10 November 2015
I am now concluding my visit to Honduras in my capacity as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.
Over the last nine days, I have met with national, departmental and municipal government authorities, indigenous peoples, civil society organizations and the private sector in several parts of the country. I held meetings with representatives of indigenous peoples, communities and organizations in Tegucigalpa, Puerto Lempira, Auka, Rio Blanco, La Esperanza and La Ceiba. This included meetings with representatives of the Lenca, Maya Chorti, Nahua, Tolupan, Garifuna, Pech, Tawahka and Miskito peoples.
I am grateful to the Government of Honduras for its invitation and full cooperation it has provided, and for allowing me to carry out my visit freely and in an independent manner. I would also like to express my deep gratitude to representatives of indigenous peoples who invited me to visit their communities, indigenous organizations and individuals who assisted me in organizing parts of my agenda, and to those who travelled from their communities in order to meet with me in various localities. I would also like to express my warmest gratitude to the United Nations Country Team for their support in ensuring the success of my visit.
Over the past several days, I have collected a significant amount of information from indigenous peoples and Government representatives. In the following weeks, I will be reviewing the extensive information I have received during the visit in order to develop a report to evaluate the situation of indigenous peoples in Honduras and to make a series of recommendations. This report will be made public, and will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council. I hope that it will be of use to the indigenous peoples, as well as to the Government of Honduras, to help find solutions to ongoing challenges that indigenous peoples face in the country. In advance of this report, I would like to now provide some preliminary observations and recommendations on the basis of what I have observed during my visit. These do not reflect the full range of issues that were brought to my attention, nor do they reflect all of the initiatives on the part of the Honduras government.
I am glad to note that Honduras ratified International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and voted in favour of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I am also aware of specific institutions dealing with indigenous issues, including the Special Prosecutor of ethnic groups, the Dirección de Pueblos Indígenas y Afrohondureños (Dinafroh), a legislative commission on indigenous peoples and a department on indigenous education. I was also informed of the work related to indigenous peoples by the Secretaria de derechos humanos, Secretaria del Ambiente, Instituto Nacional Agrario and other institutions. I was also made aware of various legislative and public policy initiatives concerning indigenous peoples.
In the course of the visit and my examination of the situation of indigenous peoples, I observed the critical situation faced by them regarding their rights on their lands and natural resources, violence, impunity and corruption, access to justice and lack of adequate social services including in education and health.
A fundamental problem faced by indigenous peoples is the lack of full recognition, protection and enjoyment of their rights to ancestral lands, territories and natural resources. Even in cases when indigenous peoples have titled lands, these are threatened by competing and overlapping titles to third parties, natural resource development projects in the extractive and the energy sectors, charter cities, tourism projects and protected areas. I have heard concerning allegations of local and other authorities involved in illegal sale of lands and other violations of indigenous peoples’ rights.
Throughout Honduras, indigenous communities are demanding the saneamiento (title clearing) of their collective lands in order to address the issue of third parties in their lands and resulting conflicts. I visited the Miskito community of Auka where I spoke with community members about the conflictive situation they have faced with settlers in their recognized territories which led to the events of 12 March 2015. These events resulted in an agreement between the Government of Honduras and the community where the Government agreed to investigate and sanction those responsible for land sales and environmental destruction, to finalize the saneamiento process and to return third parties to their places of origin. Another point of the agreement was for the Government to invite me to undertake this visit. Apart from my visit, community members reported they had no information on further actions taken to implement the other parts of the agreement and at the same time, reported the increased presence of third parties in the area. On the other hand, the Government informed me of its intention to compensate third party settlers so they leave the occupied lands. In view of the circumstances, I would like to urge the Government of Honduras to urgently implement the full agreement in order to prevent the escalation of this conflictive situation.
In addition to the titling and clearing of the lands, another key component to enjoy their lands and other human rights is the strengthening of their governance systems. This includes the recognition of their own institutions, the management of their natural resources and the exercise of their customary justice systems. This also requires the necessary resources to exercise these functions.
Indigenous peoples also expressed concern about natural resource development projects like hydro-electric dams that were approved through national legislation not previously consulted with them such as the case of the Agua Zarca Dam. Members of Lenca communities that have opposed the dam due to impacts on their livelihoods and culture, reported grave human rights violations including killings, threats and intimidation. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated situation and similar human rights abuses have been reported to me in the context of other hydro-electric projects affecting Lenca people, mining and logging concessions affecting the Tolupan people or tourism and infrastructure projects in Garifuna lands.
According to information received, the creation of protected areas that overlap indigenous territories has also led to the restriction in the access and control of indigenous peoples over their lands and resources. Yet, as pointed out by indigenous representatives, the establishment of protected areas has not prevented outside interests from engaging in logging, extractive and illicit activities on indigenous lands.
I am deeply concerned about the general environment of violence and impunity affecting many indigenous communities. I was able to talk to some representatives of the Tolupan tribes who described a situation of rampant violence including assassinations of Tolupan members for defending their lands. This is coupled with a widespread impunity of perpetrators of these crimes rendering justice illusive. Indigenous peoples are also vulnerable to human rights violations as a result of the general situation of violence prevalent in the country stemming from drug-trafficking, organized crime and related State responses. One example is the incident that occurred in the Miskito community of Ahuas on 11 May 2012 where four members of the community were killed during a drug interdiction operation led by the Honduran police and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Victims have not yet received adequate reparations nor justice.
I received many testimonies which refer to indigenous peoples’ lack of access to justice. Their ability to obtain justice is hindered by many factors, including lack of awareness by justice operators about indigenous peoples’ rights, the lack of resources of the institutions such as the fiscalia de etnias and comisionado nacional de derechos humanos; language, cultural and economic barriers; racism and discrimination toward indigenous peoples; and impunity, among others. This evidences a dire need for effective legal, administrative or other mechanisms to enable indigenous peoples to present complaints for violations of their territorial, cultural and basic human rights and to obtain redress. There needs to be effective mechanisms for investigation, prosecution and sanction of state authorities or third parties responsible for violations of indigenous peoples’ rights. The lack of these mechanisms has led indigenous peoples to engage in peaceful social protests, which unfortunately has led to the criminalization of those defending their lands.
The effective implementation of the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent was also a recurrent demand of indigenous peoples. Several initiatives to implement the right of consultation have been brought to my attention, including a draft bill led by Dinafroh. I would stress that any such initiative should ensure the full and effective participation of all indigenous peoples through their own representative institutions and organizations. The same would apply to any other legislative and policy measure, including a national law on indigenous peoples that has also been brought to my attention.
I also obtained information about social and economic issues affecting indigenous peoples. I was informed that some steps have been taken to implement inter-cultural bilingual education, including the capacity building of indigenous teachers. Unfortunately, a recurrent problem expressed to me was that not enough employment opportunities were available to those trained indigenous teachers as the positions seem to depend on political affiliation. According to the information received, there seems to be a long way to go to achieve the aims of inter-cultural bilingual education and to provide the necessary materials and infrastructure. I have also heard many testimonies about the lack of health services in indigenous territories, including a lack of health facilities, personnel and medicines in clear violation to their right to health. I also had the opportunity to get first-hand information from the Miskito divers in Puerto Lempira. I urge the Government to take the necessary steps to regulate this activity and to provide them with needed health services, and their other demands.
Indigenous women and girls face serious and specific problems. The trafficking and prostitution of indigenous women and girls, as part of organized crime activities, was also a subject of concern expressed during my meetings. The situation of youth in indigenous communities was also pointed out. According to some testimonies, the dispossession of the lands and resources in the communities has led to a lack of opportunities for the young generations, which makes them prone to organized crime or forces them to migrate.
Taking into account different meetings I held, I recommend strengthening of institutional capacity and inter-ministerial coordination. There is a need for an adequate institution to comprehensively address the implementation of indigenous peoples’ rights. This will require adequate budgets, trained personnel and the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples.
The invitation that the Government issued to me indicates an interest and hopefully a willingness to address some of these longstanding issues. I hope that the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras will be able to help the government and indigenous peoples to achieve the implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples. I also hope that my report and recommendations will be instrumental to achieve these ends.
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This post is also available in: Spanish