Open Letter to President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and Secretary Lew

Since the assassination of Honduran indigenous and environmental leader Berta Cáceres, the co-founder and coordinator of COPINH (the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras), communities in the United States and around the world have rallied in outrage at the Honduran government and its supporters.  Since her assassination, 730 academics, 250+ human rights and environmental organizations, over 62 members of the U.S. Congress, and tens of thousands of individuals have advocated to U.S. Ambassador to Honduras James Nealon, Secretary of State John Kerry, and other policymakers.  

We write today, over two months since the assassination, in disgust at our government's ongoing close and supportive relationship with the post-coup regime in Honduras, amidst increasingly clear connections to escalating violence and terror.  We are complicit in this violence and oppression through our taxes, which have been invested in militarizing Honduran security forces that have been linked to serious and ongoing human rights abuses.

While the assassination of Ms. Cáceres marks a new level of terror and threat against Honduran social leaders, the killing fits into a broad pattern of targeted attacks against activists, members of the political opposition, and human rights defenders, in which state security forces have allegedly been involved.  International human rights bodies including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the United Nations, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have all documented a dramatic increase in targeted killings of journalists, legal professionals, LGBTI activists, land rights activists, labor activists, Indigenous and Indigenous Garífuna activists, and other activists in the years since the 2009 military coup.

In the two months since the assassination, the violence and human rights violations carried out by the Honduran government and state security forces have continued.  COPINH member Nelson García was murdered shortly after Ms. Cáceres' assassination, while escalating threats and violence against many COPINH leaders and members of Berta’s family have continued.  While walking back from a memorial at the Gualcarque River on April 15th, members of COPINH and international human rights activists, including from U.S. nonprofits such as Witness for Peace and School of the Americas Watch, were attacked by men with rocks and machetes. U.S.-funded and supported Honduran National Police were present, but they did nothing to stop the violence.

Recent arrests related to Ms. Cáceres' assassination also suggest both the military and the hydroelectric project that Cáceres opposed are connected to the violence.

The ongoing violence and human rights violations in Honduras, and their connections to various government institutions, demand the strongest possible diplomatic response.  We write to demand our government immediately:

  1. End all assistance to Honduran security forces, including training and equipment, given the implication of the Honduran military and police in extrajudicial killings, illegal detentions, torture and other violations of human rights; and

  2. Review all U.S. support for loans to projects in Honduras from U.S.-funded multilateral development banks, including the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, to ensure no awards are funding projects in Honduras that undermine the land rights of Indigenous people and small farmers.

We write today to demand our government immediately apply significant pressure on the Honduran government to do the following:

  1. Sign an agreement with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to create an independent international investigation into the murder of Berta Cáceres, as requested by her family;

  2. Implement and comply with the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR to Berta Cáceres’ family and members of COPINH;

  3. Permanently stop the Agua Zarca dam, along with all of the other nearly 50 hydroelectric and other concessions on Lenca land that have not followed international and Honduran law for free, prior, and informed consultation;

  4. Institute and fund a system of protection for the social activists, human rights defenders, and members of the political opposition who remain at risk, from providers of each individual’s choosing. This system could be modeled after other systems in place in countries such as Colombia and Mexico.

The U.S. government, with our tax dollars, has been supporting this corrupt and violent regime for far too long.  We call on you today to drastically change our country’s close and supportive relationship with the Honduran government.  

We look forward to your response to these urgent and concerns about terrible human rights violations in Honduras.

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