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Family of Honduran environmentalist demands answers in killings

The family of one of two environmental activists killed in a rural part of northern Honduras say authorities are not properly investigating the slayings of the pair who had faced threats for their work.

Aly Domínguez and Jairo Bonilla were riding a motorcycle between La Concepción and Guapinol on Sunday when they were shot. Both men were known defenders of the nearby Carlos Escaleras National Park.

On Thursday, Domínguez’s brother Reynaldo Domínguez filed a complaint with prosecutors in the capital asserting the investigation into the killings was not progressing.

He said his brother and Bonilla worked for a local cable company collecting payments in the rural area. On Jan. 7, they were returning to Guapinol from La Concepción after making their collections when they were attacked, he said.

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“To date they haven’t done anything. The investigations don’t advance, because the authorities of Tocoa are colluding with the mining company that exploits” the national park, Domínguez said.

He said authorities consider robbery as the motive, but he disputed that.

“At the site was the motorcycle, which is one of the most sought after by thieves, their cellphones were there and the money they had collected was in their pockets because they had divided it between themselves,” Domínguez said. “That’s why we reject that this was a robbery.”

Iron oxide mining inside the park has been a flashpoint for years.

Last year, just one day after six activists were convicted for alleged actions against a mining operation, the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber unanimously sided with the defendants on two long-standing appeals and threw out their case. Most of the men had been in pre-trial detention since 2019, accused of deprivation of liberty and aggravated arson. Two of the eight were acquitted.

Members of the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP) prepare to mobilize during a special operation in Honduras on Nov. 27, 2022. For environmental activists Honduras is considered extremely dangerous. 

Members of the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP) prepare to mobilize during a special operation in Honduras on Nov. 27, 2022. For environmental activists Honduras is considered extremely dangerous. 
(Photo by ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP via Getty Images)

Like Domínguez and Bonilla, they had protested the legality of mining concessions granted inside the national park and the damage that was causing to the Guapinol and San Pedro rivers.

One of the eight men from that case, Kelvin Romero, confirmed Wednesday that Domínguez and Bonilla were known defenders of the park.

“We have had personal threats, in messages, in calls,” Romero said. “So for us here the judiciary and the authorities ignore despite the fact that we have protective measures for human rights defenders.”

Honduras is considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries for environmental activists. One of its most infamous cases was the 2016 murder of Berta Cáceres, who was protesting a hydroelectric project.

Honduran authorities said they initially handled the weekend killings as a robbery, because by the time they got there the crime scene had been disturbed.

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“They (relatives) didn’t let the morgue take the bodies and they buried them,” said Yuri Mora, spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office. “Relatives and friends contaminated the crime scene. They took the things they were carrying and didn’t say anything until days later. This makes the investigation and finding those responsible for this act more difficult.”

Global rights organization Amnesty International demanded “a prompt, thorough and impartial” investigation.

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