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Tegucigalpa, February 26, 2020 – Preliminary conclusions of a report commissioned by the Central American Alliance against Mining (ACAFREMIN) - presented at the Peoples for Water meeting in Tegucigalpa, Honduras - found that the Honduras government is responsible for the systematic violation of the human rights of communities in Tocoa, department of Colon. These communities are affected by the impacts of the ASP I and ASP II mining concessions owned by Inversiones los Pinares / Ecotek mining.

The research team composed by Dr. Bernie Hammond and Dr. Amanda Grzyb (Western University, Canada), Dr. Michael Berghoef (Ferris State University, USA), Dr. Ainhoa Montoya (University of London, England), and journalist and human rights lawyer, Dimitri Lascaris, made a seven-day visit to Honduras, in June 2019, to verify reports of human rights violations against environmental defenders who oppose the mining project in the municipality of Tocoa, Colón. The project is the property of Lenir Pérez, a businessman is linked to the powerful Facusse family.

The authors reviewed recent historical and political events in Honduras, with a particular focus on the last decade and found that the 2009 coup d'état and the local oligarchy that has controlled post-coup governments are at the roots of the current conflict in Bajo Aguan.

According to the study, successive governments have deepened neoliberal policies, established in the 1990s, by intensifying investment in extractive industries by national elites and transnational corporations. These industries have established their operations without adequate consultation with local populations, and their projects have generated conflicts and serious human rights violations in a climate of impunity. The United States and Canada, with the tacit approval of the international community, have actively supported post-coup governments as a means of securing and protecting their own interests.

In the city of Tocoa, the Honduran government has confronted communities opposing the extractive activities of Inversiones los Pinares and the environmental impacts of its mining project with systematic criminalization, persecution and physical aggression against the inhabitants who seek to defend the territory where they live and their water sources. The victims and the witnesses interviewed identified the military, police and local armed groups, employed as security guards by the company, as the main responsible for these actions. These human rights violations are a clear example of the widespread violence suffered by rights defenders, indigenous and social leaders, and small farmers in Honduras when they challenge the legality of corporate mega projects and the power of extractive industries.

Specifically, the report finds that in the case of the licences granted to Inversiones los Pinares / Ecotek company.

  1. There were serious irregularities in the issuance of mining licences within the limits of the Carlos Escaleras National Park.
  2. There was a lack of prior consultation with affected communities before issuing licences, which resulted in violations of both municipal regulations and international standards.
  3. The government used its legal and repressive institutions, such as the Public Ministry, the Police and the Army, with the purpose of protecting the interests of the company Inversiones los Pinares /Ecotek.
  4. Internationally recognized rights, such as the right to peaceful protest, the right to organize, and the right to defend rights, have been denied to defenders of the Guapinol River, who have been criminalized by the state for the benefit of corporate rights.
  5. Eight of the 31 criminalized defenders remain illegally detained, the rest, along with their family and friends, continue to be stigmatized and forced to live in a state of fear and anxiety.

Despite the repression, the research team found a strong and firm community in their opposition to the mine, determined to defend the water sources of the Guapinol river. The river is their way of life and their families, and the community will defend it with all the means at their disposal.

“The Tocoa community is a united community, it has inherited decades of organization in the agrarian struggle against large landowners in its territory. Their unity is creative, capable, and incredibly brave in the face of ongoing and real threat. They are and continue to be a community in resistance,” said Dr. Bernie Hammond, the coordinator of the study.

The alleged institutions created by the Honduras government to control violence against environmental and human rights defenders, the lawyers who defend them and the journalists who report on them, all these appear to be empty gestures aimed at creating a facade of legitimacy. As in other regions of Honduras, the lives of environmental defenders in Tocoa who publicly oppose the government remain at risk. Those who survive are forced to endure the daily anxiety of state persecution, and the harassment of their friends, neighbors, and family.

Finally, the study supported by three international universities (Western University, Ferris State University, and the University of London) makes 20 recommendations for the Honduran state. Key among them:

  1. The demand for the immediate release of the 7 human rights and environmental defenders who have been imprisoned for their actions in relation to the mining projects of Inversiones los Pinares, and the dismissal of the charges against the 31 defenders of Guapinol;
  2. To publicly recognize the right of defenders to defend their territory and natural resources without violence, as defined in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders;
  3. A thorough, swift and impartial investigation into human rights abuses by the military police, paramilitary forces, and members of the Pemanent Monitoring Committee of Ceibita (COVIPERCE), against human rights defenders and journalists who have spoken out against the mining projects in Tocoa;
  4. Given the irregularities incurred in the issuance of ASP and ASP 2 mining licences, the Honduras Institute of Geology and Mines (INHGEOMIN) must cancel the mining licences granted in the protected area of Carlos Escaleras National Park;
  5. The repeal of Legislative Decree 252-2013 that modified the core area of the Carlos Escaleras National Park;
  6. The immediate registration of the Carlos Escaleras National Park, as well as of all other areas declared protected by the National Network of Protected Areas of Honduras (SINAPH), in the Catalog of Inalienable Public Forest Heritage and the Real Estate Registry, to avoid future environmental conflicts in Honduras;
  7. The repeal of Ministerial Agreement 1402-2018, which declares as confidential the technical environmental information of the mining project, such as that contained in all applications for mining licences.