Honduras: The State must make reparations to the Guapinol defenders for their arbitrary detention

Logo: Observatorio Guapinol

After 914 days of arbitrary detention, a trial riddled with irregularities, an unfair sentence, and undue delays in executing the release order, the Guapinol environmental defenders were freed, able to rejoin their families and community, announced the Guapinol River Defenders’ Observatory for Justice (Observatorio por la Justicia por los Defensores de Guapinol). The State must now compensate for the damages caused, investigate and punish those responsible for the events, and provide immediate protection measures for the defenders and their entourage.

On 24 February 2022, environmental defenders José Abelino Cedillo, Kelvin Alejandro Romero, Ever Alexander Cedillo, Daniel Márquez Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, and Orbin Nahún Hernández were released from the Olanchito Prison and were reunited with their families, community, and colleagues Jeremías Martínez and Arnol Javier Alemán, who had been released on 9 February 2022.

The Trujillo Sentencing Court ordered their immediate release, 14 days after the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) cancelled the criminal proceedings against them. The Chamber resolved two refuge appeals filed in 2020 and 2021 in favour of the defenders for violations of due process and the arbitrary pre-trial detention to which they were subjected. The CSJ’s decision should have been implemented immediately to put an end to more than two years of criminalisation, illegal detention, and harassment against eight people who raised their voices to peacefully defend the environment in a country whose development model harms natural resources.

However, over the course of two weeks, the case file of Guapinol’s defenders passed through different courts of justice in what the Observatory described as "tactics aiming to delay the fulfilment of refuge rulings" issued by the CSJ, whose decisions are final and cannot be appealed. This situation brought about legal insecurity and the extension of the already unjust and illegal detention of the Guapinol defenders.

On 9 February 2022, the Trujillo Sentencing Court convicted — after a trial riddled with irregularities and violations of due process — six of the eight Guapinol defenders for the crimes of "aggravated damages" and "unjust deprivation of liberty" against Mr José Santos Corea and "aggravated damages" and "simple damages" against the mining company Inversiones Los Pinares. Two days before the verdict, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras, present at the conclusions stage of the trial, expressed concern that the Honduran Public Prosecutor’s Office had not complied "with the minimum standard of proof or fully observed the principle of objectivity that should govern its proceedings" in the trial against the eight Guapinol defenders.

Despite the fact that in November 2020 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention qualified the detention of José Abelino Cedillo, Kelvin Alejandro Romero, Ever Alexander Cedillo, Daniel Márquez, Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, Orbin Nahún Hernández, Jeremías Martínez, and Arnol Javier Alemán as arbitrary and ordered their immediate release, Honduran government did not take any steps to end and redress their unjust deprivation of liberty.

The Guapinol River Defenders’ Observatory for Justice welcomes the release of the Guapinol defenders, but regrets the two-year delay in recognising the arbitrariness of the process and the unjust detention against them. It also stresses that criminal law must stop being used as a tool for the criminalisation of defenders in Honduras, including against all of the Guapinol defenders, and urges to stop using models of dispossession and violence to the detriment of territories and common goods.

The Observatory urges the Honduran authorities to carry out an investigation into their illegal detention, and to urgently take the necessary measures to protect their physical and psychological integrity, that of their families, their communities, the members of the Municipal Committee for the Defence of Common and Public Property (CMDBCP), and their legal representatives.

In this sense, Honduras must comply with the resolution of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and repair the damages to the defenders as a prior step to the non-repetition of these events. This includes not only economic restitution to the defenders, but also the reestablishment of the nuclear zone of the Carlos Escaleras National Park, reparation of the environmental damage caused by the mine, and the cancellation of the mining projects, which are operating with illegal environmental licenses as demonstrated during the trial of the eight defenders. Measures to this effect should include the shared management of the Carlos Escaleras National Park with the Municipal Committee for the Defence of Common and Public Goods (CMDBCP) and the Communities of Guapinol and the San Pedro Sector, as well as the declaration of the water sources for human consumption and the sanitation of the watersheds.

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