Honduran authorities say they are investigating the killings of activists Felix Vasquez and Jose Adan Medina.
Honduran authorities said on Wednesday they were investigating the murders of two indigenous activists and leaders killed in separate incidents over the weekend.
On Sunday, Jose Adan Medina was found shot dead in a remote location in the community of El Volcan, also in western Honduras. Medina was a member of the indigenous Tolupan group.
Felix Vasquez, longtime environmental activist of the indigenous group Lenca, was shot by masked men in front of relatives on Saturday at his home in Santiago de Puringla.
Vasquez, who was seeking the nomination of the opposition Free Party to run for Congress, had fought for years against hydroelectric projects and land abuse. National elections are scheduled for March.
Alice H Shackelford, UN resident coordinator in Honduras, called for the assassins in Medina to be held to account.
“What a sad end of 2020! Another human rights defender murdered! The indigenous Tolupan chief Adan Mejia! Justice and zero impunity! Prompt investigation and identification of culprits as soon as possible, ”Shackelford said on Twitter.
How sad this end of the year! Another murder of human rights defenders! The indigenous Tolupan chief, Adan Mejia! Justice and zero impunity! Rapid investigation and identification of culprits ASAP! @ONUHN @OACNUDHHN @CONADEH @sedhonduras @ Presidency_HN
– Alice H. Shackelford (@aliceshackel) December 30, 2020
Yuri Mora, spokesman for the Honduran prosecutor’s office, said the Ethnic Groups and Cultural Heritage Office was investigating Vasquez’s murder. He said investigators carried out searches and were about to call people to make statements, but no arrests had been made.
He said Vasquez had filed complaints with the prosecutor’s office in the past against hydroelectric projects and land management issues.
The Honduran National Human Rights Commission has condemned the two murders and said it will investigate. He confirmed that Vasquez had reported threats and harassment. The committee called for protective measures for Vasquez in January 2020, but they were never implemented.
Rafael Alegria, coordinator of the non-governmental organization Via Campesina in Honduras, said Vasquez had filed complaints and reported threats since 2017, but the government never acted.
Alegria, himself a former national lawmaker, said activists have for years denounced the harassment of mining, logging and hydroelectric companies, as well as large landowners in the department of La Paz.
“There is a terrible union of interests in western Honduras,” Alegria told the Associated Press news agency. “There is constant persecution of farmers and indigenous communities. They murdered Bertha Caceres in Intibuca and now Felix Vasquez, and others have been threatened.
Caceres, also an environmental activist from Lenca, was killed in March 2016 when gunmen stormed into her home and shot her dead. Her murder gained worldwide attention in part because she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.
She fought for years against a dam project. Several men have been convicted of her murder, but her family continues to seek justice against those believed to be the masterminds.
Honduras is considered the fifth deadliest country for activists, with 14 land and environmental defenders killed last year, up from four in 2018, according to data made available by advocacy group Global Witness.
Dania Cruz, spokesperson for the National Police, said she was investigating the Vasquez and Medina murders, but told local media she would not share additional information to avoid interfering with investigations .