[WHRD Alert] HONDURAS / Garifuna women defenders criminalized and sentenced to alternative imprisonment with racist arguments

Jennifer Solorzano and Marianela Solorzano

Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH)

Territorial defense. Defense of LGBTI rights.

THE FACTS – On Sunday, March 7th, Judge Camilo Peralta of the Civil Court in Trujillo, Colón, indicted the Garifuna defenders Jennifer Solozarno and Marianela Solorzano on charges of usurpation, threats, and damages to the JUCA real estate company. In a second hearing, at the request of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the judge also accused Jennifer Solozarno of the crime of forced displacement against members of the business.  All this occurred despite the absence of proof that would justify the charges against the defenders.

Both defenders were arbitrarily arrested on March 3rd and deprived of their freedom for four days in the police station in Trujillo, until favorable alternative prison measures were granted to them on March 7th. The hearing was held in a climate marked by a heavy military and police presence at the entrance and area outside the court. A number of different acts of intimidation and harassment by security forces were perpetrated against people from the Garifuna community, who had come to show solidarity with the defenders. Furthermore, in a flagrant violation of national norms and international human rights standards, the judge blocked human rights defenders from the courtroom. Only in the second stage of the process was access allowed to representatives of the National Human Rights Commission  (CONADEH) who had come to the hearing in order to observe the proceedings. 

The stance of the Public Prosecutor’s Office was especially harmful.  Given the absence of evidence and legal grounds, its representative resorted to a discourse based on racist prejudices in order to justify the criminalization of the defenders and the opening of an investigation against members of the Garifuna people.  It is also highly alarming that this is the second case in which territorial defenders are accused of the crime of “forced displacement.” The importance of this aspect not only has to do with the gravity of the sentences established for this crime (punished with nine years in prison), but also with the fact that it facilitates the stigmatization of the persons charged. In Honduras, this penal measure has normally been associated with acts related to organized crime and the Maras.  

Marianela is a defender of the rights of the  LGBTI Garifuna community, and Jennifer is a defender of the ancestral Garifuna territories. The charges against them are related to the historic process of resistance against the plunder to which the Garifuna people has been subjected.  Both businesses and government administrations have participated in the illegal appropriation of the ancestral territory of the Garifuna people even though the ownership of more than seven thousand hectares of land in the Cristales and Rio Negro communities is warranted by ancestral property deeds. 

Historically, the communities belonging to OFRANEH have been the target of harassment, threats from armed groups, assassination, and the disappearance of community leaders among other highly serious rights violations. During the last ten years, these have worsened as a result of the corrupt, authoritarian model that has existed in Honduras since the coup d’etat. Eight months ago, five Garifuna comrades were forcibly disappeared by armed men wearing uniforms of the Office of Police Investigations (DPI) of Honduras. To date, their whereabouts are unknown. 

We of the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras and IM-Defensoras hereby denounce the fact that once again, the Honduran government is using criminal law to inhibit and obstruct the labor of the defense of human rights and to benefit the businesses exploiting ancestral territories. We repudiate the racist actions of the Honduran institutions of justice against women defenders and the Garifuna people.  

And finally, we call on social, feminist and LGBTI movements and the entire international community to stand in solidarity with OFRANEH and the Garifuna people and to stay on the alert regarding the development of the criminalization process against these comrades. Marianela and Jennifer are rights defenders; they are not criminals. 

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