Posts Tagged ‘journalists in Honduras’

Human rights lawyer assassinated in Honduras

A worker at a Jesuit-run radio and social action centre in Honduras has been stabbed and killed in what is believed to have been a politically-motivated attack.  CAFOD partner Carlos Mejia Orellana (pictured), a 35-year-old lawyer who worked for ERIC-RP was stabbed four times in the chest at his home in El Progreso. The Catholic aid agency vowed yesterday that the struggle for justice that he helped to lead will go on.

Carlos and other colleagues at ERIC-RP had received repeated death threats in response to the organisation’s advocacy and communications work, through which they challenge injustice and corruption in the government, police and judicial system. The threats against Carlos were so serious that, for the last five years, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has called on the Honduran government to provide him with special protection measures. Sadly, no such protection was provided.

CAFOD currently supports the work of ERIC-RP in the Atlantic coastal region of Honduras where programmes cover human rights, water, livelihoods and disaster risk reduction. The social action centre is one of the organisations that protested against the recent appointment of Roberto Herrera Caceres as the new Human Rights Ombudsman, asserting his links to the 2009 presidential coup and mining interest groups and his insufficient experience in human rights law.

At a press conference, ERIC-RP’s director, Fr Ismael Moreno SJ, rejected rumours implying that Carlos’ death was linked to relationship difficulties and insisted that the police carry out a thorough investigation.

CAFOD’s Head of Region for Latin America and the Caribbean, Clare Dixon, said: “ERIC-RP has been one of our partners for more than 20 years, and the loss of Carlos at such a young age is deeply felt by us all. As with so many brave men and women in Latin America who have been cruelly robbed of lives spent fighting for justice, his struggle will go on, with the support of the Catholic community in England and Wales.”

According to UN statistics, Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate. Last year, an average of 20 people were murdered every day in Honduras, a country of just eight million inhabitants. El Progreso is close to San Pedro Sula, where the homicide rate is 173 per 100,000 people, reportedly the highest in the world outside a war zone.

Dina Meza: a journalist living dangerously in Honduras

Death threats fail to deter Dina Meza and other Honduran investigative reporters from exposing abuses in the world’s most perilous land.

Honduran journalist Dina Meza says criminals in her country "have a free hand." A recent Canadian report, entitled Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity, examines attacks against the press in Honduras.

Honduran journalist Dina Meza says criminals in her country “have a free hand.” A recent Canadian report, entitled Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity, examines attacks against the press in Honduras.

To hear Dina Meza tell it, not a single honest state institution survives in her native land, the Central American republic of Honduras.

“You must be dreaming,” she says over the phone. “We have to clean everything up. We have to start from zero because everything is corrupt.”

It is not just state agencies that have been compromised, either. Privately run organizations ranging from security firms to mining companies to associations of landowners have also been infected by a viral epidemic of impunity and lawlessness that goes back at least five years, to a coup in 2009, and probably a good deal further.

The resulting chaos represents a lethal peril for all of Honduras’s 8 million citizens, but it poses special hazards for Honduran journalists.

Dina Meza is a Honduran journalist.

“Journalists who carry out investigations receive threats from all sides,” she says.

The 51-year-old mother of three should know. She has received more than her share of death threats — typically promising plenty of sexual violence first — and she is in Washington, D.C., this week to present her assessment of the dire outlook for journalists in Honduras before a session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Meza’s appearance in Washington follows the recent publication of a Canadian report on attacks against the press in Honduras.

Entitled Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity, the report is a joint venture of the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto’s faculty of law and PEN Canada, this country’s branch of the international free speech advocate.

“Sadly, the situation of Honduras is not known internationally,” says Meza.

It is a particularly disturbing situation, nonetheless, and not only for journalists.

The documented Honduran murder rate in 2012 was 85.5 homicides for every 100,000 population, making Honduras the most dangerous country on Earth. The corresponding figure for Canada is 1.6.

In 2013, the Honduran homicide rate dropped somewhat, to 79, but the incidence of so-called “atrocious crimes” — including mutilations and decapitations — went up.

As for Honduran journalists, at least 32 have been murdered since the coup in June 2009 that ousted then-President Jose Manuel Zelaya.

In Honduras, people kill journalists — along with other victims — primarily because they can.

“The problem is they don’t investigate anybody and don’t punish anybody,” says Meza. “Criminals have a free hand.”

This immoral climate is known to human rights activists as the shadow of impunity, and in Honduras it is both pervasive and also fairly recent.

“In 2009, PEN International did a ‘Freedom to Write in the Americas’ campaign,” says Brendan de Caires of PEN Canada. That program focused on repression in Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela. “At that time, Honduras wasn’t even on the list. There were no journalists dead or in prison. It didn’t come up on the radar.”

That just goes to show how much trouble a coup can stir up, combined with the steady encroachment of drug cartels from other states, mainly Mexico and Colombia.

The U.S. State Department estimates that approximately 80 per cent of the cocaine crossing into U.S. territory now flows first through Central America, and Honduras provides a conduit for much of that traffic.

“Honduras is infiltrated by narcotics traffickers in all areas of the state,” says Meza.

Meanwhile, Honduran authorities devote minimal resources to investigating human rights complaints. In 2012, the country’s special prosecutor for human rights was responsible for acting on roughly 7,000 cases, while employing just 16 prosecutors and nine investigators.

What’s worse, says Meza, is that few Hondurans trust the government’s human rights office. There have been too many instances of people offering testimony to government human-rights defenders, only to wind up dead several days later.

“The people are afraid to go to the special prosecutor because it’s been infiltrated,” says Meza.

Meza, whose investigative work appears primarily in digital media, says she is determined to shed whatever light she can on her country’s many dark regions because she owes it to her children, including a daughter, 23, and two sons, aged 20 and 14.

“I have committed myself to handing them a better country,” she says. “The threats I face are not as powerful as the pain of doing nothing for my country.”