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Environmental Human Rights: News & Updates

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, 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.

Volunteers with the Rapid Response Network (RRN)—together with IRTF staff—write letters in response to six 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.

News Article

For many years, Ohioans have been supporting IRTF's work to advocate for the protection of water sources and the safety of environmental defenders in Central America.  Here in Ohio we heard first hand about the dire situation in Honduras on April 22, 2023 when we hosted Reynaldo Domínguez, an environmental defender from the community of Guapinol. His community members and family have paid a heavy price for their efforts to protect the Guapinol River from contamination caused by an iron oxide mine.  In January and June of this year, two of Reynaldo’s brothers were assassinated. 

The mine is operated inside a national protected area by a Honduran company called Los Pinares, owned by Lenir Pérez and Ana  Facussé. Now living in Miami, Lenir Pérez is under investigation by the FBI, which recently raided his home. The family of his wife, Ana Facussé,  owns the Dinant corporation, which has an ugly history of carrying out violence against campesinos (small farmers). Over the past several years, we have been following and responding to serious human rights violations committed by agents connected to the Dinant corporation:  surveillance, harassment, illegally grabbing campesino farm land, disappearances of community leaders, and even murders.

The Dear Colleague letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (Aug 15, 2023) urges him to ensure that the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa supports efforts by the government of Honduras to protect environmental defenders and investigations into the violent networks associated with the Dinant corporation. Because of Dinant’s access to financing from multilateral development banks (and its involvement in corruption and human rights violations), the US government’s efforts to address root causes of emigration from Honduras are being undermined.

IRTF worked with the Honduras Solidarity Network to urge all 50+ members of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, as well as all US reps from Ohio, to sign this important letter to protect environmental defenders in Honduras. 

News Article

Indigenous environmental activists globally, especially in countries like Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines, face alarming rates of violence and assassination. A report by Global Witness revealed that 1,733 environmental and land-defense activists were killed between 2012 and 2021, with one murder occurring approximately every two days. These defenders, often from Indigenous communities, resist exploitation by industries like mining and logging. The violence, fueled by factors like corporate interests and governmental negligence, poses a severe threat to these activists. The situation underscores the urgent need to protect Indigenous communities, whose harmonious coexistence with nature is essential for the planet's future amidst the onslaught of capitalist-driven environmental destruction.

News Article

For more than 30 years, SOA Watch has united artists, musicians, and movement makers to breathe life into the international mobilizations at Fort Benning—recently renamed Fort Moore—and, as of 2016, at the U.S.-Mexico border. Artists have not only been a source of remembrance, joy and inspiration but also the resounding voices and colors of resistance in the face of adversity. As Honduran social activists and land defenders face increasing military repression and surveillance, these artists are using their craft to amplify the voices and uplift the struggles of Hondurans striving to protect and defend their ancestral lands, natural resources, and autonomy.

For the past 20 years, Red Comal has been an extraordinary hub for solidarity economies and sustainable regenerative agriculture. The SOAW Artists Collective is partnering with youth of the Red Comal to paint public murals during the fall of 2023—to send ripples of hope, resistance, and solidarity that transcend language, borders, and walls. This artwork will celebrate the communities’ histories, cultures, and unwavering struggle to safeguard their lands from aggressive and expansive agribusiness and monoculture interests, including the U.S.-based company Monsanto.

SOA Watch is accepting donations to fund the mural project. Click here to empower creative community projects in Honduras, foster exchanges between US and Honduran organizers, propel the ongoing mission of denouncing militarization and violence in the Americas.

News Article

In May 2023 members of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) traveled to the Ixil territory in the highlands of Guatemala. The territory is home to a number of indigenous communities of the Ixil Mayan ethnicity. The Ixil territory, five hours from the capital Guatemala City, once was lush and filled with life. But all this changed in 2009 when an Italian company sensed  profits and invaded the Indigenous land. That year the energy company Enel Group constructed a hydraulic dam changing the course of the Putal River, which sustained the surrounding communities for centuries, provided clean water and fertile land. Since the construction of the dam and the river's diversion, the once mighty river shriveled to a small creek, drying out farmland, killing fish and ending the supply of clean drinking water. As a compensation, Enel promised the villages in the affected  municipality (land district) electricity but did not connect the communities to a power grid. Instead of providing a reliable grid, the corporation donated solar panels which the communities can't sustain due to broken batteries and a lack of support. 

In their 14-year struggle to reclaim their rights and land, the communities of the Ixil territories experienced many setbacks. For four years the Indigenous Council and mayors of impacted  villages tried to conduct negotiations with Enel and the Guatemalan government as an effort to stop the project, but all negotiations were rejected and any engagement between Enel and the communities were only sporadic. In this ongoing fight for survival of the Indigenous communities, the Guatemalan government generally took the side of Enel. In 2011 community activists set up roadblocks and barriers as an effort to enforce negotiations. This peaceful protest erupted the most violent reaction by the state to date when the government sent 1,200 troops into the territory to occupy the protesting communities and enforce nine arrest warrants against community organizers. For many victims of the 36-year civil war. this attack brought back decades old traumas. 

In 2011 the communities filed for a protective status which later was ordered by the Supreme Court but not acknowledged by the Guatemalan central government. The court also decided that Enel had to talk directly to community leaders, an order that was ignored as well. After years of pressure by activists Enel finally agreed to talks, with little success. In their proposal, the Indigenous communities asked for a 20% cut of all profits made on their land as well as reparations for the damage caused by the dam's construction. Enel denied this proposal, only committing to provide materials to rebuild and a yearly payment of 2 million quetzales, around $255,000, to the municipal government--money that does not benefit the suffering communities. Enel has yet to act on its promise for building materials. 

Most recently, Enel and the Guatemalan government have stopped responding to the community leaders' contact requests. The communities filed for a protective status again, but for now the legal proceedings' impact and damages will go unchecked. Until today the dam has caused massive environmental damage, illness and violence by Enel workers. The communities will not stop pushing for reparations and their rights while constantly fearing another army deployment. 

We as IRTF stand in solidarity with the suffering communities and urge the court and Guatemalan government to set an end to this crime.           

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 southern 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.

News Article

June 28, 2023 marks 14 years since the 2009 coup in Honduras. The Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN) honors the years of resistance in Honduras to that coup and the 13 years of dictatorship it installed. We recognize that today the Honduran people continue to fight to dismantle all the structures of the post-coup dictatorship and are up against the same powerful forces they faced in 2009. These forces include the U.S. government and other governments such as Canada that supported the coup and were complicit with the narco-dictatorship. Read our statement for the anniversary here.

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