By: Allison Lira
The Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH in spanish) held a press conference this week to publicly announce the launch of the Committee for Search and Investigation known as “SUNLA” or “Enough” in Garifuna, created to uncover the truth about the disappearance of 5 men from the afro-indigenous Garifuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras. Last July, the president of Triunfo de la Cruz and member of OFRANEH, Alberth Centeno, along with Milton Martínez, Suami Mejía, Gerardo Róchez, and Junior Mejía were taken in the early hours of the morning by men in police uniforms and have not been seen since. Moreover, the Honduran authorities have failed to conduct an appropriate investigation and no meaningful advances have been made in the case.
The committee SUNLA will include a multidisciplinary investigative team made up of national and international experts, as well as representatives from the UN and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR). The committee will also include members of OFRANEH and members of the victim’s family. It will report their findings to the public and will collaborate with appropriate state authorities to find the truth, bring to justice the perpetrators, and most importantly, to uncover the whereabouts of the missing.
We strongly urge the United States to support human rights defenders and indigenous communities in Honduras by asking the Honduran government to proactively cooperate with the SUNLA investigation as well as by passing the Berta Cáceres Act which suspends all military aid to Honduras until human rights violations are addressed.
Following the 2015 rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) which found the Honduran state guilty of violating Garifuna land rights, violence against the Garifuna people dramatically increased. According to OFRANEH, 40 Garifuna people have been killed and even more have fled their communities due to threats and harassment just since 2019. Human rights defenders live with this threat along with the knowledge that crimes committed against them will likely never be brought to justice. Despite the billions of dollars of training and capacity-building that the United States has poured into Honduran security forces and investigative bodies, the impunity rate continues to be over 90%.
Instead, a decade of U.S. security assistance has helped make Honduras one of the most dangerous places for human rights defenders and has helped facilitate the resurgence of death squads in the country, which is now an effective narco-state. Earlier this month, nursing student Keyla Patricia Martínez Rodríguez was killed while in police custody by what is suspected to be a “extermination group” within the La Esperanza police department. In the case of the Triunfo de la Cruz disappearances, the kidnappers were wearing the uniforms of the Police Investigations Directorate (DPI in Spanish), a special branch of the Honduran police trained by the FBI and DEA.
In the press conference, leader of OFRANEH Miriam Miranda spoke of the aspirations of SUNLA stating, “When we seek the truth, we also create justice. We create a different world. We also know- we know and we recognize that to live in this country is to be without defense, in the highest impunity, a state captured by a criminal mafia. Seeing as we are in this country, there’s an imminent risk, permanent for all the people who want to seek the truth. We know...but we want SUNLA to wake all of this hope that isn’t in this country. Because we’re losing it. We’ve lost hope.”