By: Allison Lira
On July 20, our team accompanied OFRANEH and their allies as they gathered in front of the Public Ministry in Tegucigalpa to denounce the lack of progress made in the investigation of the forced disappearance of four afro-indigenous Garifuna men that occurred last year.
The four, Sinder Centeno, Milton Martínez, Suami Meíja, and Gerardo Róchez, were violently kidnapped from their homes in the community of Triunfo de la Cruz by men wearing DPI police uniforms and have not been seen since. Snider Centeno was the president of Triunfo de la Cruz and had been outspoken about the indigenous community’s territorial rights.
“Today we are in front of the Public Ministry not only demanding justice,” says OFRANEH’s coordinator Miriam Miranda, “We are demanding that real decisions be made to search for our brothers who were taken a year ago from the Triunfo de la Cruz community.”
In February, OFRANEH responded to the ineffectiveness of the state’s investigation by launching an investigative committee called SUNLA to represent the families and the broader Garifuna community. At the Public Ministry, an official request was made for the incorporation of SUNLA in the state’s efforts.
OFRANEH also requested the appointment of a special prosecutor dedicated to the investigation of cases of forced disappearance in the country.
“We know perfectly well that the state is responsible for the disappearance of our brothers. The state is guilty,” says Miranda.
In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the persecution of the Garifuna in Honduras. OFRANEH reports that in the last two years alone, 40 community members have been killed, with many more reporting instances of threats and harassment.
Furthermore, the criminalization of human rights defenders continues. In the northern city of Trujillo for example, an acute criminalization campaign has manifested in active arrest warrants against 29 people. This is largely recognized as forming part of a broader dispossession effort waged by the real estate company “La Sociedad de Raíces y Bienes Juca” (JUCA) and backed by local prosecutors.
So far, four people have been arrested on charges such as usurpation, robbery with violence and intimidation, damages and threats, and forced displacement. In March, sisters Marianela and Jennifer Solórzano were the first to be arrested and officially indicted. Next to be detained were Silvia Bonilla Flores and Jenny Boden, both elderly women.
In 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) issued a ruling which found the Honduran state guilty of violating the territorial rights of Garifuna people and ordered reparations. To date, the Honduran state has not complied with its obligations under the ruling and clearly, dispossession efforts continue.
“The timing of the sisters’ arrest is disturbing,” states Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. “They were arrested just one day before a hearing on the Honduran Government’s failure to comply with the judgements of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to guarantee the Garifuna peoples use and enjoyment of their traditional lands.”
In front of the Public Ministry’s office, Miriam Miranda calls for meaningful engagement on the part of the state in SUNLA’s efforts to find Snider, Milton, Suami, and Gerardo.
“Because if not, we’re going to spend three months here...and nobody is going to get us out of here...We have to continue fighting for a different country. We cannot continue to accept this narco-dictatorship’s subjugation.”