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On October 13, 1,500 Honduran refugees began the long arduous journey from one of the most violent capital cities in the world in search of respite and peace. The majority of those seeking a chance for survival were young people, women and their babies.
Pueblo Sin Fronteras or People without Borders, who organized the foot march says the aim is to draw attention to the plight facing the migrants at home and the dangers they run during their attempts to reach safety in the US.
Every single migrant had his or her own personal reason for fleeing. For some, especially the young people, it was direct threats or acts of violence towards themselves or their loved ones. For others, it was the oppressive Honduran government that has been opposing people’s justice movements, or it was the fear of what would become of their children because of unemployment and starvation.
Two days later on October 15th, the caravan had grown to an estimated 3,500 by the time it reached the Guatemalan border.
Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua all belong to a migratory convention called The Central America-4 Free Mobility Agreement (CA-4), it is akin to the Schengen agreement in Europe, which allows nationals from 26 countries in the Schengen area to legally enter and reside in each other’s countries. Though this agreement exists, officials in Guatemala and El Salvador have met the caravan with hostility and armed suppression.
Citizens of Honduras and other Centro American countries have been paying the price of U.S. foreign policy atrocities since the beginning of the cold war, with their lives and that of their loved ones. Since the 2009 Honduran coup d’état that put economic elites in charge of the most important sectors of society, the country has been on a never-ending binge of oppression and violence. While this instability has no doubt strengthened the rise of gang violence in the streets, the government’s own tactics of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, protest suppression and the jailing of political prisoners have added to the upheaval happening at this very moment.
On Sunday October 21, as the 7,000 person strong caravan reached the Mexican border of Tapachula in the State of Chiapas, Donald Trump fired off a series of tweets, expressing anger towards central american governments inability to halt the progression of the foot march.
“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S. We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them,” Trump wrote.
An estimated 258 million people, approximately 3 per cent of the world’s population, currently live outside their country of origin, many of whose migration is characterized by varying degrees of compulsion. Migration is a fundamental human right. We have no right to forbid or stigmatise, we only have the power to try to do so.
Follow the stories: #CaravanaMigrante
We lament in the assassination of Marielle Franco, an Afro-Brazilian sociologist and politician gunned down in Rio de Janeiro the night of March 14th by masked men while sitting in a car with her driver, who was also killed in the attack. Marielle was a prolific activist, a hard-hitting politician and constant voice for the impoverished.
Marielle grew up in favela in northern Rio de Janeiro, and became a rising luminary in activism and politics, a rare status for a black woman from a marginalized community. In 2016, she was elected as a member of the left-leaning Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) known for her social work with the poor and marginalized, and for her outspokenness against police violence disproportionately targeting black Brazilians.
Hours before her murder, during a panel discussion on women’s empowerment, she uttered the quote by Audre Lorde: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Her cowardly murder has taken place two years and 10 days after the execution of Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental activist killed by Honduran state actors.
We stand in solidarity with the tens of thousands of protesters in Brazil and around the world and denounce this obvious state-sanctioned slaying and demand justice for Marielle Franco, justice for Berta Cáceres and for the hundreds of land, environmental and human rights activists needlessly slain by their own states over the past decade.
Marielle, rest in power.
#MariellePresente #NiUnMenos #VivasNosQueremos #JusticiaParaMarielleFranco
El Salvador’s recently held mid-term elections on March 4, saw a staggering overturn of political power as right-wing parties overtook the senate and major municipal seats in San Salvador, La Libertad and Santa Ana; and much could be said about the ‘debacle.’ At the same time, human rights defenders and survivors are celebrating the exoneration and release of two Salvadoran women unjustly incarcerated in for miscarriages many years ago.
Last year, El Salvador experienced 3,605 homicides, a 1,675 reduction from 2016. As multitudes rise up in outrage against the country’s oppressive justice system and high rate of gender-based violence, El Salvador continues to be one of the most dangerous countries to be a woman.
2017 National Statistics
More troubling is that the factual number of violent cases against Salvadoran women and girls are most certainly much higher than the statistics represented above because victims do not report becasue of fear of retribution and impunity. It is important to note that the majority of these victims suffer abuse in their own homes at the hand of men most close to them.
2018 Women’s March in San Salvador
Silvia Juárez, program coordinator for the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace in El Salvador (ORMUSA) stated that women “are still not equal. The profound root of violence against women is inequality. We are considered human beings of less value.” On the eve of International Women’s day, a vigil was held in San Salvador and on March 8, over 3,000 marchers took to the streets to protest the country’s widespread inequality and violence against women. Their demands were simple: dignity and respect for all women and reforms to the healthcare and judicial systems.
That same day in Morazán, 600 protestors marched through the streets of San Francisco Gotera, confronting important judicial courts and even the town hall, while chanting slogans like “We don’t want flowers, we want justice!”
In 2016, 176 cases of domestic violence and 72 acts of sexual violence were reported in Morazán. According to the Citizen Network of Morazán Women (the Network), though down from the 14 official reports in 2016, five cases of femicide were invisibilizedthis year. The Network consists of 8 municipal associations scattered throughout the department with the mutual objective of promoting and defending the human rights of women. They accomplish their goals through combining unity, education and protest.
Women’s Day in Morazán, 2018
Gender-based violence is so prevalent in Morazán that it has led to the Network and other local organizations to begin to develop a community based approach to facilitate the recovery of victims and their families by educating communities and service providers, offering victims immediate and long-term support, and holding relevant institutions accountable. Fortunately, this interrelationship of Morazán leaders exemplifies a support network of local women who can identify effective solutions to support victims of violence and their families in resource-constrained settings.
2016 was a dynamic year for Voices. We said goodbye to old friends and opened the door to new ones. We began an extensive education revitalization project in Bajo Lempa, started supporting women’s empowerment in Morazán and even joined in on environmental justice protests in the capital San Salvador.
This year is even more special because we turn 30! Since our inception in the refugee camps until now, we have never deserted our communities and are committed to being a critical source of support for them now, and in the future.
Read our report to find out what our partners have been up to, the large scales issues they are facing and how Voices has been working hard in collaboration with leaders to find solutions to issues and pathways to accomplishing goals.
At 4:45 am yesterday morning, three unknown assailants raided the offices of Pro-Busqueda, a human rights organization in El Salvador that for more than 19 years has worked to reunite families separated during the country’s 12-year civil war.
The assailants held a driver and night watchman at gunpoint while they destroyed files and computers, doused offices with gasoline, and set them on fire. A statement sent around by Pro-Busqueda yesterday afternoon said that the attackers targeted the offices most vital to their work, destroying archives and files related to cases that they have pending in the judicial system. When the attackers left, the night watchman and driver were able to free themselves and put out the fires with hoses
Ester Alvarenga, a Former Director of Pro-Busqueda and a member of the technical team said that the assailants had done the most damage in the administrative and advocacy departments. She also made it clear that they have all of their information backed up so it was a not a total loss.
Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales, who visited the scene shortly after the attack said it was well planned and was reminiscent of attacks on human rights organizations during the 1980s. He also said there hasn’t been an attack like this on a human rights organizations since the end of the war.
The specific reasons for the attack remains unclear, but it is likely related to cases pending in international and domestic courts related to the forced disappearances of children during the war. This past Monday, the Constitutional Court suspended evidentiary hearings against former members of the armed forces who did not attend their habeas corpus hearing, during which Pro-Busqueda was scheduled to present evidence they have collected against the defendents.
Just last month the Catholic Church closed Tutela Legal, one of the leading human rights organizations in El Salvador. The organization housed an extensive collection of evidence and documents related to human rights abuses committed during the civil war. The closing of Tutela Legal and the attack on Pro-busqueda come as the Constitutional Court considers constitutionality of the Amnesty Law, which has protected war criminals from being prosecuted for atrocities committed during the 1980s.
Tutela Legal and Pro-Busqueda are not the only organizations and people with evidence and records that could be used to prosecute crimes committed during the civil war. The Human Rights Institute at the University of Central America (IDHUCA) and others have been collecting evidence and documents since before the war ended, and could also be a threat to those who risk prosecution.
In March Voices staff had a conversation with Benjamin Cuellar, the director of the IDHUCA, about the Amnesty Law and the lack of transitional justice after the war. Instead of treating the Peace Accords as the beginning of the peace process, the Salvadoran government and many international stakeholders were too quick to declare peace and put the war in the past, ignoring issues of justice. But it is difficult if not impossible to achieve peace until there is also justice.
René Emilio Ponce, one of El Salvador’s most notorious generals and the son of Sensuntepeque judge and treasurer José Ponce, died last week in a San Salvadoran hospital of complications following an aortic aneurysm. Ponce is an important figure given his national influence and regional political power in Cabañas. His post-war position was the president of the El Salvador Military Veteran’s Association (ASVEM) further cemented both his power and his less than sterling reputation. According to editors at the Hague Justice Portal, ASVEM’s “main mission is to lobby the Salvadoran government to oppose any efforts to lift the Amnesty Law that currently protects its most influential members.”
Ponce’s military career was marked by alleged cruelty and crimes against humanity. Though he only rose to military prominence during the second half of the civil war, Ponce embraced his post as defense minister and army chief of staff. In 1989, bolstered by his military cohort La Tandona, a group of high-ranking officers all from the same army academy graduating class, Ponce is accused of ordering the killings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. A year after this massacre occurred at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), he was promoted to general. In 1992, however, he was forced to step down when the U.N. Truth Commission released a report implicating Ponce in the UCA killings. Due to the Amnesty Law passed in El Salvador the year following, Ponce was never tried or punished for his crimes by a Salvadoran court.
At the time of his death, Ponce was being tried in absentia in a Spanish court brought by the relatives of the murdered priests, accusing him of assassination and crimes against humanity. His death means that these families will never see Ponce brought tried for the crimes of which he is accused, and many human rights activists have expressed regret that he died with total impunity.
Ponce leaves behind a wife and three children.