Honduras: Feliciano Pineda, Indigenous Community Leaders

Re: Feliciano Pineda, Indigenous Community Leaders

To: Dr. Oscar Alvarez, Ministro de Seguridad

From: Monique Pongracic-Speier, member of LRWC

Date: 2005-06-22

LRWC is gravely concerned about the situation of Feliciano Pineda, an Indigenous community leader from the Vertientes community, one of two groups that make up the Montaña Verde communities in the Gracias Municipality, Lempira Department.

LRWC is informed that on June 5, 2005, Mr. Pineda was attacked by four men wielding machetes. He sustained serious injuries. The attackers also threatened to kill Mr. Pineda’s wife if she did not leave the area.

Following the attack, Mr. Pineda’s wife took him to hospitals in La Esperanza and Tegucigalpa. Once in hospital in Tegucigalpa, Mr. Pineda was arrested by police. He was reportedly taken to a jail in La Esperanza and then transferred to prison in Gracias. LRWC is gravely concerned that Mr. Pineda is not receiving appropriate treatment for his injuries in the Gracias prison; we understand that Mr. Pineda’s wounds are seriously infected and that he is unable to eat. We also question the legitimacy of Mr. Pineda’s arrest.

LRWC understands that several suspects were apprehended in relation to the attack on Mr. Pineda. These men, who are believed to be relatives of an individual with close links to landowners involved in a dispute with the Montaña Verde communities, went before a judge in Gracias. The judge surprisingly ordered the accused released on bail.
Meanwhile, we understand that Mr. Pineda is being held on charges of “theft”, “damage to property”, “murder” and “manslaughter”. We are unaware of the basis for these charges and request clarification regarding same. LRWC recalls that several other Indigenous leaders in Honduras have been subject to dubious charges of a similar nature in the past. Specifically, we note the cases of Felipe Bejerano and Luis Benítez, former Vice-President and President, respectively, of the Consejo Comunal Indígena. Both of these men were accused of “theft”, “damage to property” and held in custody for extended periods (27 months for Mr. Bejerano and 14 months for Mr. Benítez). When their cases went to trial, both were acquitted for lack of evidence.

LRWC is also aware of the cases of Marcelino and Leonardo Miranda, who were convicted of murder in December 2003. LRWC has considerable misgivings about the validity of the Miranda brothers’ convictions. We also note that legal counsel for the Miranda brothers was subject to harassment in relation to his defence of Marcelino and Leonardo Miranda. I wrote to you about this issue in October 2003. A copy of my letter is attached for your reference.

In short, Mr. Pineda is the fifth leader of the Montaña Verde communities to be detained since the start of the communities’ dispute with private landowners. LRWC respectfully submits that this fact is remarkable and dispiriting. It is imperative that the judicial system in Honduras not be abused and rendered a tool of harassment against human rights activists. LRWC urges you to safeguard the integrity and independence of the Honduran judicial system.

Moreover, LRWC calls upon you to immediately investigate the June 5th attack on Mr. Pineda, the circumstances of his subsequent arrest, and the threats against his wife. We urge you to make the results of the investigation public and to bring those responsible for wrongdoing to justice. We also urge you to immediately institute protective measures for Mrs. Pineda, given the threats against her life.

In relation to Mr. Pineda, himself, LRWC urges you to immediately and unconditionally release him from custody, unless substantive evidence is produced which would justify continued detention. So long as Mr. Pineda remains in custody, we call upon you to ensure that he has access to proper medical attention.

LRWC notes that Honduras has ratified the American Convention on Human Rights (the “American Convention”) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) . Both of these instruments affirm the right to equal protection without distinction as to, inter alia, race or opinion; forbid arbitrary arrest and detention; require dignified treatment while in custody; and, oblige parties to ensure that those whose human rights have been violated have access to an effective remedy: see Articles 2(1), 8(3)(a), 9 and 10(1), and 26 of the ICCPR, and Articles 1, 5(1) an (2), 7, 24 and 25 of the American Convention. LRWC urges you to adhere to the important commitments that Honduras has made by ratifying these instruments.

Please advise LRWC, by mail, e-mail or fax, of the actions that the Government of Honduras is taking in relation to the matters discussed above. LRWC awaits your response.