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29 September 2016

Honduras: Violent attack against farmers and HRDs in Aguan Valley

Update 30 September 2016: Human rights defender Blanca Luz Lopez is safe and returned home. Human rights defender Reyna Mireya Figueroa is still in hospital but she is recovering.

On 28 September 2016 at approximately 3am security guards of a farm in the Aguán Valley violently attacked a group of human rights defenders, campesino leaders and farmers. During the attack, human rights defender Reyna Mireya Figueroa endured gunfire wounds and Blanca Luz Lopez went missing.

The group of farmers, who are members of the association Empresa Campesina Nueva Embenezer, went to the farm to reclaim and occupy their land. They claim it is illegally used by the company, which is owned by landowner Reynaldo Canales.

Land disputes in this territory date back to the late 1960s, when an agrarian reform initiative introduced measures to ensure small cooperatives and peasant farmers could keep possession of the land where they were working. However, in 1992, the Law for Modernisation of Land gutted these protections. Campesino cooperatives and small farmers were forced to sell their land to large landowners, who used coercion and violence to occupy the land and evict the farmers.

On 28 September, the security guards violently attacked the farmers. They rammed the entry gate of the farm with their car, then began throwing rocks and shooting at the crowd. Many people were seriously injured, among them a 9-month-baby and human rights defender Reyna Mireya Figueroa, who was later transfered to a hospital. When the guards started shooting, the group of farmers ran away to take shelter. Since then, human rights defender Blanca Luz Lopez has been missing. No investigation about her disappearance has been opened yet.

According to Irma Lemus, a human rights defender working for the Observatorio de los Derechos Humanos en el Bajo Aguán (Bajo Aguán Observatory for Human Rights), between 2008 to 2013 there were 123 violent deaths and 6 disappearances related to land rights conflict in the region. 

This incident is the latest in a series of attacks against activists in Honduras, which has one of the highest reported rates of targetted killings of human rights defenders in the world. Front Line Defenders condemns the excessive use of force against peaceful farmers and human rights defenders, and urges the authorities to promptly investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice. Front Line Defenders also urges the Honduran authorities to investigate the disappearance of human rights defender Blanca Luz Lopez and ensure her safe return to her community.