By Jody Williams
The Honduran general elections on Nov. 24 could determine whether the impoverished Central American nation will be able to stem its epidemic of violence or see it spin dangerously out of control. The lives of thousands of Hondurans depend on the nation’s ability to begin to restore fair elections and democratic institutions.
Honduras today has the highest number of murders per capita in the world. The explosion of homicides, threats and persecution is not random, but often chillingly targeted. Opposition leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, young people and women suffer from selective violence that cuts with the sharp edge of repression.
The military coup d’état June 28, 2009 took a heavy toll with violence becoming an everyday event for the people of Honduras. Human rights violations have skyrocketed. Men and women who defend their land have suffered attacks, notably in the region of Bajo Aguan where some 115 residents have been murdered in protests against displacement by large-scale developers.
The same year as the coup, 2009, there was a registered 62 percent increase in femicides. Women were at the forefront of opposition to the coup, making them targets, with reported cases of rapes and murders at the hands of police and military, such as the 2009 killing of 24-year-old Wendy Avila in a street protest.
This violence against women human rights defenders has not slowed down. In 2012, the Mesoamerican Initiative registered 119 attacks on women activists throughout the country. The victims report that the vast majority of the threats and attacks come from the government.
In one case, defender and Lenca indigenous leader Berta Cáceres received multiple death threats and was granted protective measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Ignoring this, the Honduran government slapped Berta with criminal charges related to her active opposition to a hydroelectric dam.