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Water is Life: The Criminalization of the Water Defenders of Guapinol, Honduras

Honduran environmental and human rights activists imprisoned as political prisoners urgently need our support.

By Hannah Hafter on February 28, 2019

UPDATE (March 6): All 12 human rights defenders have been released as of the afternoon of Wednesday, March 6.

UPDATE (March 5): UUSC’S representative on the ground Rev. Kathleen McTigue has reported that the human rights defenders, though freed by a judge, are still being incarcerated and state police are conducting searches of their property. UUSC is actively reaching out to members of congress to intervene and ensure that all 12 defenders are immediately released.

UPDATE (March 4): The 12 human rights defenders in this case have had their charges dropped as of Monday, March 4, 2019! The international attention on this pivotal case involving the right to clean water helped the judge in the case make the right decision to drop all charges and set these advocates free! Rev. Kathleen McTigue, director of the UU College of Social Justice, bore witness to the trial and will share reflections about her experiences in Honduras very soon!

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“The River is also my neighbor, and I must love him and speak on his behalf.” – Juan Antonio López of the Guapinol 12

This past week, water defenders from the community of Guapinol in Honduras were incarcerated as political prisoners for their role and struggle to protect their community water source.

Our local Honduran community partners have requested immediate support and action. We urge you to join us in solidarity by taking action today.

Please call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your Representative and/or Senators. Please leave a message with the following: 

“I am deeply concerned about the safety of the 12 Honduran water defenders who are being held by the Honduran government for political reasons. I urge you to contact the US State Department to call for their release and ensure due process in their cases.”

Background:

The most recent land conflict in the Bajo Aguán region began over eight years ago with the development of a mining project. The company behind the mining project, Inversiones Los Pinales, is also the largest landowner in Honduras; with close ties to the Honduran ruling party, they have previously been linked to attempts to kidnap and intimidate activists as well as bribe officials. The mining project is widely believed to be illegal because there was no community consultation process and it is located inside of Carlos Escaleras, National Park, which contains the source of drinking water for approximately 42,000 people.

In 2018, when development of the mine began to contaminate the drinking water for 14 nearby communities, residents of Guapinol erected a “Camp in Defense of Water and Life.” In October 2018, 1,500 Honduran military and police officers violently attacked and evicted the camp.

This past week, twelve of the imprisoned water defenders, aware of arrest warrants against them, voluntarily presented themselves to the Court of National Jurisdiction in La Ceiba. Originally charged with “usurpation of land,” their charges were suddenly elevated to arson, aggravated robbery, and unlawful association with criminal intent.

According to human rights observers in Honduras, the defenders were immediately detained and transported to the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa, where they now await trial. Their initial hearing is scheduled for today, February 28, 2019. The outcome will determine whether the criminal charges move forward or are dropped, and whether the activists will be subject to “preventative detention” and incarceration for the duration of the trial, which could go on for years.

During a recent UUSC and UU College of Social Justice delegation visit, the Red de Mujeres de Bajo Aguán welcomed us with a spiritual blessing by very carefully placing items they had brought onto an altar in the middle of the room before beginning the conversation with our human rights delegation. Dried corn cobs, eggs, plantains and other fruit, dried beans and flowers – the materials of life. But none of the others were more precious, more essential than one: water.

Please take action now to protect the human rights of the Guapinol community in Honduras. It is critical that international allies speak out to condemn these recent actions and ensure human rights are protected.

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