Honduras/Guatemala: Attacks on rights activists reaching ‘worrying proportions’

The level of threats, intimidation, attacks and killings of activists in Honduras and Guatemala who campaign to defend the rights of marginalised communities is reaching ‘worrying proportions’ said Amnesty International today (8 August) as it published its new report.

Amnesty International’s report – Persecution and Resistance: The experience of human rights defenders in Guatemala and Honduras – exposes a systematic pattern of attacks against those who defend the rights of marginalised communities, including indigenous peoples and LGBTI people.

Director of Amnesty International’s Americas Programme, Susan Lee, said:

“Those who protect others from suffering human rights violations end up suffering abuses themselves. The insecurity of human rights activists in Honduras and In Guatemala is reaching worrying proportions.

“Threats, intimidation, unfounded criminal charges and killings of activists in Honduras and Guatemala are designed to stop them from protecting people’s rights, particularly when their work goes against powerful economic interests,” said Susan Lee.

Amnesty International’s 32-page report documents a series of cases where activists whose rights have been seriously violated, and have not been able to bring their perpetrators to justice.

Donny Reyes, Treasurer of the LGBTI organisation Rainbow Association (Asociación Arcoiris) in Honduras, was arbitrarily detained on 18 March 2007. He told Amnesty International he was stopped by six police officers and asked for his identity documents as he left the Rainbow Association offices in Tegucigalpa with a colleague.

Although he did so, the police beat him and forced him into the car. He was then taken to the Comayagüela police station. Donny then heard the officer who put him in the cell telling the other inmates, “Look, I’m bringing you a little princess, you know what to do.”

Donny Reyes told Amnesty International that the other detainees took this as a signal to beat him and rape him repeatedly. He was released after six and a half hours when he agreed to pay a sum of money. Three days later, he reported what had happened to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and to a senior police officer. He also underwent forensic examinations to record the injuries he had suffered.

Donny’s ordeal is part of a pattern of attacks against the Rainbow Association – including raids on their offices and intimidation.

To date, the investigations into the arbitrary detention and torture against Donny Reyes have not advanced.

On 4 December 2006, Dionisio Díaz García, a lawyer with the human rights organisation Association for a More Just Society (ASJ), was shot dead as he was driving to the Honduran Supreme Court to prepare for a hearing on a case of unfair dismissal against a private security company.

ASJ members have been subjected to a long campaign of threats and surveillance, which has intensified since the killing of Dionisio.

Those responsible for killing Dionisio Díaz have still not been brought to justice and the authorities have failed to conduct adequate investigations into the threats and intimidation against ASJ members or to provide them with adequate protection.

Amnesty International’s 2007 Media Awards winner, journalist Dina Meza works for a Honduran online magazine – www.revistazo.com – which is funded by ASJ. Dina said:

“Anyone who dares to speak out against the corruption and other violations that affect Honduran society risks threat, intimidation – or worse – are in danger of being killed.

“Sadly my trusted colleague and friend Dionisio Díaz has the paid the heavy price of his life for daring to carry out his job as a lawyer for a NGO in Honduras.

“The Honduras government must make it their utmost responsibility to find the perpetrators of his murder and bring them to justice. The authorities in Honduras also need to show more commitment to stemming the tide of attacks against rights activists like us, so that we can carry out our work without the fear of being killed.”

Amnesty International calls on the governments of Honduras and Guatemala to develop a National Plan of Action to ensure that human rights activists are able to carry out their work without fear of reprisals.

This plan must include political, practical and legal measures to investigate all cases of human rights abuses against activists and ensure their immediate protection.

Susan Lee said:

“It is high time for the authorities to investigate these abuses and bring those responsible to justice. Justice is the best and only real protection mechanism for human rights activists.”

Listen to an audio report from human right defender Dina Meza br /> Watch Honduran activists talking about their experiences (RealPlayer)

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