Honduras: COPINH recognized as victim in corruption trial

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On 10 August 2021, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice of Honduras unanimously ruled in favour of an injunction filed in November 2020 and declared the right of the Lenca community of Rio Blanco, through COPINH, to be considered as victims in the corruption case for the concession of the Gualcarque River and to exercise their rights in the trial.

This trial involves the company director of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, who was convicted as a co-perpetrator of the murder of Berta Cáceres in July 2021, a case monitored by FIDH since 2016.

FIDH, alongside its member organisations CAJAR (Colombia), CALDH (Guatemala), and CIPRODEH (Honduras) had filed an amicus curiae to support the constitutional appeal filed by COPINH, an organization of the Indigenous Lenca community.

In its ruling, the Court considers the special and differentiated protection of Indigenous and tribal communities afforded by international human rights law, especially through ILO Convention 169, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, and its two basic postulates: the right of Indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own cultures, ways of life, and institutions, and their right to participate effectively in the decisions that affect them.

Likewise, the decision considers “that the concession of the Gualcarque River through actions that, should they be found guilty, undermine the rights of the Indigenous peoples and do so in a direct manner, affecting without a doubt the entire Indigenous community in their territories. Hence the right of these peoples to appear as private plaintiff in the trial for such actions” (page 21).

FIDH, CAJAR, CALDH, and CIPRODEH argued in their amicus for the recognition of the right of the Lenca community as an Indigenous community to participate in decisions that affect them, including judicial proceedings. They also argued that corruption cases not only affect public faith, but can also have victims—particularly when corruption can result in human rights violations. In this ruling, the Court recognizes the Lenca community’s status as victims, on account of the infringement of their rights resulting from the fraud to be prosecuted.

This ruling marks an important victory for COPINH and the Lenca community of Río Blanco—and sets a significant legal precedent for corruption cases affecting Indigenous and tribal communities in Honduras and around the world.

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