Honduras: Impunity for murders of human rights defenders in Honduras: Shooting of Mr. Antonio Trejo

Re: Impunity for murders of human rights defenders in Honduras: Shooting of Mr. Antonio Trejo

To: Sr. Porfirio Lobo Sosa, President, Republic of Honduras

From: Gail Davidson, Executive Director; Andrew Guaglio, LRWC

Date: September 27, 2012

I am writing on behalf of Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), a committee of Canadian lawyers who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally. LRWC also provides support to lawyers and other human rights defenders in danger because of their advocacy.

LRWC is appalled by the murder of a human rights lawyer, Mr. Antonio Trejo, on September 22, 2012. He was shot six times shortly after exiting a church where he had been attending a wedding near Tegucigalpa. Mr. Trejo was a leading human rights lawyer who had been advocating for farmers’ land rights in conflict with powerful land owners. Mr. Trejo had reported a number of death threats, and in documents filed in 2011, he had sought protection from a powerful landowner. Mr. Trejo and his family members have reported that Mr. Trejo’s requests of police and other public officials in Honduras had been ignored. On September 5, he had commenced a constitutional challenge to the creation of “special development regions” by which proposed “model cities” would be provided with regulatory and trade conditions to promote investment, and to have their own laws and justice systems. It is reported that he had applied to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for protective measures.

All the circumstances suggest that the murder was a targeted killing related to his work as a human rights lawyer.

The death of Mr. Trejo is the most recent of an alarming number of murders of journalists, lawyers, and other human rights defenders, few of which have been properly investigated or prosecuted. LRWC denounces the climate of impunity that apparently exists in Honduras for those who threaten, attack, and murder lawyers, human rights defenders, and journalists speaking out against international human rights violations.

LRWC reminds your government that Honduras has ratified most of the core United Nations international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the American Convention on Human Rights. As a result, Honduras has a legal obligation to ensure a prompt, transparent, and competent investigation of extra-judicial killings in all cases. The duty to investigate is accepted as necessary to a state properly safeguarding the right to life by preventing and punishing violations. The Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions[1], requires by Article 8 that:

Governments shall make every effort to prevent extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions through measures such as diplomatic intercession, improved access of complainants to intergovernmental and judicial bodies, and public denunciation. Intergovernmental mechanisms shall be used to investigate reports of any such executions and to take effective action against such practices.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has interpreted the duty to effectively investigate as mandatory:

In cases of extra-legal executions, it is essential for the States to effectively investigate deprivation of the right to life and to punish all those responsible, especially when State agents are involved, as not doing so would create, within the environment of impunity, conditions for this type of facts to occur again, which is contrary to the duty to respect and ensure the right to life.[2]

It is well established that failure by a state party to conduct proper investigations and thereby ensure appropriate remedies for violations of the right to life and other protected rights, is itself a violation of these treaties.  In the Velasquez Rodriguez[3] case the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled:

The State is obligated to investigate every situation involving a violation of the rights protected by the Convention. If the State apparatus acts in such a way that the violation goes unpunished…the State has failed to comply with its duty to ensure the free and full exercise of those rights to the persons within its jurisdiction.

LRWC urges your government to fulfill its obligations under international law to ensure that authorities immediately conduct a thorough and impartial investigation in order to bring to justice those responsible for Mr. Trejo’s murder, as well those responsible for all attacks and murders of all human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, and community activists. Given the climate of impunity in Honduras, LRWC calls on the government to, at the earliest opportunity, publicly denounce all such killings of human rights defenders.

The death of Mr. Trejo is a tragic loss to the Honduran legal and human rights communities, and a terrible blow to human rights in general. LRWC implores the government of Honduras to remedy the latter in view of irremediable nature of the former.

We look forward to your urgent reply.

[1]  Recommended by Economic and Social Council resolution 1989/65 of 24 May 1989.

[2]  I/A Court HR, Case of Myrna Mack-Chang v Guatemala. Judgment of November 25, 2003. Series C No 101, at para156.

[3]  I/A Court H.R., Case of Velásquez-Rodríguez v. Honduras. Judgment of July 29, 1988. Series C No. 4, para 172 and 176.