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McGovern, Leahy Lead 78 Democrats Calling on Trump to Strengthen Human Rights Protection and Assistance to Honduras in Wake of Recent Attacks

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Washington, April 7, 2017 | comments

This week U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) and U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) led a group of 78 House and Senate Democrats calling on President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to respond to recent attacks against environmental and land activists, human rights defenders and local communities in Honduras. Click here to view letter.

In this week’s letter to Secretary Tillerson, the lawmakers expressed their “grave concern with the attacks against environmental and land activists, human rights defenders and local communities in Honduras.  As you know, Congress has approved specific conditions to promote and protect human rights and address corruption in Honduras. We therefore urge the Administration to vigorously apply U.S. law related to assistance for, and investment in, Honduras.”

The lawmakers noted that a recent report from Global Witness labeled Honduras “the most dangerous place in the world to defend land rights and the environment, with over 120 activists murdered since the coup d’état in 2009.  The report details the widespread threats, attacks, stigmatization, and criminalization of civil society activists who raise concerns about the human rights, social and environmental impacts of hydropower, agribusiness, mining, logging and tourism projects.  The report indicates that government officials, security forces, and business elites have colluded to impose extractive projects on indigenous, Afro-Honduran and campesino communities and to silence opposition. Lack of political will and weak institutions too often fail to respond effectively to these crimes, reinforcing impunity in Honduras.

The lawmakers expressed concern “that U.S. assistance has been provided to the Honduran government despite recurring threats and assassinations of human rights defenders and land rights and environmental activists, and contrary to the requirements in section 7045(a) of division K of Public Law 114-113, including that civil society be able to “operate without interference” and called on Secretary Tillerson to:

·         Establish effective criteria for measuring compliance with such human rights conditions, with the input of representatives of Honduran human rights and other civil society organizations that have been targeted and in consultation with the relevant U.S. congressional committees.

·         Ensure effective scrutiny of whether such conditions are met, and if not met that assistance is withheld in accordance with U.S. law.

·         Provide transparency and public access to comprehensive information regarding U.S. bilateral and multilateral assistance for Honduras.

·         Work with the Department of the Treasury to oppose investments by International Financial Institutions in Honduran industries credibly implicated in human rights violations.

·         Urge the Honduran government to take vigorous steps to eradicate corruption; ensure the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities affected by extractive projects; protect human rights defenders and environmental activists; and end impunity for human rights violations.

·         Express strong and consistent support for the legitimate and important role of Honduran civil society organizations in Honduras.

The letter from House Democrats was coordinated by Representatives Jim McGovern and Mark Pocan (WI) along with Representatives Jan Schakowsky (IL), Keith Ellison (MN), John Conyers, Jr. (MI) and Hank Johnson (GA).

House Democrats joining Congressman McGovern on this week’s letter to President Trump were U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Keith Ellison (MN-05), John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (GA-04), John Lewis (GA-05), Rosa L. DeLauro (CT-03), Richard E. Neal (MA-01), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), José E. Serrano (NY-15), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Matt Cartwright (PA-17) Peter Welch (VT-AL), Bobby L. Rush (IL-01), William Lacy Clay (MO-01), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Adam B. Schiff (CA-28), Dwight Evans (PA-02), Louise M. Slaughter (NY-25), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Judy Chu (CA-27), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Beto O’Rourke (TX-16), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-05), Betty McCollum (MN-04), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), Peter A. DeFazio (OR-04), Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), Jared Polis (CO-02), Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), John P. Sarbanes (MD-03), Donald S. Beyer, Jr. (VA-08), Niki Tsongas (MA-03), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), David N. Cicilline (RI-01), Rick Larsen (WA-02), Paul D. Tonko (NY-20), Carol Shea-Porter (NH), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07), Ted W. Lieu (CA-33), Katherine Clark (MA-05), Michael E. Capuano (MA-07), William R. Keating (MA-09), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), David E. Price (NC-04), and Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01).

Full Text of the Letter Is Below:

April 4, 2017

 

 

The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

Washington, D.C. 20520

 

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

            We write to express our grave concern with the attacks against environmental and land activists, human rights defenders and local communities in Honduras.  As you know, Congress has approved specific conditions to promote and protect human rights and address corruption in Honduras.  We therefore urge the Administration to vigorously apply U.S. law related to assistance for, and investment in, Honduras.

            Just over one year ago, renowned Honduran indigenous activist Berta Cáceres was murdered. She had denounced 33 death threats against her and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had previously tasked the Honduran government with providing her protective measures.  Unfortunately, Ms. Cáceres’s death was part of a longstanding pattern of killings of human rights defenders and environmental activists who advocate for the protection of their natural resources, and journalists and others who expose corruption associated with extractive activities.

            On January 31st, the nongovernmental organization Global Witness published a report which concludes that Honduras is “the most dangerous place in the world to defend land rights and the environment,” with over 120 activists murdered since the coup d’état in 2009.  The report details the widespread threats, attacks, stigmatization, and criminalization of civil society activists who raise concerns about the human rights, social and environmental impacts of hydropower, agribusiness, mining, logging and tourism projects.  The report indicates that government officials, security forces, and business elites have colluded to impose extractive projects on indigenous, Afro-Honduran and campesino communities and to silence opposition. Lack of political will and weak institutions too often fail to respond effectively to these crimes, reinforcing impunity in Honduras.

            We are concerned with reports from these communities that their free, prior and informed consent is not being obtained in relation to the use of their land.  Meanwhile, acts of corruption undermine laws governing environmental impact assessments, and conflicts of interest are ignored in order for extractive projects to proceed.

            We are concerned that U.S. assistance has been provided to the Honduran government despite recurring threats and assassinations of human rights defenders and land rights and environmental activists, and contrary to the requirements in section 7045(a) of division K of Public Law 114-113, including that civil society be able to “operate without interference.”  Many of us are so troubled that we called for the suspension of U.S. military and security assistance and cosponsored the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act in the last Congress.

            Mr. Secretary, it is essential to ensure effective scrutiny of Honduras’ compliance with human rights conditions on U.S. assistance. In that regard, we call on you to:

·         Establish effective criteria for measuring compliance with such human rights conditions, with the input of representatives of Honduran human rights and other civil society organizations that have been targeted and in consultation with the relevant U.S. congressional committees.

·         Ensure effective scrutiny of whether such conditions are met, and if not met that assistance is withheld in accordance with U.S. law.

·         Provide transparency and public access to comprehensive information regarding U.S. bilateral and multilateral assistance for Honduras.

·         Work with the Department of the Treasury to oppose investments by International Financial Institutions in Honduran industries credibly implicated in human rights violations.

·         Urge the Honduran government to take vigorous steps to eradicate corruption; ensure the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities affected by extractive projects; protect human rights defenders and environmental activists; and end impunity for human rights violations.

·         Express strong and consistent support for the legitimate and important role of Honduran civil society organizations in Honduras.

Thank you for your serious attention and consideration of these urgent matters.  We look forward to your response and working together on these issues.

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