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Aura Minerals & Honduran Government Criminalizing 19 Azacualpa community Defenders

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

Statement by ASONOG (Associación de Organismos no Gubernamentales) and MADJ (Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia)

On Monday, March 4, 2019, criminal charges were presented against 19 members of the Azacualpa community in La Unión, Copán. The community members are accused of causing damage against the mining company MINOSA (Minerales de Occidente S.A.), subsidiary of the Canadian/U.S. Aura Minerals.

Digging up the dead for gold

These charges have been filed in the context of a long conflict caused by Aura/MINOSA ever since it started its mining operation in the area in 1997.  Since 2012, this mining company has been attempting to dig up all the dead from the Azacualpa Cemetery, and move them, in order to exploit the gold underneath. The company has used diverse mechanisms and schemes to achieve its goals.

As a result of the legal hearing, the judges imposed “precautionary measures” against the 19 criminalized community defenders, including that the accused are not allowed to come near the mining operation, that they need to come into the court offices once a month to sign in.

Faced with this situation, ASONOG and MADJ state:

On January 31, 2019, the Attorney General of Santa Rosa de Copán presented charges against 19 members of the Azacualpa community, accusing them of the crime of damages against the mining company Minerales de Occidente and INCOB, which is subcontracted by MINOSA.

The claims to sustain these charges, are that the community members committed the crime of physical damages, because since May 16, 2018, the members of the community have sustained so-called “violent” demonstrations, to prevent the company from working. According to the charges, during these demonstrations, these community members are accused of carrying blunt and sharp weapons such as machetes and sticks. Community members are also accused of the alleged burning and destruction of the company security post and vehicles, costing the companies L.90,000 in damages.

Similar to trumped up criminal accusations in Guapinol and against community members in many other community defense struggles, such as Pajuiles, Jilamito, the evidence used to sustain the charges consists in the statements of witnesses, reports from the company’s private security company, and photographs said to be of those accused. In general, the photographs are of the accused and other community members, when they were throwing rocks against the vehicles, during yet another protest.

No consent to dig up dead, destroy cemetery

It should be noted that on January 11, 2015, during a town hall meeting, the Azacualpa Community voted AGAINST digging up the dead and then closing the cemetery for mineral exploitation, but despite the community’s decision, the municipal government and other entities of the local government have ignored this sovereign decision and have facilitated the company’s operations by all possible means.

Numerous legal proceedings against Aura/ MINOSA, but … Impunity!

There are at least 20 legal complaints presented by the very people who have now been charged. These people have been subjected to threats, attacks and different types of harassment by the security forces of Aura Minerals/MINOSA, the police and Aura/MINOSA workers.

Legal complaints have been made against the company for their environmental crimes caused by the leaking of spills of their lixivation pools which caused at least 3 waves of massive deaths of fish and the contamination of important water sources such as the Lara River, an affluent of the Higuito River. The last of these spills took place in June 2017.   In May and June 2018, a group of those being charged today, alongside another 30 community members, presented two writs of protection to demand the defense of the right to community sovereignty, health, culture and family which have been violated by Aura/MINOSA. Upon receiving these writs of protection, the courts ordered the suspending of the cemetery exhumations. Nevertheless, the Attorney General then ended its investigation into the community allegations of harms.

On September 25, 2018, the National Protection Mechanism for Defenders dictated protective measures for at least 9 of those now charged, due to the severity of the risks they faced because of their community, environmental and cemetery defence work and activism.

Aura/MINOSA aggression against community and cemetery defenders

From September to December, 2018, Aura/MINOSA increased the levels of confrontation, calling for pro-mining mobilizations to demand that the Attorney General allow them to renew operations; to the point that they took over highways and used a media campaign of harassment and persecution based on lies, claiming that there had been a total suspension of activities due to the writs of protection presented, when in reality they had continued mining operations, illegally.

Aura/MINOSA used the national media, and mostly local media as a platform to attack the Azacualpa cemetery defenders and the legal and support teams that have accompanied them.

The conflict in Azacualpa is not new.

Going back to the 1990s, mining activity in the municipality has caused the displacement and disappearance of entire communities such as San Andrés, Platanares and San Miguel. The local government along with state institutions have enabled this, facilitating the interests of Aura/MINOSA, alongside other coercive measures, including intimidation, in order to ensure the company’s mining operation.

The behavior of Aura/MINOSA and of the Attorney General show a systematic pattern of aggression against communities defending their sovereignty against these “death projects”.

ASONOG and MADJ call for solidarity of national and international social movements and human rights organizations. We reaffirm that the people know how to make justice a reality, and that, one by one, each and every public officer who has acted in the interest of transnational extractive companies, or who has been an accomplice of these companies, will be held accountable for their actions; they will be held accountable before the people who live in dignity, who work tirelessly for true justice.

Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras March 4, 2019 ASONOG (Associación de Organismos no Gubernamentales / Association of Non-Governmental Organizations) MADJ (Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia / Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice)