Persecution and resistance: The experience of human rights defenders in Guatemala and Honduras

Report
August 8, 2007

Persecution and resistance: The experience of human rights defenders in Guatemala and Honduras


A number of irregularities have been reported regarding the investigations into the killings of Heraldo Zuñiga and Roger Iván Cartagena. For example, reports suggest that forensic evidence from the scene of the killings was tampered with. The initial hearing has been repeatedly postponed and police have so far failed to present proper reports of the investigation to the courts.(28)

[Caption]
David Zúñiga, March 2007. His son, Heraldo Zúñiga, was killed in December 2006. © AI

Conclusions and recommendations

In recent years, defenders have fought to make the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relevant to new and emerging threats to human dignity. All human rights defenders need and have a right to protection, but it is defenders exploring new ways of realizing these rights who are often the most exposed to risk, ridicule and resistance. Those working to redress the historical neglect of economic, social and cultural rights risk making powerful enemies when they question the distribution of economic resources and call for greater accountability of those whose actions fuel poverty and inequality. For this reason, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on human rights defenders has urged States to:

"[...] adopt appropriate measures to disseminate and to ensure full observance of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders by all State authorities in order to make sure that all defenders come under the protection of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, including those working in the area of ESCR [economic, social and cultural rights.
The Special Representative recommends that States show increased tolerance for criticism and see human rights defenders working in the field of ESCR as a resource and make use of the often specialized knowledge of defenders in order to achieve the realization of all ESCR."
Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on human rights defenders, report to the Human Rights Council, January 2007

The governments of Guatemala and Honduras have ostensibly committed themselves to social reform and poverty reduction, yet this report shows that major allies in the struggle to improve human dignity and alleviate suffering continue to face danger due to a lack of government will to recognize important human rights work. The governments of Guatemala and Honduras need to stop treating members of the human rights community, especially those from poorer, more marginalized areas, as enemies and instead engage with them in serious debate about both their work and their protection needs to prevent further killings and attacks. Advancing human rights is a mutual endeavour between state and civil society, not an opposing one.

Amnesty International's recommendations

Amnesty International urges the governments of Honduras and Guatemala to fulfil their obligations to protect human rights defenders by undertaking to:

1. Explicitly commit themselves to promoting respect for human rights and to the protection of human rights defenders.

2. Recognize the legitimacy of the work of all human rights defenders, including those working on economic, social and cultural rights, in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

3. Issue public statements that support the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders and promote support for their work among society at large and make it clear that statements that denigrate or undermine their work, aims or legitimacy will not be tolerated.

4. Take the necessary steps to develop a national plan of action to implement the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders to ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisals. This plan should include: