A poignant 30th anniversary: the struggle for human rights in Honduras
A 30th anniversary is often a time of great joy - marking a long-standing companionship or marriage, for example, or a significant birthday. But last Friday, on a London rooftop in the crisp winter sunshine, I joined a group of colleagues and Kenia Oliva - a human rights lawyer and activist visiting from Honduras - in what was, for me, an altogether more poignant 30-year celebration.
We were there to mark three decades of COFADEH, an organisation Kenia has worked with for five years that was originally founded by families of some of the 200 people who ‘disappeared’ while in the custody of the Honduran security forces.
30 years on, COFADEH is one of the leading human rights organisations in Honduras – continuing to sustain vital support for the families who are still without justice for the enforced disappearance of their loved ones, as well as now tackling a range of other human rights issues in the country.
The anniversary of this organisation was so poignant because Kenia and her fellow COFADEH members do all of this despite facing serious threats as a result of their work. The fact for over three decades, Kenia and her colleagues have been prepared to pursue their vital work for justice in the face of such violent opposition is certainly something to celebrate.
Human rights defenders under threat
A criminal law specialist, Kenia leads COFADEH’s Access to Justice Programme, and has represented some 300 victims of human rights abuse. Due to her work, she has been sent death threats and suffered a series of attacks and sabotage to her car. The threats against her were deemed grave enough by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights that in 2009 it granted her protective measures that the Honduran state was obligated to implement. It still hasn’t.
In seeking to hold those in power to account, COFADEH’s activists have long endured such threats and harassment. But since 2011 these have intensified in a way that has shocked many of us who have tracked these incidents for years.
In February this year COFADEH activist Dina Meza experienced a horrendous threat of sexual violence in a text that read “We’ll burn your pussy with lime and the whole squad will enjoy it”.
COFADEH founder Bertha Oliva received a chilling phone call in which she was played a recording of a call she had made seconds earlier.
More recently, a statue commemorating the ‘disappeared’ erected in August was shot at 13 times. It was later destroyed in an act that sent a clear message to COFADEH, its activists, and all those they represent.
Transforming pain into hope: human rights defenders in the Americas
Worryingly, as a report we've released today (PDF) shows, these are not isolated incidents. Right across the Americas human rights defenders like Kenia , Dina and Bertha are facing escalating levels of intimidation, harassment and attacks not just at the hands of state security forces and paramilitary groups but also members of organised crime networks.
The aim? To prevent them from speaking out for the rights of the most marginalised. But COFADEH's spirit will not be broken.
Your actions make a difference
On Friday, we were able to present Kenia with messages of support for COFADEH sent as part of our annual Write for Rights campaign. Writing a card may seem like a small act, but it is a truly important one. As Kenia explained:
“When we receive cards from Amnesty International activists it makes us feel so happy, and we read them one by one…We read them with love, because we know they were made with love for us. And they mean recognition for our work. That is a big source of satisfaction for us as human rights defenders.”
“My message to Amnesty activists is not to leave us on our own…. It’s very important that you carry on sending us cards, that you carry on supporting us via the urgent actions, that you keep all that is happening under the spotlight, or to put it better, that you show what is happening in Honduras.”
So please join the hundreds who have already shown COFADEH members that they stand with them. Send your message of support now
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.