red-nacional-honduras-jassSince the 2009 coup d'etat, the country has experienced a sharp rise in violations of human rights, gender-based violence and assassinations, particularly against members of the pro-democracy movement that formed to oppose the coup. The post-coup governments have reversed gains in women’s reproductive and sexual rights, labor rights and rural land reforms. None of the crimes committed by the coup regime have been investigated or prosecuted, including forced disappearances, rapes and murders. As international attention diminishes, there is a serious risk of consolidating the anti-democratic measures imposed during the coup. Attacks on opposition members and leaders, and human rights defenders have intensified, including the widespread use of gender-based violence to harm and intimidate women activists and leaders.

"The problem is that the entire system is a system of corruption, a system of injustice, a system of complete impunity". - Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams, January 2012

Members of the military have retaken control, assuming the role of police and eroding civilian democratic institutions. This has led to a sharp rise in human rights violations and an atmosphere of terror throughout the country. Military presence has become so widespread that society increasingly considers it normal. The government justifies the military occupation in the name of security and fighting organized crime and the war on drugs, but insecurity and violence have increased alarmingly in the context of militarization. In 2011, Honduras registered a murder rate of 86 per 100,000, making it the most violent nation in the world according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Although official figures indicate that the homicide rate has fallen in the past years, it continues to be extremely high. Violence and extreme poverty have forced thousands to migrate northward. Violence against women has grown and the rate of femicides increased by over 260 percent between 2005 and 2013, according to the Center for Women’s Rights. In 2015 one woman was killed every 16 hours on average. After Mexico, Honduras is the country with the largest number of journalists assassinated in Latin America, according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

“In Honduras, freedom of expression does not exist..." - Frank LaRue Lewy, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Women human right defenders in Honduras often endure threats, defamation and manipulation from public officials and politicians. Government authorities and media controlled by a handful of business groups continue to discredit women human rights defenders by falsely maligning them as terrorists, drug traffickers and common criminals. This endangers women defenders’ lives and cuts them off from the communities they are defending, as well as serving to disguise the repression they face. 

Supporting Women Activists

 JASS Mesoamerica has collaborated with a number of women’s and human rights groups, including Feminists in Resistance and the Center for Women’s Rights, groups that have taken active roles in organizing and mobilizing within the resistance movement. JASS Mesoamerica also supports the National Women Human Rights Defenders Network in Honduras in its work to denounce violence against women leaders and defenders and works alongside organizations including the Civic Counsel of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and works to  support the demand for justice in the assassination of its leader, Berta Caceres.  

By linking our training processes to political organizing and action, JASS Mesoamerica builds its network and fosters new relationships with women defenders and women’s rights organizations. We've held communications and ICT trainings with Feminists in Resistance and indigenous women, mobilized emergency resources to support women’s organizations during the coup and supported and facilitated conversations and engagement between Honduran women activists and government officials and civil society actors in the United States. JASS Mesoamerica has also been instrumental in bringing international attention to human rights violations against women defenders in Honduras.

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Throughout the world, many feminists and other women activists working for social justice or gender equality are reluctant to recognize themselves as human rights defenders either because they believe their work goes beyond the human rights framework; because they feel that by naming themselves as such, their political identity as feminists becomes blurred; because they think that the term is too focussed on the law or too dangerous in their particular contexts; because they fear retaliations

Violence against women activists continues to rise. Unfortunately, despite considerable effort, responses to this violence are coming up short. Given the urgency of the situation, JASS and allies are questioning the underlying assumptions guiding activist safety, and bringing a feminist and movement building perspective to rethinking the approach.

A year on from the assassination of indigenous leader Berta Caceres, five Honduras leaders give six key lessons on carrying on the global fight.

I spoke to Berta Cáceres the day she was murdered. I never imagined that later this year I would be in a demonstration along with almost a thousand women in Honduras asking for justice for her murder. Sometimes, I still can hear her voice.

Note: JASS is proud to be a co-signer of the following declaration to support the new International Experts Advisory Group to investigate the murder of our friend and colleague, Berta Cáceres, defender of land, territory, and indigenous and women's rights in Honduras.