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



"There's been a lot of pressure over the last 10 years, but a lot of hope as well."
ASJ member speaking at a public meeting in London, organized by AIUK in July 2007.


The ASJ is a Christian human rights organization whose work focuses on improving access to justice for all sectors of society, including marginalized groups. Its work includes investigating abuses of labour rights by private security firms and fast food companies, as well as providing support for women who experience violence. In 2001, the ASJ launched an e-magazine to provide an alternative space to publish information about human rights violations and reports of corruption.

On 20 December 2006, just over two weeks after Dionisio Díaz was killed, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asked the Honduran government to implement precautionary measures on behalf of members of the ASJ. To Amnesty International's knowledge, the implementation of protection measures has so far been inadequate, irregular and has not been properly evaluated. The ASJ's human rights activities have also been affected by the fact that they are being required to divert at least US$1,000 each month of their own funds to cover the costs of this protection even though the authorities have a duty to provide it.

Those responsible for the killing of 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.

On 8 November 2005, an arson attack destroyed the house of Wilfredo Guerrero, President of the Committee in Defence of the Land (Comité de Defensa de la Tierra). The Committee campaigns for the protection of the ancestral lands of the Garifuna community of San Juan Tela, Atlántida Department, in northern Honduras. The area is threatened by plans to develop private tourist complexes which would damage or destroy the traditions, culture and way of life of the Afro-descendant community.
Wilfredo Guerrero was responsible for keeping the community's documents, including those relating to land rights. All were destroyed in the fire. Despite initial investigations into the attack confirming that the fire had been started deliberately, no one has been charged in connection with the attack.

The fire was the latest in a sequence of events which have hindered his work defending the human rights of his community. In September 2003 Wilfredo Guerrero was detained and charged with illegally seizing land and threatening employees of the real estate company. Although he was released on bail after 24hours, the charges were not lifted and for almost four years Wilfredo Guerrero has continued to be subjected to restriction orders requiring him to report to the local magistrate in San Juan Tela every week until the investigation into his case is completed. Amnesty International believes that these orders are part of efforts to intimidate him and to make his human rights work more difficult.
In addition, by failing to resolve the case and maintaining the restriction orders for almost four years, the authorities are in effect imposing a punishment without allowing him the opportunity to prove his innocence.

[Caption]
Wilfredo Guerrero, President of the Committee in Defence of the Land © AI, and (right) Jessica García, President of the Patronato San Juan Tela, March 2007. © AI

Jessica García, President of the Patronato San Juan Tela, was forced at gunpoint to sign over community land to a real estate company in June 2006. The gunman has never been identified. She had been repeatedly harassed by security guards working for a real estate company throughout March 2006.