EU condemns killing of Honduran environmental activist, others

MARCALA, Honduras, July 10 (UPI) — The United Nations and the European Union have condemned the murder of environmental activist Lesbia Yaneth Urquia, killed in Honduras just four months after award-winning environmentalist Berta Caceres was shot.

Both women fought against a giant dam for years, a project that has brought the death of 100 people in five years who oppose it, along with mining, logging and other destructive agricultural projects, human rights groups say.

The dam would flood large land areas and cut off water, food and medicine for hundreds of indigenous people.

The EU, in a statement, said urgent steps are needed to fight to protect such activists, BBC reported.

“The murder of Lesbia Yaneth Urquía adds to the dire list of Human Rights Defenders that were recently murdered in Honduras, including journalist Henry Roberto Reyes Salazar, environmentalist and indigenous leaders Berta Cáceres and Nelson García, and leader of LGBTI community René Martinez, the EU said in a statement.

“This killing as well as the climate of violence that continues to prevail over human rights activists in the country is an extremely worrying development,” the statement said.

The EU said decisive steps should be taken to protect defenders of human rights. That includes the need for impartial investigations that lead to prosecution and indictment, it said, as well as effective protection for other potential victims.

Urquia’s body was found July 6 on a rubbish dump in Marcala about 100 miles west of the capital, Tegucigalpa. She had reportedly suffered a severe head injury.

The 49-year-old mother of three was a member of the Council of Indigenous People of Honduras (Copinh) – the organization founded by Caceres. She had been trying to stop the hydroelectric project in Honduras’s western La Paz department.

“The death of Lesbia Yaneth is a political femicide that tries to silence the voices of women with the courage and bravery to defend their rights,” Copinh said in a statement. “We hold the Honduras government directly responsible for this murder.”

Violence in Honduras has increased since the 2009 ouster of President Manuel Zelaya. A right-wing government that came in after licensed hundreds of infrastructure projects like mines and hydroelectric dams in environmentally sensitive areas.

The violence has not gone unnoticed by U.S. officials, either.

Congressman Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia, put the Berta Caceres Human Rights Act before the House of Representatives that would suspend U.S. security assistance in Honduras until human rights violations by security forces ended.

Caceres was killed in March when two men entered her house and shot her in the head. Four people have been arrested in connection with her murder.

Killings of environmental activists rose 20 percent in one year, according to campaign group Global Witness. The group said there were 116 deaths worldwide in 2014, including 29 in Brazil, 25 in Colombia and 15 in the Philippines.

Activists also faced abduction and other threats if they dared interfere in corporate or state interests, the report said.

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