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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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November 23, 2021
Two campesino leaders, Celenia Bonilla and her husband Nelson García, were assassinated on November 21. They were attacked while gardening on the patio of their home in the Cañada de Flores sector of Guaimaca municipality, Francisco Morazán Department. Their three children (the youngest one-year-old) are now left orphaned. Nelson García was president of the campesino association Hombres y Mujeres de Fé (Men and Women of Faith). Together with another campesino association, 44 families have been farming the land in Cañada de Flores for ten years against a backdrop of persecution. Although the municipality of Guaimaca has the land registered as an ejido (common land), an individual has been claiming private ownership. The CNTC (National Center of Rural Workers) has previously denounced threats and harassment of members of these two campesino associations. We demand that the government investigate these killings and bring the perpetrators to justice. We also urge the government to develop public policies on access to and tenure of land in order to address the structural issues of land conflicts.
November 22, 2021
We wrote to the attorney general of Guatemala for the second day in a row about more state violence in El Estor. On November 16 the Guatemalan National Police (PNC) forcibly evicted 96 Maya Q’eqchi’ families from Chinebal, in the southern region of El Estor municipality, Izabal Department, which has been under a government-declared state of siege since October 23. The Maya Q’eqchi’ families of Chinebal have resided and farmed on this land at the foot of the Sierra de las Minas mountain range since the 1940s. The eviction (police bulldozing homes, burning families’ personal belongings) stemmed from a longstanding land dispute over rightful ownership of the Palestina Chinebal farm. Businessman Juan Maegeli leases portions of the land to the NaturAceites company to grow African palm trees for palm oil production. Palm plantations are now covering 9% of arable land in Izabal.
November 21, 2021
In our letter to the attorney general of Guatemalan, we joined the voices of our RRN members with organizations from around the world to denounce the state of siege declared by the government of Guatemala and repression carried out against the local indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ community in El Estor, Izabal Department. Since October 4, residents have been organizing a highway blockade to prevent the passage of machinery on its way to the El Fénix nickel mine, which has been operating illegally since 2005. Police have implemented tactics of intimidation and repression over the past several weeks. Local residents—along with journalists reporting on the protests—have been tear-gassed, beaten and threatened by the excessive number of agents of the National Police and military deployed to the area. Police are enforcing a dusk-to-dawn curfew. Roads in and out of El Estor are controlled by military road-blocks. Lake Izabal is patrolled by naval boats. Drones are flown to monitor neighborhoods and movement of local residents. Tear gas is fired not only at demonstrators but into people’s homes. Some indigenous leaders and journalists have been arrested. Security agents have also been confiscating cellular phones of the residents and journalists to prevent documentation of the events.Both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have denounced the state of siege, but the violence continues.
October 26, 2021
We wrote to officials in Colombia about threats to and attacks on indigenous Awá and Nasa community members and leaders in Nariño and Cauca Departments, including the attempted assassination of Nasa community leader Oveimar Tenorio. Nariño Department (Awá territory) : On October 2, at least three Awá women indigenous leaders in Barbacoas municipality received threatening phone calls, including Yurani López Moreano, governor of the Awá Nunalbí Alto Ulbíl Reservation. They were threatened to either leave their territory or risk becoming a military target....Cauca Department (Nasa territories): On October 1, Oveimar Tenorio, area coordinator of the Kiwe Thenas of Cxhab Wala Kiwe, was shot repeatedly at his home at the Nasa reservation of San Francisco de Toribío. Fortunatley, he survived the assassination attempt.... On October 3, four Nasa community members were kidnapped, gagged and threatened with death by armed men. Gun shots were fired against members of the Indigenous Guard as they made a successful rescue of the four people at the town hall in Caloto municipality....We demand investigations into these threats and attacks. We further demand that the State protect the right of indigenous communities to defend their communal territories and maintain them as conflict-free zones.
October 25, 2021
María Steffania Muñoz Villa became the 10th female ex-combatant and signer of the Peace Accords killed when she was attacked in the village of Mazamorrero, outside of Buenos Aires municipality, in Cauca Department. María Steffania Muñoz Villa was a member of the Territorial Space for Reincorporation [of ex-combatants] (ETCR) in Buenos Aires. Her partner (also an ex-combatant) Yorbis Valencia Carabali was also killed on the outskirts of Buenos Aires on July 25. INDEPAZ reports that several armed groups operate in the region, including AGC (Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces), ELN (National Liberation Army), and a residual faction of the FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army). At least 289 ex-combatants have been assassinated since the signing of the Peace Accords in November 2016. In this letter, we also ask for investigations into the killings of four other social leaders across the country: Marco Tulio Gutiérrez Mendoza, Dilio Bailarín, Efren Bailarín Carupia, and Erley Osorio Arias. We urge that the state take action to dismantle paramilitary structures that operate in several regions of the country, threatening and controlling local communities.
October 24, 2021
We wrote to officials in Honduras expressing our outrage about violence waged against three LGBTI leaders in three areas of the country: Erika Tatiana Martínez García, who was murdered in her home on September 26 (Copán Department), Fausto Vásquez, whose bed was set on fire on September 30 (La Paz Department), and Victoria Rodríguez, who was beaten in her home on October 7 (Comayagua Department). LGBTI rights groups report that 390 LGBTI people have been murdered in Honduras in the past 12 years, including 17 this year. In only nine percent of the cases has there been a murder conviction; more than 90 percent of the cases remain in impunity. Tatiana's murder, Fausto’s harassment, and Vicky’s attack must all be seen as transgressions against protections that human rights defenders should receive. The government of Honduras should adhere to the ruling handed down by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (June 28, 2021) when it found the State responsible for the murder of transwoman Vicky Hernández on June 28, 2009. There must be accountability and an end to the impunity provided to the perpetrators of these crimes.
October 23, 2021
We wrote to officials in Honduras about a pattern of violence being inflicted on elected officials and candidates of the opposition LIBRE party (Freedom and Refoundation Party). A mayoral candidate for the municipality of Santa Ana de Yusguare in Choluteca, Nery Fernando Reyes, was shot to death on October 8. The following day, there was an attempted killing of Olivia Marcela Zúniga Cáceres, a LIBRE party congresswoman, at her home in La Esperanza, Intibucá. The legislator is the daughter of Berta Cáceres, the indigenous environmental defender who was assassinated in March 2016. According to the National Observatory on Violence at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (ONV-UNAH), 15 people linked to politics have been murdered from December 2020 to September 15, 2021. The assassination of Nery Fernando Reyes Pineda and the attempted assassination of Olivia Marcela Zúniga Cáceres are recent examples of an ongoing climate of anti-LIBRE hate crimes leading up to the presidential elections, which are scheduled for November 28.
October 12, 2021
We wrote to officials in Honduras to denounce the assassination of Óscar Javier Pérez, former member of a campesino organization in the Aguán Valley of northern Honduras. In October 2016, Óscar Javier Pérez was an eyewitness to the assassinations of José Ángel Flores, president of MUCA (Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán Valley) and Silmer Dionisio George, also a leader of MUCA (cf our letter October 25, 2016). On September 20, 2020, one of the murderers of José Ángel Flores and Silmer Dionisio George was captured. On October 10, 2021, Óscar Javier Pérez was riddled with bullets at his home in the community of Quebradas de la Arena, Tocoa, Colón Department. A motivation for the killing of Óscar Javier Pérez could be to silence him from giving testimony at an upcoming court trial. For the past decade, campesino rights organizations in the Aguán Valley have denounced the assassinations of their leaders and members. They point to the presence of armed paramilitary groups created to sow terror in the area. These groups are protected by the police and the army who are aware of their existence and allow them to operate unrestricted.
October 11, 2021
The government of Guatemala is using the National Police (PNC) to intimidate the local Mayan Q’eqchi’ community in El Estor, Izabal Department, which has been organizing opposition to the El Fénix nickel mine for several years. Mining operations are causing contamination of local waterways, namely Lake Izabal. In 2019, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala ruled that the Guatemalan Nickel Company should suspend mining operations until a process of consultation with the local indigenous community is conducted (as required by national and international law). On September 27, 2021 the Ancestral Council of Maya Q’eqchi’ Authorities filed an appeal against Alberto Pimentel Mata, the Minister of Energy and Mines, for his management and bad faith in the pre-consultation process. On October 4, the community set up a road blockade to stop the passage of mining machinery. On October 6, the Guatemalan National Police threatened to evict 94 families (many of them participants of the blockade) from their homes and properties. We are urging that the government (1) issue an order to suspend mining operations, and (2) respect the right of the local Q’eqchi’ community to organize opposition to the mining operations.
September 26, 2021
In Honduras, there is a systemic attempt to silence the voices of those who stand up for environmental and social justice causes, including the journalists who report on such causes. In San Pedro Sula: TV reporter Deyni Menjivar was threatened by a private security guard while covering a demonstration by environmental defenders who were demanding action against the construction of a new upscale housing development in a forest reserve. In Choloma: TV reporter Hector Madrid was followed and threatened after reporting on community opposition to the ZEDEs (Employment and Economic Development Zones), which are autonomous zones ceded by the government to private companies. We are urging that authorities in Honduras (1) adopt and uphold prevention mechanisms to avoid violence against those who work in the media, and (2) train public officials, especially the police and security forces, on the guidelines for conduct for respecting the rights of public assembly and respect for freedom of expression.