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International Court Rules in Favor of Indigenous Land Rights in Honduras

January 2016

After two years of deliberation, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently issued two judgements declaring the State of Honduras responsible for the violation of collective ownership rights and the lack of judicial protection in a case brought before them by a Grassroots International partner. The ruling extends protection to Garifuna (Afro-descendant) and indigenous people across the country.

In keeping with the tenet of Free, Prior and Informed Consent, the Court stated that “Regarding the right to consultation and cultural identity, the Court considered that the consultation must be applied prior to any exploration project that may affect the traditional lands of the indigenous and tribal communities.”

Since 2012 Grassroots International has been supporting the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) and their work to defend Garífuna indigenous territory through the recovery process and permanent reoccupation of land, and through the promotion of legal cases at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

After years of considering a petition from OFRANEH, in February 2013 the Human Rights Commission of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR) presented the case to the the Inter-American Court detailing the Honduran government’s violation of Garifuna collective ownership rights (citing Article 21 of the American Convention on Human Rights), lack of access to a fair trial and lack of judicial protection in the Garifuna communities of Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra. In addition, the case notes that the Honduran government violated the Garifuna’s rights to “Free, Prior, and Informed Consent”, a main tenet of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Last August, Grassroots International had the privilege of being invited by OFRANEH to Triunfo de la Cruz to serve as international observers during the site visit from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (ICHR). Members of the Garifuna community presented moving and detailed testimonies about land rights violations that they have faced for decades that provided the basis of more than 30 legal claims of land usurpation presented to the ICHR.

Reparation measures ordered by the Court last month include, among other matters: the investigation of five assassinations of Garifuna people  defending their ancestral lands; a public act of acknowledgment of international  responsibility ; demarcation of the land on which it has been granted collective ownership to the Punta Piedra community ; collective land ownership titles, properly defined and demarcated on the  plot of land known as the Triunfo de la Cruz Garifuna traditional territory; free access, use, and enjoyment of collective property  and commons of both communities;  and measures to ensure that the provisions on mining regulations do not undermine the right to consultation.

The Garifuna people currently have three more cases and several petitions at the Commission. For OFRANEH the violations of collective and human rights perpetrated by the State of Honduras demonstrate the existence of deliberate land grabs and expulsions in Garifuna territory. As Julian Eramos Castillo, Vice President of the communal authority of Triunfo the la Cruz shared, After the Coup we resist, and we will continue in resistance… we, Garifuna people, fight to the death. We will continue defending our ancestral territory to ensure our children never lose our culture, language and connection to land.”


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