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Urgent Action: Stop the Criminalization of Garifuna Land Defenders

Updated: Mar 17, 2021


By: Allison Lira

On March 3, Garifuna land defenders and members of OFRANEH, Jenifer Sarina Mejia Solorzano and Mariela Mejia Solorzano were detained by the Honduran police on trumped up charges related to land conflicts in Trujillo Bay, Colon. A judge has ruled that they will remain imprisoned at least until their next hearing on March 7.

Many are concerned that without pressure, both Jenifer and Mariela could be sent to indefinite pre-trial detention, similar to what the government has done to the Guapinol defenders.

This incident is the latest in a wave of violence against the Garifuna community in Honduras. On the same day as the arrests, Martin Pandy, President of the Garifuna community of Corozol was viciously murdered along with two others. This occurred just weeks after another member of the Corozol community, Fernando Padilla was murdered by two hitmen on motorcycles. Furthermore, the forced disappearance of four Garifuna men from the community of Triunfo de la Cruz last year remains in impunity.

The Honduras Solidarity Network reports that Mariela Mejía Solórzano is accused of damages and threats against a private real estate company, likely related to the tourist industry. Jenifer Mejia Solorzano is accused of the same three crimes as Mariela plus an additional usurpation charge & robbery with violence or intimidation. These charges are likely linked to their defense along with OFRANEH of ancestral land titles of the Rio Negro-Cristales community that dates back to the early 1900s. They are one of many Garifuna land defenders who have been criminalized by the Honduran state in order to protect corporate interests.

Since 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. The Honduran state, for its part, has failed to comply with the 2015 ruling and has largely failed to protect communities and human rights defenders under threat, or to investigate ongoing persecution and harassment.

At the same time, the Honduras government has criminalized roughly 25 Garifuna leaders for standing up for their indigenous land rights while it turns a blind eye as “Canadian, US, European tourism developers, energy & mining companies, individuals and wealthy Honduran to illegally steal the land from the Garifuna communities.”

In a communique released on March 3 OFRANEH states that, “Given the lack of arguments and the evident lack of will to comply with the [IACHR] ruling, the State has shifted the level of violence towards our communities as a mechanism of pressure and of emptying, dispossessing the communities and forcing them to emigrate in order to hand over these territories to the drug-business partners.”

This latest wave of violence and the ongoing persecution of the Garifuna community is of great concern and must be addressed. We urge the international community to adopt the following demands:

  • To immediately release Jenifer Solorzano & Mariela Solorzano from detention.

  • 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 government 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.


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