By: Allison Lira
On the morning of Sunday March 7, after four days of police detention, Garifuna rights defenders Marianela and Jennifer Solórzano appeared at the courthouse in Trujillo, Colon for initial hearings regarding charges lodged against them by the real estate company “La Sociedad de Raíces y Bienes Juca” (JUCA). The court ruled that the charges of usurpation, damages and threats would be allowed to stand. Jennifer will also have to contend with an additional charge of forced displacement and faces up to nine years in prison. Both were conditionally released and will fight their cases in liberty.
In violation of domestic and international legal obligations, the presiding judge, Judge Camilo Peralta, blocked domestic and international human rights organizations from observing the first hearing. At the second, only the National Commission for Human Rights (CONADEH in spanish) was allowed to enter.
By mid-day, hundreds of supporters had gathered at the courthouse to demand the release of these two members of OFRANEH, with many dancing and singing to Garifuna drums. While the signs multiplied, sporting messages like “Marianela and Jennifer Solórzano are land defenders not criminals,” or “Stop the genocide of Garifuna people,” military and police officers continued to arrive. Standing on the steps of the courthouse, at least twenty security personnel faced the crowd, weapons in hand.
Marianela and Jennifer Solórzano are from the Garifuna community of Cristales-Rio Negro, a community in possession of an ancestral land title that in recent years has had to contend with the theft of their lands by various tourist projects. In 2015, the community brought a case against the Canadian businessperson Randy Jorgenson, which was finally brought to trial five years after the criminal complaint was lodged. The ruling: Although the community demonstrated that the usurpation of their land was occurring, the evidence presented was insufficient to hold Mr. Jorgenson at fault. Dispossession of Garifuna territory was allowed to continue in impunity.
In a similar vein, violence associated with these land disputes is willfully ignored by the Honduran state. Just two weeks before the trial against Mr. Jorgenson in 2015, Vidal Leiva, president of the Committee for the Defense of Land in Cristales and Rio Negro suffered an attempted assassination in which he sustained multiple bullet wounds. Rather than investigating, police claimed that Mr. Leiva had shot himself.
Now, community land defenders Jennifer and Marianela Solorzano face a judicial process and are at risk of losing their freedom.
WfPSC expresses its deep concern regarding the court’s decision to block human rights observers and the heavy militarization of the Trujillo courthouse. We continue to urge adherence to international obligations and are troubled by the judicial process that defense attorneys have described thus far. It is especially concerning that the court has allowed the charge of forced displacement to stand, a crime most often used against gangs and other organized crime groups. This speaks to the intensification of the criminalization of human rights defenders in Honduras that only continues.
The international community should adopt the following demands:
Drop all charges against the women who are being criminalized for their community’s defense of ancestral Garifuna land titles in Trujillo Bay.
End the harassment & murder of all Garifuna land & human rights defenders that continue to be subject to systematic attacks led by the Honduran state and encouraged through the impunity surrounding several cases of murder, threats, and harassment of the Garifuna, including the forced disappearance of the four young Garifuna men from Triunfo De la Cruz in 2020.
We also support the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act of 2021 (S388) which would suspend United States support for the Government of Honduras until endemic corruption, impunity, and human rights violations are addressed.