The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Human Rights Organization Expresses Outrage Over Detention of Eight Honduran Environmental Activists
The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee strongly condemns a Honduran court’s decision to sentence eight environmental activists to pretrial detention, a move which could keep them in prison for years regardless of whether they’re ultimately acquitted.
“UUSC demands that the Honduran government immediately free the activists and drop its misguided attempt to prosecute and imprison them,” said Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, president and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. “These activists should be celebrated for their bravery and for risking their freedom to protect their community water source and future, not punished for it.”
The environmental activists, who have been falsely accused of arson and other crimes, are part of a grassroots coalition of Honduran community leaders and human rights defenders who are trying to stop an illegal mining project that threatens to pollute the drinking water of the Honduran region of Guapinol. Last year, the Honduran government sent more than 1,500 soldiers and police officers to forcibly evict the coalition’s peaceful encampment in Guapinol, and government prosecutors are now trying to persuade a court to sentence them to long prison terms.
In February and March, a UUSC delegation travelled to Tegucigalpa for a pretrial hearing of 13 other environmental activists from the Guapinol region who faced the same charges. The hearing ended with the judge dismissing all of the charges, effectively exonerating the activists. Rev. Kathleen McTigue, who traveled to Honduras from Massachusetts to observe the earlier hearing, said UUSC would urge members of the U.S. Congress to intervene on behalf of the imprisoned activists and try to secure their immediate freedom.
“International observation and the media focus that UUSC and other groups kept on the hearing six months ago made a difference before,” said McTigue. “We must act and speak out in outrage to support our Guapinol friends again now, and support accountability and justice in Honduras.”
In September 2018, a Honduran court issued an arrest warrant for the eight environmental activists, who they accused of illegal detention and arson. The activists turned themselves in last week, but the indictment itself shows how carelessly the Honduran government is pressing the case: The ninth community member listed in the indictment, Don Antonio Martínez Ramos, died in 2015 — years before the alleged events took place. When they turned themselves in, the activists carried a coffin to underline the flimsiness of the charges against them.
The problems with the government’s handling of the case don’t stop there. The hearings should be held at a local court near Guapinol, but have instead been shifted to a national court that was established after a 2009 coup and is staffed by judges appointed by the executive branch, not from within the judiciary branch itself. This raises grave concerns about the impartiality of the judges, and whether it will be possible for the activists to receive a fair trial.
Sunday’s decision to keep the activists in custody sends a worrisome signal about the nature of the coming trial. It also deals a serious blow to the activists and their families, whose loved ones may spend the next several years behind bars regardless of what ultimately happens in their cases. UUSC calls for their immediate release, and for the Honduran government to finally abandon its misguided effort to punish those working to protect their drinking water.
UUSC’s Migrant Justice program is responding to situations at home and abroad. The ongoing political crisis in Honduras has led to extrajudicial killings, rampant criminalization, and arbitrary arrests. UUSC is partnering with local human rights defenders to quickly assist organizations and individuals directly targeted in the government’s ongoing human rights crackdown, while also raising awareness of the issues in the United States.