Repression & criminalization of women human rights defenders: the role of the international community


National and international human rights organizations have indicated that this year’s elections in Honduras are being held amidst constant human rights violations, acts of violence and impunity, thus casting serious doubt on the process.

Women human rights defenders are experiencing this firsthand. Berta Caceres, from COPINH, has received death threats and is facing a legal process, a clear example of the criminalization of the protest. Nevertheless, she continues to participate in the organized struggle, pointing out that, “One of the factors that protects us as human rights defenders is the community of social movements”.

Magdalena Morales observes how the response to the legitimate demands of defense of land and territories is repression and violence. Despite the risks, she emphasizes the importance of being a woman human rights defender, "Others have fought for me and now I am giving back what I have received to other women, women who have nowhere to live or nowhere to plant corn or beans in order to survive”.

Maria Santos Dominguez also believes her work as a woman defender is fundamental, “To defend rivers is to defend life. Rivers and land represent life for us and if we don’t defend them, who will?”

For these women defenders, the international community has played an important role in protecting their physical integrity and freedom from aggression and providing a space for disseminating their work. We present their voices.

Berta Cáceres

My blood runs cold when I denounce these threats; we have seen that they are carried out. Many social activists have been murdered, especially those participating in territorial struggles, human rights defenders, members of LIBRE, and of the Resistance.

The repression we are up against leaves us with a clear message, that we have to be capable of analyzing it. We are the targets of powerful elements that aim to dismantle, demobilize and neutralize us. Just like all the other men and women in this country who are involved in the struggle, I am extremely vulnerable. In a system of total impunity that criminalizes us, with a judicial system that does not respond to our denouncements, we need to protect ourselves.

We should not be surprised if in the context of the [elections], stronger or more aggressive actions are taken against those of us involved in the struggle or even attempts to generate instability in the country that will cost the lives of many women human rights defenders.

Magdalena Morales

There are few alternatives for the peasant movement and especially for us because we are being criminalized, prosecuted for defending what belongs to us. My case is political; every time I talk to them they tell me they cannot support me because some Tom, Dick or Harry is there in the way. The police, prosecutors, lawyers are all on the side of business in this country. If the National Party wins, it will be fatal for all of us because then they really will put us all in jail.

Esly Banegas

Repression is the order of the day and they even justify it saying that it’s because of crime or insecurity and they continue to criminalize our struggle. The murders continue, of politicians in the LIBRE Party and also of human rights defenders of people and members of social movements.

Their intention is to create fear among the people so that we are afraid of going to the polls. They are intimidating us, but if we hide, our lives will be in more danger.

We are taking steps to protect the lives of comrades who have already been victimized. Before, during and after the elections, persecution has been ongoing because here what they don’t want is for us to be involved in this struggle or raise our voices.

Nubia Casco

We are completely militarized, to the point of almost being prisoners in our own homes.

Miriam Miranda

We must become one body to defend Honduras, our country that is dying, and we must not let it die because it belongs to us, the planet is ours and it’s the only one we have. We must fight to conserve and protect it every day, whatever it may take. The context described and experienced by women human rights defenders is one of high risk.

This is why during this election period they urgently appeal to the international community to monitor the process, protect human rights defenders and defend democratic rights in the country.

To the International Community

You have to be alert, involved as witnesses to what is happening. The danger is clear, we, the people, have put up with too much, some people don’t even make twenty pesos. It’s a challenge, we need to hope but also be very careful because the country will be jeopardized if it doesn’t accept the participation of other actors and lets the same people remain in power no matter what the cost. In the social movements we must be prepared. Miriam Miranda

We appeal to you to monitor the elections and accompany the people because this oligarchy doesn’t want to let people recover what belongs to them. The international presence is the only way to help us stay alive, your presence and information has had an impact. Come and make sure you arrive on time. We need to continue to strengthen social and popular organizations, coordinating in processes such as national, regional and international meetings to further strengthen our struggle. Esly Banegas 

The strength of women human rights defenders comes from our needs and this is why we appeal to the international community to support us so that our struggles are not in vain and so that violations of our rights do not go unpunished or forgotten. Magdalena Morales 

We have a huge level of trust in international observers and I invite you to report events and inform the public at the national and international levels about what you see and hear. Nubia Casco

Nearly all the defenders with whom we spoke agree that this election is very important and definitive for the country and that it could be a turning point for reestablishing the democracy that was torn apart by the coup in 2009.

Will it be possible? The answer to this will be decided on November 24th. The reality is that as Hondurans we face the challenge of generating profound changes that are inclusive of all visions, thus permitting changes in the country to allow communities to control and manage their common resources and assets and to really reestablish our lives and this land we call our motherland.

This is part of a series written by Daysi Flores on the 2013 electoral process in Honduras from the perspective of women human rights defenders in the country.

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