by Riahl O'Malley
“I am worried by the level of violence that affects people who peacefully claim their economic and social rights, including the right to land” states United Nations Special Rapporteur Margaret Sekaggva. On Tuesday, Sekaggva held a press conference marking the end of her week-long visit to Honduras. Her statement was nothing new for those who have been working in defense of human rights and who face constant repression. As I sat behind a thick row of press badges, media personalities and camera equipment listening to her presentation, I hoped this would lend public attention to those Honduran voices that have been systemically oppressed.
“Reigning impunity and the absence of effective investigations of violations of human rights impede the administration of justice and deteriorate trust of society towards authorities,” she states. “The coup d'état of 2009 aggravated the weakness of institutions, increased the vulnerability of defenders of human rights and provoked a polarization of the Honduran people.”
She affirms that certain communities are more vulnerable to human rights abuses, and that those who have worked to defend the rights of these groups have been met with repression. These communities include women, children, the LGBTI community, indigenous communities, Afro-Hondurans and those who work to defend land rights and the environment.
These violations, she finds, implicate public officials, including high level officials in the state. Police officers, including those of high rank, have been involved in the obstruction of human rights investigations.
In her detailed list of recommendations to the national and international community she outlines strategies for how to change policy and raise consciousness to promote the work of human rights defenders. As I listened I heard a single thread that weaved them together: public consultation.
Each time she said, “consultation with civil society” the words of José Angel, community leader in the Afro-Honduran community of Triunfo de la Cruz, echoed through my head, “What we need is to participate in and to be a part of the plans they make to improve our community.”
Sekaggva did not comment directly on the foreign policy of countries like the United States. The United States gave over $9.8 million to Honduras in arms and training to the military and police in 2011 and has budgeted over $8 million for 2012. The United States in particular has played a key role in legitimizing the administration under which many of the violations have occurred, no doubt contributing to the culture of impunity Sekaggva identifies.
What would Honduras look like if each policy decision was made in consultation with those most affected? The United States would probably find the flaws in policies that encourage neoliberalism and militarization. And we would probably see an end to policies that prioritize the will of multinational corporations over the safety and security of indigenous, Afro and rural Hondurans.