Honduran Indigenous Rights Activist Wins 2016 Front Line Defenders Award

Credit: Conor McCabe Photography.

Prominent Honduran human rights defender, Ana Mirian Romero, has been awarded the 2016 Front Line Defenders Award at a ceremony in Dublin on 10 June 2016.

The Award was presented by former President of Ireland, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, Mrs. Mary Robinson.

Accepting the Front Line Defenders Award, Ana Mirian called on supporters of human rights defenders to advocate for the protection of indigenous communities worldwide, who face extreme personal risks working against corporate destruction of their land. She said:

“We don’t fight. We defend. We defend the river because it sustains us – our food, our drinking water, our crops, our animals. We are persecuted and threatened for this, but we do it for our children’s future. We don’t know what more will happen to us, but we are willing and ready to defend what we have.”

Presented annually, the Front Line Defenders Award honours the work of human rights defenders who courageously make an outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights of their communities, often at great personal risk.

In nearly a decade of defending her community’s land and rivers from corporate destruction, Ana Mirian Romero has endured armed raids, physical assault, death threats, and personal defamation campaigns in her home nation of Honduras.

“Our struggle is going to continue,” said Romero in a Skype interview from Dublin with UpsideDownWorld.org.

“With this prize, it is something that gives us more force, and something that reinforces our struggle; it gives us more value to continue.”

Romero has worked tirelessly as a member of the Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz (MILPAH), and San Isidro Labrador Indigenous Council to gain the formal recognition of indigenous lands in the department of La Paz. These organisations have also worked to stop the construction of the

These organisations have also worked to stop the construction of the Los Encinos hydroelectric project along the Chinacla River, which is owned by the Honduran Los Encinos S. de R.L. Company.

Credit: Conor McCabe Photography.
Credit: Conor McCabe Photography.

In 2015, Romero and her community were able to successfully stop the construction of the hydroelectric dam. That year, after nearly five years of organising for the recognition of their ancestral lands, the community won the acknowledgement by the state of their territory. They were also able to successfully stop the construction of the dam. Since 2015, the company has not returned to construct the project.

“This is victory that I’ll always be celebrating because we were able to maintain a free river, and one that isn’t contaminated,” said Romero.

“We managed to do this. These lands and river are in our hands. We’re able to fish in the river without concern.”

The award comes during a year of sustained attacks and threats against many ingenious rights campaigners. Romero’s leadership in defence of the ancestral lands has resulted in her and her family being the target of serious and repeated attacks by the police, the military and armed civilians, all of whom represent the interests of the hydroelectric company.

On 9 May 2016 the human rights defender and her children received death threats and were intimidated by four men in their home in the municipality of Santa Elena, department of La Paz. Back in January of the same year, her home was burned down and her children have been forced to leave school because of repeated harassment.

“Ana Mirian, her husband and their children endure armed attacks, threats, and harassment as she fights to realise their land rights, as indigenous peoples, while also protecting the local environment which ultimately has an impact globally,” said Mrs. Robinson, speaking at the award ceremony at Dublin’s City Hall.

“Environmental defenders such as Ana put their lives at risk to protect the environment not only for the current generation but for future generations. Despite the life-threatening risks to human rights defenders in Honduras, Ana has persevered.

“The Front Line Defenders award is recognition of the work that Ana and so many women like her undertake for the greater common good and I am honoured to confer the award on her here today.”