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Article

17 Jan 2023

Author:
Jared Olson, Al Jazeera

Honduras: Local activists & UN call for investigation after murder of 2 human rights defenders

Guapinol Resiste

The killing of two Honduran water defenders this month has sparked international outrage, with the United Nations calling for an investigation and locals questioning the government’s commitment to protecting environmental activists.

Aly Dominguez, 38, and Jairo Bonilla, 28, were members of the Guapinol water defenders movement, organising to protect their rivers from a controversial open-pit iron oxide mining project in Carlos Escaleras National Park. In recent years, several activists have been killed in unclear circumstances amid community opposition to the mine.

Reinaldo Dominguez, Aly’s brother, told Al Jazeera that the killing capped off a long process of intimidation.

“We need action here,” he said after the funeral last week, which was attended by hundreds of residents. “The public ministry needs to investigate and put arrest warrants out for the armed groups … They say, ‘We lament this.’ We want action.”

Among Castro’s first moves as president was freeing a group of imprisoned Guapinol activists in February 2022. Soon afterwards, her government declared the country “free of open pit mining” and said it would cancel mining permits, though activists say there have been no cancellations since then.

In a statement, the Honduran human rights secretariat condemned the killing of Dominguez and Bonilla and called for a transparent investigation.

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Honduran police have said that Dominguez and Bonilla died in a robbery gone wrong, but family members say their motorcycles and personal belongings were not taken. A UN special rapporteur last week called for an independent probe of their deaths, “which must take into account the possibility that they have been retaliated against for their work defending human rights”.

The mining company they resisted, Inversiones Los Pinares, is co-owned by Lenir Perez, one of the most powerful business magnates in the country.

Pinares, which did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment, has long argued that it practices “environmentally responsible” mining, bringing jobs and development to an impoverished region. Perez has said in the past that opposition to the iron oxide mine was being driven by left-wing groups financed by actors from outside the region.