Re: Marcelino Martínez Espinal (Lawyer), Marcelino Miranda (Human Rights Defender), Leonardo Miranda (Human Rights Defender)
To: Dr. Oscar Alvarez Ministro de Seguridad Pública, Lic. Ramón Hernández Alcerro Ministro de Gobernación y Justicia and Dr. Roy Edmundo Medina Fiscal General de la República
From: Monique Pongracic-Speier member LRWC
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (“LRWC”), a committee of Canadian lawyers, provides support internationally to lawyers and human rights defenders. LRWC also promotes the enforcement of human rights standards and the rule of law.
LRWC is extremely disturbed by reports from Amnesty International that Mr. Espinal, who is legal counsel to Mssrs. Marcelino and Leonardo Miranda, is being harassed and intimidated due to his representation of the Miranda brothers. Mssrs. Miranda, who are indigenous leaders and human rights activists, are being held in prison on charges of battery and murder.
The allegations relating to Mr. Espinal’s harassment are as follows. On Thursday, October 16, 2003, at approximately 2:45 pm, Mr. Espinal was driving on the road between the towns of Santa Rosa de Copán and Gracias. A beige Toyota pick-up truck occupied by four individuals was travelling in front of Mr. Espinal’s vehicle. As the vehicles approached a bridge, the beige pick-up slowed down. Mr. Espinal began to overtake it, but the pick-up accelerated and pulled up alongside Mr. Espinal’s car. The two people sitting in the front of the truck lowered their window and shouted, “Acércate más por acá, hijo de la gran puta.” As Mr. Espinal veered to the right to avoid a collision, the same individuals shouted, “Tenés miedo, perro.”
After overtaking the pick-up, Mr. Espinal stopped to let the pick-up pass by him entirely. However, the truck came to a halt, too. For the next 10 minutes, Mr. Espinal tried repeatedly to get away from the truck, but without success. When Mr. Espinal’s vehicle was behind the truck, it slowed; when Mr. Espinal was in front, the pick-up pulled alongside, as if to push Mr. Espinal’s vehicle off the road. The individuals in the truck continued to shout derogatory comments at Mr. Espinal as they drove. Eventually, the pick-up stopped at a petrol station at Las Flores, Lempira department, and Mr. Espinal was able to continue his journey without further incident.
Mr. Espinal has been the target of similar forms of harassment on other occasions between February and September 2003. Notably, on July 22, 2003, two unidentified men allegedly asked questions and made derogatory comments about Mr. Espinal while he was attending a hearing in the Miranda brothers’ case. On September 18, 2003, at 3:30 pm, a red Toyota with tinted windows and no licence plates allegedly followed Mr. Espinal as he went to visit Mssrs. Miranda in Gracias Prison, Lempira department. Mr. Espinal feels that his personal safety is in jeopardy if he visits his clients in prison. He has therefore refrained from doing so for the past month. This is of particular concern to LRWC, given allegations that the Miranda brothers were tortured during their arrest on January 8, 2003, and have been subject to further torture while in detention at Gracias Prison. In this regard, LRWC notes that the Fiscalía Especial de las Etnias has brought a lawsuit against several police personnel on charges of torture and abuse of authority in the course of the Mirandas’ arrest.
LRWC understands that Mr. Espinal has filed a complaint about the October 16, 2003 incident before the Dirreción General de Investigación Criminal (“DGIC”) in Gracias, Lempira department. We further understand that the DGIC has made enquiries about the ownership of the pick-up involved in the October 16, 2003 incident.
LRWC wishes to strongly express its continuing concern for Mr. Espinal’s safety. We also wish to express our dismay that this lawyer is being hindered in the performance of his professional duties. LRWC calls on the Honduran Government to take all necessary steps to protect Mr. Espinal from harassment and threats, and respectfully requests a written description of all actions taken in this regard.
Honduras has a responsibility as: (a) a member of the United Nations and the Organization of American States, and (b) a party to the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights, to adopt such measures as are necessary to ensure the physical and mental integrity of all Honduran citizens. Further, we note Honduras’s moral obligation to adhere to the standards set out in the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted at the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (1990), which, inter alia, provides:
. . . adequate protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms to which all persons are entitled . . . requires that all persons have effective access to legal services provided by an independent legal profession . . .
16. Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad . . .
17. Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.
LRWC calls on your Government to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into all of the acts of intimidation Mr. Espinal has suffered, to make the results public, and to bring those responsible to justice. LRWC is also concerned for the safety of Mr. Espinal’s clients, Mssrs. Marcelino and Leonardo Miranda. We urge your Government to further investigate the allegations of torture and intimidation of the Miranda brothers and to ensure that the current suit against the officers involved in their arrests is brought to conclusion in accordance with national and international laws.
Please advise LRWC, by mail, e-mail or fax, of the actions that you are taking in relation to the matters discussed above. LRWC awaits your response.