From Ray.Mitchell@amnesty.org.uk Wed Mar 8 12:41:37 2000
Fear for Safety / Death Threats
Amnesty International Urgent Action Bulletin, IE Index AMR 37/01/00, 3 March 2000
Leaders of the Coordinating Body of Popular Organizations of Aguan (COPA)
Amnesty International is very concerned for the safety of the three grassroots leaders named above who are being threatened with death, allegedly by armed groups with links to the authorities.
Lombardo Lacayo has received death threats in the past and there have been a number of attempts to kill him. In April 1999 he was shot at three times in his pick-up truck and in September he escaped another shooting and his house was set on fire.
The three men all belong to the Coordinadora de Organizaciones Populares del Aguan (COPA), Coordinating Body of Popular Organisations of Aguan, which is involved in defending the land rights of peasant farmers, protecting the environment and promoting participation in elections.
The above is part of a pattern of human rights abuses against grassroots activists, including indigenous people, involved in defending their land rights. The armed groups responsible, sometimes referred to as "death squads", are also often reported to have links to local landowners. Amnesty International takes no position on disputes over land, but it campaigns against human rights violations within its mandate that occur in such contexts.
These abuses, and the failure of the authorities to take action, has been of great concern to Amnesty International: (see Honduras: Justice fails indigenous people, AMR 37/10/99, September 1999). According to reports, at least 25 indigenous leaders have been killed in the last ten years. Impunity prevails in all cases.
Five COPA leaders have been killed in the last three years: Carlos Escaleras, Victor Manuel Gomez, Oscar David Reyes, Ramon Bejarano and Jairo Ayala. The authorities have failed to investigate any of these murders or bring those responsible to justice. Amnesty International is concerned that the impunity enjoyed by those responsible encourages them to continue to commit human rights abuses in the knowledge that no action will be taken.