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Rapid Response Network
RRN’s team of letter-writers responds to six urgent human rights cases each month to
- protect people living under threat
- demand investigations into human rights crimes
- bring human rights criminals to justice
- ensure that human rights crimes are not happening in the dark.
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October 12, 2020
A group of armed men arrived at the Garífuna community of Vallecito, whose residents have been victim to harassment, intimidation and threats over their land for many years. Attempts at forcible seizure of their territory (sometimes successful) has come from drug traffickers and African palm growers. In recent years, private investors (including many from the US and Europe) have been looking at Vallecito and other Garífuna communities on the Atlantic Coast to build their Model Cities, which was authorized under the ZEDE (Economic Development Zone) legislation passed in 2013. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has criticized the government of Honduras for not adhering to its mandates to protect Garífuna ancestral lands and adequately investigate the murders of Garífuna community leaders. As recently as May 2019, the Court acknowledged that Garífuna community members are still experiencing "direct death threats," "blackmail, increased robbery," and "profiling of leaders."
October 1, 2020
On September 27 in Comayagua, as journalist Luis Almendrares, age 35, was getting out of his car to go into a store for groceries, two men wearing hoods drove up on a motorcycle, shot him repeatedly, and fled. Luis Almendares began taping the scene of his own attack with his cellphone. He died the next day at a hospital in Tegucigalpa. The Honduran Press Association (APH, Asociación de Prensa Hondureña) has affirmed that "the problems of the press in Honduras begin with reports of journalistic investigations into corruption of officials or the political class.” On his Facebook page, Periodista504, the journalist had published information about corruption by local elected officials in Comayagua and violence committed by the police. Luis Almendares is at least the third journalist to be assassinated in Honduras in 2020, and at least the 85th since 2001. The National Human Rights Commission of Honduras (CONADEH) reports an impunity rate of 91% for the murders of journalists.
August 25, 2020
To bring attention to several identified environmental, social, human, and economic impacts of large scale mining projects in the Atlantic zone, residents of El Guapinol (Colón Department) and surrounding communities organized the Encampment on the Defense of Water and Life in August 2018. They pointed to contamination of the Guapinol and San Pedro Rivers, which supply drinking water to fourteen surrounding communities, caused by an iron ore mine operated since 2014 by Los Inversiones Los Pinares (owners: Lenir Pérez and Ana Facussé). Of particular concern are impacts on the Montaña de Botaderos National Park, which supplies several rivers flowing to Olancho, Atlántida, and Colón Departments. Area residents have documented how the mine is destroying animal life and contaminating smaller waterways. Tens of thousands of inhabitants are at risk of losing their agricultural crops and homes. Because of their actions in defense of the environment, these men have been imprisoned in “preventive detention” awaiting formal charges since September 2019: Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, José Abelino Cedillo, Kelvin Alejandro Romero, Arnold Javier Alemán, Ever Alexander Cedillo, Orbin Nahúm Hernández, Daniel Márquez, and Jeremías Martínez. We demand their release!
August 24, 2020
Several armed groups are competing in Nariño for control of land to grow illicit crops, illegal mining, and routes for drug trafficking. In the last four months, at least seven community members and members of the Awá Indigenous Guard have been murdered. On July 28, Fabio Alfonso Guanga García, the second Indigenous governor of the Ñambí Piedra Verde Reservation (in Barbacoas municipality), and his partner Sonia Lorena Bisbicus Ortiz were assassinated. At noon on August 11, six men shot at the truck in which Francisco Cortés Guanga and his two security bodyguards from the National Protection Unit (UNP) were riding. Francisco Cortés Guanga serves the Piguambí Palangala Reservation as human rights spokesperson with UNIPA (Unidad de Pueblos Awá). His father, Segundo Jaime Cortés Pai, governor of the same reservation, had received death threats two weeks prior. Then on August 19, three Awa Indigenous youths were killed in the remote Aguacuate community of Pialapi Pueblo Viejo Reservation (Ricaurte municipality); others are rumored to have been forcibly disappeared.
August 23, 2020
We are outraged at the killing of two Nasa Indigenous men, José Abelardo Liz Cuetia, age 34, and José Ernesto Rivera, on August 13 near Corinto in Cauca Department. The two men were shot and killed during a two-day military and police campaign to forcibly remove members of the Nasa Indigenous group from land that they claim is their ancestral territory. The security forces were deployed to fulfill an eviction order by Martha C. Velasco Guzman, mayor of Corinto, which Nasa leaders characterize as “irresponsible and without prior consult.” Legal ownership of the land is claimed by Incauca sugar refinery, a company owned by Carlos Ardila Lülle, one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in Colombia. Nasa Indigenous men Julio Cesar Tumbo and Leónidas Perdomo were seriously injured in the attack.
August 22, 2020
Senator Iván Cepeda Castro has been receiving death threats since the Colombia Supreme Court of Justice ordered the house arrest of Ex-President Álvaro Uribe on August 4. In 2012, Senator Cepeda gathered evidence that President Uribe was supporting illegal paramilitary groups in carrying out human rights abuses. In 2018, the Supreme Court began investigating Mr. Uribe for bribery, fraud, and witness tampering. The Court is also trying to determine if one of Mr. Uribe's lawyers, with his consent, paid imprisoned paramilitaries to give testimony favoring the ex-president. Although Mr. Uribe has not yet been formally charged, he is feeling the political impacts of the accusations. He announced on August 18 that he is resigning the Senate seat he has held since 2014. In the meantime, the current president has appeared on national television and insisted that Mr. Uribe is a "genuine patriot" and victim of unjust accusations and defamation. Statements calling for Mr. Uribe’s release from house arrest have been echoed by U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence.
August 21, 2020
We are concerned for the safety of environmental and indigenous rights defender Ubaldino García Canan and other members of the Nuevo Día Ch’orti Indigenous Association (CCCND) in Olopa municipality in Chiquimula Department. CCCND provides legal support and visibility to indigenous Maya Ch'orti' communities. They face repeated human rights violations and threats to their land, environmental, and cultural rights because of hydroelectric and mining projects in their territories. On the night of August 5, Ubaldino García Canan, who serves as spokesperson for the Maya Ch'orti' Indigenous Council of Olopa, once again became a crime victim when unknown persons forcibly raided his home and his adjoined small grocery store. Because the intruders stole personal documents along with money and products, indigenous authorities suspect that Ubaldino García Canan was being targeted because of his involvement with CCCND. Residents of 11 villages of Olopa municaplity (and several of neighboring Esquipulas municipality) have been organizing opposition to an antimony sulfide mine that is contaminating their rivers. In retaliation, they have been victimized by intimidation and violence.
August 16, 2020
Carrying a loaf of fresh bread that he was going to deliver to his uncle's house, José Miguel Hernández Tejada set out on his motorbike the morning of August 3. His mother Lizeth Tejada started to panic when evening rolled around and no one had seen him all day. Waiting the requisite full 24 hours to file a missing persons report, she went to the the Las Vegas municipal police department the next morning. Three days later, she was dismayed to discover that the report had never been entered into the computer system. When she later went to the regional office of the Public Ministry, the prosecutor told her that she had no right to file a complaint because forced disappearance was not a crime....We are deeply troubled by these procedural errors (or intentional hindrances) that Lizeth Tejada has experienced during her desperate quest to locate her missing son. We demand swift action.
July 31, 2020
The arrest and criminalization of indigenous and environmental rights defenders is part of a strategy of intimidation and violence against them. Fredy García is one victim of this violent strategy in Oaxaca, Mexico. Fredy García is the spokesperson for the Committee for the Defense of Indigenous Peoples (CODEDI). He has been in Tanivet prison in Oaxaca since November of 2019 on fabricated charges of “assault,” “injuries” and “aggravated robbery.” On July 10, prison guards severely beat Fredy García, saying that they were acting on “orders from above.” On July 12 he was transferred to a cell in a different block where his use of the telephone is severely restricted, and he is forced to work outdoors in areas with very little shade. When his wife came to visit, she was told by prison authorities that Fredy García was placed in a punishment zone of the prison. During a restricted 20-minute visit, she saw his injuries, including several bruises and a blood spill in his left eye. We are urging authorities in Oaxaca to: 1) conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the harsh treatment of Fredy García, publish the results, and bring the perpetrators to justice , and 2) take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Fredy Garcia, in accordance with international standards (United Nations’ Set of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Prison, 1988)
July 24, 2020
On June 19, the body of Antonio Bernárdez, a 71-year-old leader of the Garífuna community of Punta Piedra, was discovered with bullet wounds and signs of torture. This was six days after he was disappeared. The Punta Piedra has been plagued by violence stemming from a land conflict since non-Garífuna families started settling there in 1992. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has criticized the government for not adhering to its mandates to protect Garífuna ancestral lands and adequately investigate the murders of Garífuna community leaders. As recently as May 2019, the Court acknowledged that Garífuna community members are still experiencing "direct death threats," "blackmail, increased robbery," and "profiling of leaders." The forced disappearance of at least four Garífuna men from Triunfo de la Cruz on July 18 is evidence of the ever-present dangers faced by the Garífuna communities along the Atlantic coast (cf our letter July 20, 2020). We are demanding that authorities in Honduras 1- carry out a comprehensive and transparent investigation into the assassination of Antonio Bernárdez, publish the results, and bring the perpetrators to justice; 2- develop protection mechanisms for Garífuna communities and their leaders, in strict accordance with their wishes; and 3- adhere to all resolutions and judgments issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to protect Garífuna ancestral lands, community residents and leaders.