The Day of the Endangered Lawyer 2016 highlights situation of risk for lawyers in Honduras
On Friday 22 January protests will take place outside Honduran Embassies and Consulates across Europe in solidarity with Honduran lawyers and human rights activists who are threatened, attacked and killed as a result of their work to defend the rule of law and uphold international human rights.
In Honduras, the practice of law has become a high-risk profession. Lawyers face assassination, abductions and threats, to themselves and to their families. More lawyers are murdered in Honduras than any other country in the world. The National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH) recorded 89 deaths of lawyers between 2010 and March 2015 that were a result of targeted killings. Most of these murders were committed with firearms. According to PBI’s records 22 legal professionals were killed in the last year. In at least 82% of cases the perpetrators have gone unpunished. Countless lawyers have suffered attacks and intimidation.
Since the 2009 coup d’état human rights violations have escalated in Honduras and the attacks against lawyers take place in a context where the rule of law is under severe threat and where violent attacks on human rights defenders of all kinds have become alarmingly common. The absence of any adequate response by the State has been widely condemned by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and by UN agencies. Lawyers, prosecutors and judges dealing with cases involving human rights violations, violence or state corruption all carry out their work under risk of violence.
Peace Brigades International (PBI) has followed with growing concern the serious deterioration of space for the defence of human rights faced by lawyers, organisations, communities and human rights defenders in Honduras since the coup d’état took place on 28 June 2009. PBI Honduras began supporting human rights defenders in Honduras through a strategy of international presence and concern that supports local initiatives and contributes to efforts aimed at developing a culture of peace and justice. PBI Honduras currently accompany CEHPRODEC’s team of lawyers which provide legal assistance to members of the indigenous and peasant communities opposed the installation of hydroelectric projects and mining in their territories. Between 2012 and March 2014, around 111 environmental and land rights defenders were murdered in Honduras, while many more suffered physical attacks and systematic persecution. PBI has observed that the lawyers who provide legal assistance in cases surrounding land and territorial rights are at particularly high risk. One such lawyer who faced these risks was Antonio Trejo Cabrera.
Antonio Trejo Cabrera was a lawyer for the Authentic Revindicator Campesino of Bajo Aguán Movement (MARCA) and represented several agricultural cooperatives in the region of Bajo Aguán in legal disputes with powerful landowners. He was working on a well-known case which ended in June 2012, with a decision declaring the acquisition of several properties by businessmen Miguel Facussé and René Morales illegal. As a result of this decision they ordered the return of the lands, a total area of 1,776 hectares, to MARCA. On September 22, 2012 Antonio was shot to death when he was near the Toncontin airport in Tegucigalpa. His murder remains in impunity.
PBI Honduras currently accompanies a number of human rights defenders and lawyers, including lawyer Donald Hernandez who says:
“[T]he support of International accompaniment organisations that collect testimonies of attacks and make them public at international level … this has helped prevent attacks which have historically happened”
On 22 January 2016, PBI will join lawyers, human rights activists and campaigners across Europe to highlight the situation in Honduras and urge the Honduran government to take action to protect lawyers at risk. In London, protests will take place outside the Honduran Embassy. A petition on behalf of Honduran lawyers calling for attention to the problematic situation of endangered lawyers will be handed over to the Ambassador. Information about the event is available at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1241952505820312/
Many countries across the globe have courageous lawyers like Antonio Trejo Cabrera and Donald Hernandez who risk their lives each day simply by doing their job. Since 2010, PBI UK has provided support to endangered lawyers through its Alliance for Lawyers at Risk which draws on the expertise and resources of the UK legal profession to link with lawyers at risk abroad, helping to protect them and to promote their work. Lawyers in the UK can play a crucial role in helping PBI in this important work, by joining the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk and supporting lawyers at risk in Honduras and elsewhere.
More information about the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk, here.