Judicial Observation in the Criminalization of Defenders in Bajo Aguán

Press release
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Paris-Geneva-Tegucigalpa, 6 June 2016 – Today marks the start of a Judicial Observation Mission by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) for the purpose of witnessing the public oral proceeding against 24 farmers, most of whom are members of the Aguán Unified Farmers’ Movement (MUCA).

On 21 August 2012, 24 farmers who demonstrated before the Supreme Court of Justice were repressed, arrested and tried under charges of illicit demonstrations and property damage in detriment to the state of Honduras and are facing possible sentences of 2 to 4 years in prison.

“The Observatory has decided to observe the trial because of the importance of this case in the framework of the fight for land that has been ongoing in Bajo Aguán for years, and following up on one of our priority lines of action, which is the documentation of cases to prevent the undue use of criminal law to criminalize human rights and land rights defenders,” stated Karim Lahidji, President of the FIDH.

During the Observatory’s international investigation missions, which took place in different regions in Honduras from 11 to 15 April 2016 and 3 to 14 May 2016, there was concern over the numerous reports by several human rights organizations of the trend toward criminalizing human rights defenders. The mission concluded that in a large part of the cases analyzed, criminalization of human rights is associated with a structural problem of access to land.

“We ask all the Honduran authorities to provide our delegate with all the necessary assistance to carry out her mandate, and we hope that in the upcoming trial all the guarantees of due process for all participants will be respected in a context in which the situation of human rights defenders in Honduras is the focus of attention by the international community” , stated Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the OMCT.

This case is emblematic because at the time of the events, the MUCA, represented by attorney Antonio Trejo (murdered one month later), had acted in first and second instance and in civil court and had succeeded in obtaining recognition of rights to the land under dispute with the companies owned by private businessmen Miguel Facussé and René Morales. However, the Supreme Court of Justice revoked the decision and granted the land rights to the businessmen, which gave rise to the presence of the farmers before the Court.

The Observatory mandated Colombian human rights attorney Liliana Ávila to observe the trial, which will run from 6 to 9 June.
The Observatory published a report in February 2016 entitled, “Criminalization of human rights defenders in contexts of industrial projects: A regional phenomenon in Latin America”. (ES)

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a program created in 1997 by the FIDH and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), whose purpose is to act to prevent or remedy specific situations of repression of human rights defenders.

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