Justice for Berta: Honduran Women Activists Launch Land Rights Campaign

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Oxfam International

Justice for Berta: Honduran Women Activists Launch Land Rights Campaign

Women are banding together in Honduras and around the world to demand #LandRightsNow.

Women demonstrators hold up photos of slain Honduran indigenous leader and environmentalist Berta Caceres outside the coroners office in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. (Photo: AP/Fernando Antonio)

“The very investigations conducted by the Public Prosecutor’s office have confirmed the direct involvement of the DESA Company in the assassination of my daughter… it is not possible that their license for [natural resource] exploitation remains active.  We demand that the National Congress cancel the license!”

So declared Austraberta Flores, courageous mother of slain activist Berta Cáceres, at the public launch of the campaign “Defensoras de la Madre Tierra” (Women Defenders of Mother Earth) on September 6, 2016 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

The Defensoras Campaign spotlights the historic role women have played and are playing today in demanding fulfillment of their right to life, food, and land, and in defense of their territories.  Supported by Oxfam, UN Women and the international NGO human rights group in Honduras, the Campaign brings together 28 member organizations representing women, Afro-Honduran (Garífuna) and indigenous peoples, civil society organizations and small farmer associations. These include the Fraternal Organization of Afro-Hondurans (OFRANEH), Via Campesina Honduras, the Council for the Integral Development of Women Farmers (CODIMCA), the Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (ASONOG), and Center for the Studies of Honduran Women (CEM-H). Cáceres’ family is also actively involved.

The campaign also highlights women activists like Berta who have been killed and current activists who are continuing the fight to protect their lands and livelihoods such as Miriam Miranda of OFRANEH who is leading the fight to protect her people´s collectively owned land on Honduras´ northern coast. It also aims to expose the risks that all Hondurans are facing from uncontrolled exploration and exploitation of the country’s national resources.

Since the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras seven years ago, the Honduran government has fast-tracked license granting to national and international companies for natural resource extraction.  Today, there are almost 800 active licenses with 537 conceded for mining exploitation and 252 for energy projects, such as the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project owned by the company DESA, linked to the murder of Berta Cáceres.  Many of these projects are located on lands belonging to indigenous and Garifuna communities and cultivated by small farmers, leading to often violent conflicts in Honduras and many other parts of the world.

The Honduran women who have come together in the Defensoras Campaign are demanding that the DESA license for the Agua Zarca project be cancelled.  Last week, hundreds of women from across the country gathered in a hotel near the legislative assembly to launch the campaign during which Berta’s mother introduced a symbolic petition to the Honduran legislative assembly demanding the cancellation of the DESA’s license for the Agua Zarca project.  That afternoon, the leaders of the main opposition parties announced that they will heed Berta’s mother’s call to cancel the license for the Agua Zarca project and formally introduce a bill to Congress.  This is extremely heartening news for campaign organizers in Honduras and we´re hopeful the bill can garner the votes needed to ensure passage. They are sure to keep up the pressure!

The organizations that have come together under the banner of Defensoras de la Madre Tierra are also demanding passage of a law to implement the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ILO 169). The Convention requires that indigenous peoples be consulted to seek their free, prior and informed consent for any projects that may affect the lands they customarily own, occupy or otherwise use. Although the Convention was ratified by Honduras 1995, and thus is recognized by the country as international law, no secondary legislation has been enacted to guarantee its implementation.  Passage of such a law, as the Defensoras demand, would constitute a critical step toward upholding indigenous peoples’ rights, and reducing conflicts that arise when their territories are appropriated and their human rights violated.

This exciting and innovative campaign, honoring women environmental activists and fighting for justice, is part of a Global Call to Action – #LandRightsNow – to secure all indigenous and community land rights everywhere. Securing these rights is vital to eradicating hunger and poverty; protecting the environment and fighting climate change; and building a world of justice where human rights are protected for all.  For more information visit landrightsnow.org.

Vicki Gass

Vicki Gass is the Central America Policy Advisor at Oxfam America.

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