge questions about opposition to its projects. "Why is Pan American Silver refusing to engage with shareholders who are concerned about Indigenous rights?” asked Ellen Moore, International Mining Campaign Manager with Earthworks. “It is not clear if the company will respect Indigenous people’s right to say no to mining in their territory. That makes it a dangerous investment and shareholders should know that.”

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 The development promised by Minerales de Occidente S.A. (Minosa) in La Unión, Copán, has cost the inhabitants of Azacualpa the destruction of the historic Maya-Chortí cemetery of San Andrés, despite the fact that two high courts of Honduras have ruled to protect it. Minosa, a subsidiary in Honduras of the transnational Aura Minerals, imposed its project against the will of the Maya-Chortí people of Azacualpa, while at the same time promoting campaigns on social networks about the supposed economic development that mining produces for the communities. However, for the member of the Asociación de Organismos No Gubernamentales (Asonog), José Ramón Ávila, this development promoted by mining is not reflected in the municipality of La Unión. In fact, he believes that a socioeconomic study would find the same or greater poverty than in any other municipality.

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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, Honduras, and Mexico, 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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Today, June 28, 2022, 13 years after the 2009 coup d’état, COPINH, together with the daughters and son of Berta Cáceres, filed a criminal complaint with the Dutch Attorney General’s office against the Dutch bank, FMO, and its directors for the crimes of complicity in acts of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering and violence in their financing of the Agua Zarca Project of the Atala Zablah family. The criminal accusation is against the legal entity of the bank FMO (Nederlandse Financierings-Maatschappij voor Ontwikkelingslanden N.V.) 51% owned by the Dutch State and against its main executives; Nanno Kleiterp, honorary president of the European Development Finance Institutions (EDFI); Jurgen Rigterink, current first vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD); and Linda Broekhuizen, former interim executive director of the FMO, among other executives.

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Another anniversary of the June 28, 2009 coup d’etat that changed Honduras forever is here. This year, on this date, the Honduras Solidarity Network of North America (HSN) not only reaffirms continuing solidarity with the Honduran social movements and opposition to the US policies in the region that continue destructive interventionism and interference, but we also join the commemorations of struggle and celebration by the Honduran people of their victory in electing a government born out of the blood, sweat, and tears of years of resistance. This victory opens up a bigger space for the people and their movements to continue fighting for the re-foundation of their country. Still, they face powerful enemies and obstacles in their path.  

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On June 20th, a Honduran court finally presented the written verdict in the case against U.S. trained former military intelligence officer Roberto David Castillo for the murder of Berta Cáceres, sentencing him to 22 years and 6 months in prison. Laura Zúniga Cáceres, Berta's youngest daughter explained, "This is an important advance but the masterminds of the crime are still enjoying impunity thanks to their political and economic power. As victims of this crime, we, her family, members of Copinh and the Lenca people will continue demanding justice from the Honduran state."

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