Honduras: Indigenous return to territory with IACHR protection orders after mining murders

Victims Ricardo Soto Funez, 40; Maria Enriqueta Matute, 71; and Armando Funez Medina, 46 (Upside Down World)

Three indigenous Honduran Tolupanes were shot and killed on August 25, 2013, at a private residence in Locomapa, Yoro, in northern Honduras. The victims were Maria Enriqueta Matute, 71, from the Community of San Francisco Campo, Armando Funez Medina, 46, of Las Brisas, and Ricardo Soto Funez, 40, of Cabeza de Vaca. Upside Down World reports that the alleged killers, Selvin Matute and Carlos Matute (no relation to Enriqueta), were hired guns for the Bellavista Mining Company, “which has been extracting antimony from the surrounding mountains without the consent of the community and with a mining concession that is in dispute. The two men also hire themselves out to illegal loggers that deforest the mountainsides.”

According to the Honduras Accompaniment Project:

Witnesses say the killings were committed by two local men under contract by wealthy miners illegally extracting the mineral antimony from the lands of the indigenous Tolupan people of Yoro.

This occurs in a context of increasing intimidation and violence against communities which peacefully oppose mining on their territory, a situation which is met with impunity (see latest article on La Nueva Esperanza).

In the case of Locomapa, the community had organized to protect their resources and to oppose mining on their land. They had spoken on the radio, denouncing the illegal exploitation by powerful mining interests and by loggers. Members of the community decided to set up a road block, allowing local traffic, but stopping mining vehicles and illegal loggers. It was on the 12th day of this roadblock that the killings occurred.

According to residents, the shootings allegedly were carried out by hit men of the mining company. Locals say the two accused live in a nearby community and are corrupt members of the indigenous council who had directly threatened to kill the activists before the shooting, telling the wife of one of the murdered men to prepare the casket.

Eyewitnesses say the two perpetrators arrived at the roadblock on motorcycle at 5:30 Sunday afternoon, drunk, and opened fire on the dozen or so activists there. Two men died in the entryway to Maria Enriqueta Matute’s house. Then she was shot as she came out to see what was happening.

The two suspects remained free Monday, and reportedly returned to the same house three times, to threaten and intimidate the grieving families who were awaiting the bodies from the morgue.

Families mourn for three community members killed while opposing illegal mining (PROAH/Honduras Accompaniment Project)

Now, the families have returned to San Francisco de Locomapa with precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), according to Upside Down World:

It is a bittersweet reunion. The tears of the joyous reunion are mixed with those of grief for the three that were gunned down. MADJ has convened this convocation to both honor the martyrs and to formally have official representatives of the Republic of Honduras sign the Act of Implementation of Protective Measures that were ordered on December 19, 2013 by the [IACHR].

From the IACHR website

On December 19, 2013, the IACHR requested that precautionary measures be adopted for the members of the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) and their families, in Honduras. The request for precautionary measures alleges that the members of the MADJ have been receiving a series of threats and acts of harassment and violence because of their work in defense of the natural resources of the indigenous peoples in the Locomapa sector of the department of Yoro. After analyzing the allegations of fact and law submitted by the petitioners, the Commission believes that the information presented suggests that the situation of the MADJ members and their respective families is serious and urgent, as their lives and physical integrity are said to be under threat and at grave risk. Therefore, pursuant to Article 25 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure, the Commission asked the State of Honduras to adopt the necessary measures to preserve the lives and physical integrity of the 18 members of the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) and their family members; reach agreement with the beneficiaries and their families on the measures to be adopted; and inform the Commission as to the steps taken to investigate the incidents that gave rise to the adoption of this precautionary measure so that such incidents do not happen again.

As Upside Down World notes, “After decades of indifference to the plight of the Tolupanes, it was not until the IACHR intervened that anyone from the Honduran government paid any attention. This new attention is a testament to the dedication of MADJ and the members of the community that have maintained the struggle to defend their natural resources. Some 38 members of the community are protected by this act, but it is a hollow gesture if the representatives of the government don’t abide by it, which has historically been the case in Honduras.”

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