People gathered on January 8, 2023 to honor environmental defenders killed in Guapinol, Honduras the previous day.​

People gathered on January 8, 2023 to honor environmental defenders killed in Guapinol, Honduras the previous day.

(Photo: Guapinol Despierta/Facebook)

Rights Advocates Demand Probe Into Murder of Environmental Defenders in Honduras

"It's vital that an independent impartial investigation is carried out which must take into account the possibility that Aly and Jairo have been retaliated against for their work defending human rights," said a United Nations researcher.

Demands for an investigation into the murder of two environmental defenders in Guapinol, Honduras continued to mount Wednesday amid growing doubts that they were killed during what local police and prosecutors claimed was an attempted mugging.

Since Aly Domínguez, 38, and Jairo Bonilla, 28, were shot dead Saturday, their family members, rights groups, and people around the world have called for a probe into whether their deaths are tied to the pair leading grassroots resistance to nearby iron ore mining.

"These horrific murders must end. We fully support the demands... for an independent investigation."

"We reject the official hypothesis," Rey Domínguez, a community leader and Aly's brother, toldThe Guardian. "These two young men were founders of the struggle to protect our natural resources from an illegal mine that is destroying rivers in the national park. For five years we've been threatened, criminalized, and falsely imprisoned, the only thing left was murder."

As the newspaper detailed:

[A] huge open-pit mine in nearby Tocoa... was authorized inside a protected national park in a process mired by legal irregularities, according to international experts. Community members, including Domínguez and Bonilla, set up a peaceful protest camp after the mine polluted rivers relied upon by thousands of people.

Security forces violently evicted the encampment and dozens of arrest warrants were issued against the protesters. Rey and Aly Domínguez spent time in jail on bogus charges in 2019. International legal and human rights experts widely condemned the criminalization of the activists and the subsequent militarization of the community, which forced several people to flee and seek asylum in the U.S.
"It's vital that an independent impartial investigation is carried out which must take into account the possibility that Aly and Jairo have been retaliated against for their work defending human rights," Michael Phoenix, head of research for Mary Lawlor, the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights defenders, told The Guardian.

The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) on Wednesday reiterated its support for an independent probe.

The institute said Monday that it was "proud" to present its 2019 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award to Honduran environmental rights defenders at the Municipal Committee in Defense of Common and Public Goods of Tocoa.

"We are heartbroken to learn of the murder of two environment defenders, Aly Domínguez and Jairo Bonilla," IPS added. "As we mourn, we fully support the demands of [the group] for an independent investigation to clarify the facts and for the immediate cancellation and cleanup of the mining licenses that have been granted to Honduras company Los Pinares for iron ore mining."

The committee made similar demands in a statement released Saturday that began, "It is with great sadness and a cry for justice that we denounce today's murders of Guapinol community human rights defenders and fathers Aly Domínguez and Jairo Bonilla."

The committee's statement highlighted how dangerous Honduras is for environmental defenders:

Aly, brother of our comrade Reynaldo Domínguez, is also one of 32 people criminalized by the mining company Inversiones Los Pinares and the state of Honduras for defending the Carlos Escaleras National Park against their illegal mining project.

Land defenders in the region face constant threats and harassment. Despite the multiple denunciations and warnings we have made about the increased risk we face, state authorities refuse to guarantee the physical integrity of communities at risk for defending their water and territory from the illegal mining project, nor do they put an end to the environmental contamination caused by mining in a national protected area.

In light of the murder of the defenders, we express our deepest condolences and demand an independent investigation to clarify the facts.

In a message directed at the government of Honduran President Xiomara Castro, the committee added that "we demand the immediate cancellation of the mining licenses in the national park Montaña de Botaderos Carlos Escaleras that cause death and to take urgent measures to guarantee the physical security of the defenders in Tocoa."

While Castro last year banned new open-pit mining, the policy does not apply to existing projects.

"Xiomara Castro came into government promising to protect human rights defenders," said Phoenix, the U.N. researcher. "The imposition of extractive projects on communities without their consent is one of the root causes of attacks against defenders in Central America, but where there is political will, governments can address it. The Honduran government must do more."

In a pair of tweets Sunday, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras condemned the murders, expressed "solidarity with the families of the victims and the community of Guapinol," and urged the country "to carry out a prompt and independent investigation and to guarantee the integrity of the defenders in the Aguán area."

The same day, Honduras' Human Rights Secretariat issued a lengthy statement that "strongly condemned" the killings, called for the state prosecutor to investigate, and acknowledged environmental defenders in the region have been "unjustly criminalized."

Along with offering the victims' families her "deepest condolences," U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Laura F. Dogu said Sunday that she joins the calls of the U.N. office and Honduran secretariat "for a proper and thorough investigation to be carried out."

Trócaire, the Irish Catholic Church's aid agency, also condemned the murders and joined the growing calls for a probe.

"We urge the Honduran authorities to carry out a swift and independent investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice and to fully implement protection measures for all human rights defenders in the Aguán," said George Redman, Trócaire’s country director in Honduras, in a statement Wednesday.

"To work towards a definitive solution to this conflict," he added, "Trócaire supports the demands of Guapinol and neighboring communities for the Honduran government to conduct an urgent audit of alleged irregularities in the approval of the mining concession, for the results to be made public, and for the appropriate action to be taken if due process has not been followed."

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