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Under what reality is the forced disappearance of Garífuna leaders sustained?

Radio Progreso is based in El Progreso, Yoro Department, Honduras

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See the original article in Spanish here


The Jesuit-sponsored Reflection Research and Communication Team (ERIC) in Honduras reported on Radio Progreso (Aug 10)  that “Model Cities” are at the root of the territorial dispossession and violence against Garífuna communities. While he was president of the National Congress in 2013, Juan Orlando Hernández (now president of Honduras) pushed through legislation to create “Zedes,” (Zones of Economic Development and Employment), also referred to as “Model Cities.” Economic forces interested in creating these territorial and administrative divisions (which, by the way, are not subject to the laws of the central government) saw a green light for more land grabs of Garífuna ancestral lands along the Atlantic coast. And even though Honduras has been a signatory to the American Convention on Human Rights, it routinely ignores the rulings of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. This blatant snubbing of international rulings by the State of Honduras is also a blatant discounting of its own constitution: the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, the body that interprets the Constitution, says that international judgments are mandatory and must be complied with.

In October 2015, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights found the State of Honduras guilty of violating the collective land rights of the Garífuna people. At the root of the judgment is the government’s violation of ILO Convention 169, which requires free, prior, and informed consent by indigenous peoples before any megaproject is developed on their communal territories. In the case of the Garífuna, many tracts of land have been forcibly taken from them. The court ordered the State of Honduras to grant a collective property title to the territory of Triunfo de la Cruz (in Tela municipality, Atlántida Department) within two years. The kidnapping of its leaders [on July 18] and the vulnerability that surrounds the Triunfo de la Cruz Garifuna community is the product of structural violence promoted by the State that is expressed in threats, death, cultural and territorial dispossession, according to Dr. Joaquín Mejía, a lawyer and researcher for ERIC.  If the State had complied with the sentence in due time, many of the violent atrocities waged in recent years against Garífuna leaders and residents could have been avoided.

The full article from Radio Progreso starts here:

The kidnapping of its leaders and the uncertainty that surrounds the Triunfo de la Cruz Garifuna community in Tela, Atlántida, is the product of structural violence promoted by the State that is expressed in threats, death, cultural and territorial dispossession, says Joaquín Mejía, Doctor in Human Rights, within the framework of the cycle of virtual forums Historical violence against indigenous peoples in Honduras, promoted by the Eric-SJ Reflection Research and Communication Team.

In his participation, Mejía explains why failure to comply with the judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Inter-American Court), in favor of the Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra communities, is a key element in the kidnapping of the 4 leaders and the murders perpetrated since 2013, when Juan Orlando Hernández was president of the National Congress and the reaction of an Employment and Economic Development Zone (Zede) was approved.

Those known as "Model Cities", due to the territorial and administrative division that are not subject to the central government, but to their own economic and political regime. For the creation of these cities, forests, beaches and regions with water potential and other natural assets were identified. In other words, indigenous and tribal territories. Although the violence against the Garífuna people dates back a few years, the creation of these cities exacerbated their situation.

The country has been a signatory to international conventions since 1978, including the American Convention on Human Rights. From that year to date, the country is subject to a series of provisions in order to guarantee the life of its population. On the other hand, that treaty created an international court: the Inter-American Court, which means that the signatory countries recognize that this court can issue judgments and take cases against them. In addition, in 1995 Honduras ratified or endorsed Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, ILO, regarding indigenous peoples.

The Inter-American Court has issued 13 judgments against the State of Honduras. On October 8, 2015, the international justice organ found Honduras guilty of violating the collective right to land and life of the communities.

The Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, Ofraneh, filed a complaint for the expansion of the urban area of ​​the municipality of Tela in 1989, affecting its ancestral territory without prior consultation. According to the complaint, in 1993 and 1995 the National Agrarian Institute and the municipality sold some 44 hectares of land in favor of third parties. In 1997, the Municipality of Tela transferred some 22 hectares to the local union and the government created the Punta Izopo National Park, in both actions it did not consult the inhabitants of Triunfo de la Cruz either.

“Even when a national park is going to be created, you have to consult, even if the community is not indigenous, to know if it affects them or not. In addition, the government gave a license for the development of two tourism projects: Marbella and Playa Escondida without consultation. This shows that the State did not judicially protect the community, did not adopt norms or practices to guarantee the right to consultation, allowing the Inter-American Court to issue a ruling against them, ”explained Mejía.

In the forum he explained two basic situations: the first is that the Constitution of the Republic in its article 15, speaks of international judgments and maintains that they are mandatory. Second, article 16 of the Constitution says that treaties such as the American Convention and ILO Convention 169 are part of internal or implicit law. In addition, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, the body that interprets the Constitution, says that international judgments are mandatory and must be complied with. "That is how clear the law is, but it doesn't apply here," said Mejía.

The implicit law means that international treaties and judgments are included in the Constitution. For example, the ruling in favor of the Garífuna guarantees the rights that the Constitution does not, such as the right to prior, free and informed consultation. It does not appear in the Constitution, but with the sentence it is incorporated. How? "Through the doctrine of implicit rights, which come from other sources but become ours," he explained.

An indigenous people

During the forum, Joaquín Mejía told about the hearing where the State of Honduras was found internationally guilty. The Garífunas with drums and incense in hand traveled (by bus to Costa Rica, seat of the Court), where the judgment was rendered. The Honduran State defended itself arguing that the Garífuna are not an indigenous people, demonstrating the incapacity of the lawyers who represent the country in these litigation.

Joaquín Mejía explains that to be considered an original people, two elements are needed, one objective and the other subjective. The first element is sustained in three basic aspects: 1) its historical continuity from the colony to our times. 2) the territorial connection; In other words, no one can deny the union that between the Garífunas and the Atlantic coast. 3) that its political, cultural and economic institutions are different and specific, which are not found in the rest of society.

And the subjective element is that the Garífuna people identify themselves as an original [indigenous] people, that its inhabitants say "I feel like an original people, I feel Garifuna," he said, arguing that this subjective part is extremely important because it is not determined by a DNA test. , but collective self-identification of the community. "It is ridiculous and shameful for the State to say that the Garífuna are not an indigenous people in a court like this," he said.


When it comes to international sentences, it is believed in millionaire economic reparations, but for a people like the Garífuna, the land is worth more than the economic opportunities that can be brought about through them.

The Inter-American Court ordered the State of Honduras to mark and grant a collective property title to the lands of Triunfo de la Cruz, within two years. It means expropriating or relocating third parties who hold full ownership title over the community's territory. In the event that it is impossible to expropriate, the third party has to prove it with well-founded arguments that demonstrate the impossibility of the action.

If it cannot expropriate, the state has to grant other lands of the same amount elsewhere to the community. The State must abstain and prevent third parties from carrying out acts that affect the land and culture of the Garífuna. Part of the violent acts against the Triunfo de la Cruz community has to do with the failure to comply with that sentence, because the State not only criminalizes them, but also allows third parties to enter the territory with other customs and even with illicit businesses.

The sentence also refers to the investigation and punishment of the violating acts. In Triunfo de la Cruz, in the framework of this context, four leaders were assassinated: Jesús Álvarez, Oscar Rueda, Jorge Castillo Jiménez and Julio Alberto Morales, the Inter-American Court orders the deduction of responsibilities for these murders.

Also, measure of satisfaction. Every Sunday for three months, the State has to publish in a media with national coverage, an official summary of the sentence in a national media, both in Spanish and Garífuna, in addition, publicly apologize for the violations that were committed and acknowledge their responsibility.

"Unfortunately, these means of satisfaction are the ones that the State quickly fulfills, because they ask for forgiveness and acknowledge their guilt and it is used as a political campaign," said Joaquín Mejía.

And finally, you must apply guarantees not to repeat the facts. The expert concluded by assuring that, if the State had complied with the sentence in due time and form, a good part of the violent acts in the Garífuna communities would have been avoided.

In addition, a historical precedent would be established that would contribute to guaranteeing the rights and life of the rest of the indigenous peoples in Honduras.