Last week, Colonel German Alfaro, the commander of Operation Xatruch III in Honduras’ Aguan Valley, personally denounced Annie Bird, co-director of the U.S. and Canada-based human rights NGO Rights Action, on TV and radio, alleging among other things that she is engaging in “destabilization work” in the Aguan. The accusations, which were also covered in La Tribuna and Tiempo newspapers, came just after Bird accompanied campesinos in the Aguan to the Attorney General’s office to file human rights complaints, including some against Honduran soldiers. Alfaro also said he was opening an investigation into Bird’s activities.
In response, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement yesterday condemning Alfaro’s accusations. This was followed by a statement today signed by representatives of 33 human rights, labor, faith-based and other organizations, including the AFL-CIO, Sisters of Mercy, and the Washington Office on Latin America calling on the State Department to denounce Alfaro’s comments.
HRW’s Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco also urged the U.S. government to condemn Alfaro’s accusations:
Given its ongoing cooperation with Honduran security forces, the US government should use all the tools at its disposal to call a halt to verbal attacks on activists by senior Honduran military officials[.] Whether directed at human rights defenders or campesino leaders, such accusations only add to a climate of fear and intimidation.
Alfaro’s statements fit into an ongoing pattern of violence, intimidation and threats against human rights defenders in Honduras, both foreign and domestic, that has including the kidnapping by armed men of two European human rights defenders in July; threats and public accusations against American and Canadian human rights defenders and electoral observers ahead of and during the elections; and threats and public denunciations of Honduran human rights defenders like Bertha Oliva and Victor Fernandez.
The accusations against Bird, which as HRW noted “attracted comments from readers that include death threats against Bird,” follow “similar attacks” against campesino leaders and a larger effort to criminalize the activities of campesino groups opposing violence and land take-overs by palm oil magnates such as Miguel Facussé and other large landowners. Unfortunately, as we have previously noted, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske’s recent remarks have fed into this criminalization campaign, rather than expressing concern over the violence and threats.
Alfaro’s statements are also chilling in the context of ongoing violence against journalists, lawyers, LIBRE members, trade unionists and others, just since the elections: