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UN experts voice shock at killing of prominent rights defender in Honduras

Map: OCHA/ReliefWeb
Map: OCHA/ReliefWeb

UN experts voice shock at killing of prominent rights defender in Honduras

Three independent United Nations experts have expressed their dismay at the killing in Honduras of prominent human rights lawyer Antonio Trejo Cabrera, who was very active in the media denouncing alleged abuses by landowners and politicians.

The killing is “totally unacceptable,” said the UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns; and freedom of expression, Frank La Rue.

Mr. Trejo Cabrera was shot five times in the vicinity of Toncontín airport in Tegucigalpa on 2 September and died shortly after from his injuries, according to a news release issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

He was the lead lawyer for Movimiento Auténtico Reivindicador Campesino del Aguán Region and represented several agrarian cooperatives in the Lower Aguán Region in legal disputes with powerful landowners. Hours before his killing, he had participated in a televised debate in which he accused political leaders of using private city projects to raise campaign funds.

The experts noted that the killing comes amidst serious concerns for the security of human rights defenders in the country, in particular those peacefully working on land conflict issues.

Ms. Sekaggya met with Mr. Trejo Cabrera during her official visit to Honduras in February, at which time he presented the situation of human rights defenders in the Lower Aguán Region. “During the meeting, Mr. Trejo Carrera indicated that he had repeatedly received death threats as a result of his work,” she recalled.

“I am very saddened by the killing of Mr. Trejo Cabrera and I echo what the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said about the unacceptable climate of insecurity and violence for defenders in the country,” said Ms. Sekaggya. “It is imperative that the Government establishes a national protection programme for human rights defenders as soon as possible.”

High Commissioner Navi Pillay last week called on Honduras to take urgent steps to combat impunity for crimes against lawyers and journalists, stressing that recent killings reflect the “chronic insecurity” that these professions are subject to in the country.

“Sadly, these deplorable killings are far from isolated cases,” she had stated. “There is a menacing climate of insecurity and violence in Honduras, and human rights defenders have been targets of threats, harassment, physical assault and murder.” She added that the impunity that surrounds these violations is “unacceptable.”

Mr. Heyns expressed deep concern at the ongoing impunity with which perpetrators operate in the country and reminded the Government of its “obligation to thoroughly, promptly and impartially investigate all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions.”

In addition, Mr. La Rue requested that the results of the investigation are shared with Antonio Trejo Cabrera’s family, the Honduran public and relevant UN Rapporteurs.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.