Honduran farmers on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against a branch of the World Bank for funding a massive palm oil corporation that the suit alleges has been responsible for the killings of over 100 farmers, as well as torture, violent assaults, and "other acts of aggression."
"The horrendous spate of violence that followed the IFC's loan to Dinant is probably one of the most severe instances of corporate-related human rights abuse and financier negligence in the past decade."
—EarthRights International lawyerThe World Bank has "knowingly profited from the financing of murder," argues the lawsuit filed in a federal court in Washington, D.C.
"We have lost our compañeros, they have left our children without fathers, it's been difficult to move forward, we live from our families and our land and now we are left with nothing," said one of the farmers, according to EarthRights International (ERI), the nonprofit which filed the suit on the farmers' behalf.
All the farmers named in the suit were protected by the pseudonyms Juan Doe and Juana Doe, to shield them from retaliation on the part of the palm oil company, Dinant.
"We want justice and the ability to raise our children again," the farmer added. "We have to move forward." The suit is requesting damages for specific deaths.
The suit alleges that the "International Financial Corporation (IFC), the World Bank Group's private lending arm, together with an IFC financial intermediary, the IFC Asset Management Corporation, have provided millions of dollars in financing to Dinant, even though, at the time, there were widespread allegations that Dinant employed hitmen, military forces, and private security guards to intimidate and kill local farmers who claim Dinant's owner stole their land decades prior," ERI wrote in a statement.
The rights advocacy organization continued:
The IFC (with U.S. taxpayer money) and IFC-AMC knowingly financed Dinant's campaign of terror and dispossession against Honduran farmers. The IFC's own internal watchdog, the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), found that IFC failed to adhere to its own policies to protect local communities, and continued to allow the company to breach those safeguards and either failed to spot or deliberately ignored the serious social, political and human rights context in which this company is operating.The result was an explosion of extreme violence by public and private security forces against the farmers, their movement leaders, and lawyers representing them. Over 100 farmers have been killed since November 2009 when the IFC disbursed the first half of a $30 million loan to Dinant; and the number of killings continues to grow today. So too has IFC's support for Dinant; even after the IFC's internal watchdog scolded the IFC for the 2009 loan, the IFC continued supporting Dinant via an opaque system of financial intermediaries, including the IFC-AMC and the Honduran bank, Ficohsa.
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The suit claims that the purpose of the systemic violence is to "intimidate farmers from asserting competing rights to land that Dinant has sought to control."
"The horrendous spate of violence that followed the IFC's loan to Dinant is probably one of the most severe instances of corporate-related human rights abuse and financier negligence in the past decade," said one ERI lawyer, also unnamed because of security concerns.
Another Honduran farmer quoted by ERI described the horrific violence: "The police pulled people out of their houses. Military, police, and guards. We saw they were beating people including kids, so we were yelling, 'Don't hit the people!' One bullet hit me, it still affects my breathing. I didn't realize I'd been shot, but I touched it and saw blood. Another person was shot through the stomach."
"Every day I am scared, but this is how life has become," said a different farmer. "At the end of the attack against me, the guards and military told me that they know where I live and that they will come to get me if I file a complaint against them."
ERI argues: "While the IFC boasts of its mission to 'end extreme poverty by 2030 and boost prosperity in every developing country,' the IFC has knowingly entered one of the world's most persistent and abusive land conflicts on the side of Dinant, a primary author of poverty and violence in Honduras. In the words of one farmer in the Bajo Aguán, the IFC is not 'ending poverty;' it is 'ending the lives of the poor.'"
"The IFC clearly cannot police itself and it should no longer be allowed to hide behind a veil of immunity," an ERI lawyer said. "The courts of the United States must be open to hear this case because nobody—not individuals, not corporations, not governments, and not the IFC—can get away with aiding these human rights abuses."
Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for land and rights defenders. In 2016 alone, multiple Indigenous activists—including Berta Cáceres, who won the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work—were killed.