UN calls for probe into killing of two Honduran environmentalists

Two environmental activists were killed on Saturday after they opposed an open-pit iron oxide mine in a reserve.

Mary Lawlor
Mary Lawlor, a UN special rapporteur, says the activists may have been killed for their work defending human rights [File: Reuters]

United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor has called for an independent investigation into the killing of two environmental activists in Honduras, days after they were shot dead.

On Saturday, Aly Dominguez, 38, and Jairo Bonilla, 28, from the village of Guapinol in Honduras’s eastern Colon Department were killed by unidentified men. Local police attributed the deaths to a robbery.

“It’s vital that an independent investigation is carried out into the killing of the two defenders in Guapinol, Honduras,” Lawlor said on Twitter on Wednesday.

“Which must take into account the possibility that they have been retaliated against for their work defending human rights,” she added.

Dominguez and Bonilla had co-founded the Municipal Committee for the Defense of Common and Public Goods for the city of Tocoa, some 8km (5 miles) from Guapinol.

According to the environmentalist group, they had since 2015 put up a strong resistance to the operation of an open-pit iron oxide mine in a forest reserve, a concession they say was illegally granted to a company of influential businessman Lenir Perez.

Inversiones Los Pinares, the company operating the mine, argues the concession is legal. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Authorities said Dominguez and Bonilla were on motorcycles working their day jobs collecting service payments for a regional cable television company when they were attacked in a secluded area.

Colon police spokesperson Angel Herrera told local media the crime was motivated by an attempt to rob the money they were carrying.

But Guapinol Resiste, the environmentalist group Dominguez and Bonilla belonged to, rejected this claim on Wednesday.

“It was not a robbery. They were killed for defending the rivers from illegal mining. Justice for Aly and Jairo,” the group said on its Facebook group. It also pointed out that the criminals did not take the money, which was instead later handed over to their employer.

Many environmentalists and local communities in Central American countries oppose open-pit mining and the building of hydroelectric dams, which can pollute rivers, contaminate water supplies and displace populations.

In March 2016, Indigenous leader and environmentalist Berta Caceres, who was fighting the construction of a hydroelectric dam in western Honduras, was murdered. Six hired assassins and two executives of a firm promoting the dam’s construction were later convicted.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies