Honduras: A Dangerous Place For Human Rights And Environmental Defenders

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Above Photo: From Oxfamblogs.org

Four female activists tell us what they need from their international allies

As part of Power Shifts, I have started highlighting more grounded perspectives from activists, doers and thinkers around the world that speak to the question of ‘being a feminist in difficult places’. As a mini-series of sorts, I am hoping this conversation highlights how feminism, as well as backlashes against it – although diverse in both approach and outcome – , transcend North-South divides in more than one way.

Honduras is a dangerous place for human rights defenders. Over 120 environmental activists were killed in Honduras between 2010 and 2017 (according to conservative figures), and many others are continuously threatened, attacked or imprisoned. For women, the risks multiply in a context where the impunity rate for violent crimes against women is 95%.

Ten years after the coup d’état in 2009, and following three elections tarnished by fraud, Honduran activists and women human rights defenders (WHRDs) continue to face violent backlash. Among other things, they face brutal attacks from the police and smear campaigns against them as individuals or against the groups/organizations they represent, with many killed as a result of clashes with security forces. The repression they experience is part of a global pattern of increased violence targeted at women who engage in public activism.

Here is a compilation of some important insights from four female activists in Honduras. It was produced by Robin Pierro, edited by Analog Content, and published by OpenDemocracy in partnership with the Fund for Global Human Rights. Watch the short video below to hear the demands of these four WHRDs from their international allies:

Video produced by Robin Pierro and Analog Content

“What we ask is that those who support us respect our agendas and understand that we are working in a difficult context. We want respect and recognition for our work. But above all, what we need are relationships based on trust.”

In this video, Miriam Miranda, executive director of OFRANEH – the Honduran Black Fraternal Organisation – talks about the importance of funding social movements, not just structured NGOs (which inherently seek to sustain themselves). She also discusses the need for more funders to support work happening at the community level. She shares her thoughts on how flexible funding allows activists to respond to the changing needs of their communities and the difficult context in which they work. She stresses the critical importance of donors trusting their partners on the ground and building trust-based relationships.

Denia Castillo, coordinator of Red De Abogadas Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (Network of Lawyer Human Rights Defenders), shares why grassroots activism is often the most effective to way to spur on social change. This is because activists on the ground best understand their communities and the challenges they face, and they don’t have the costs of much larger organisations – allowing for resources to be distributed closer to the ground. She also talks about the need for international funders to provide flexible funding, which allows grassroots groups to adapt their plans and support their communities in the emergencies they often face on Honduras.

“Not registering as a non-profit is a political statement to freely and ethically carry out the work we need to do.”

Indyra Mendoza, executive director of CATTRACHAS – a feminist lesbian network – provides insight into the importance of funding and working with non-registered entities. In countries where governments are cracking down on the work of activists and NGOs, restrictive legislation is making it harder to register as an NGO or operate freely as a registered NGO. For this reason, many activists and groups doing critical work for their communities choose not to register as NGOs, which creates difficulties for them in receiving foreign funding and support.

“For us to be able to continue working on protection and security, we continually reach out to organizations and people internationally to help us make public statements condemning injustice and put pressure on government officials.”

Bertita Caceres is the general secretary of COPINH – Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras. She is also the daughter of COPINH’s founder Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in 2016 because of her campaigning to stop a hydro-electric dam from destroying Indigenous lands and livelihoods. Bertita shares her thoughts on the importance of international allies helping build the capacity and strength of organisations like COPINH, specifically around security and protection. She also shares how important it is for groups like hers to have international partners and funders use their positions of power to speak out on behalf of grassroots groups and apply pressure internationally in a way that supports their strategies and advocacy on the ground.