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Business and Human Rights

Where the dead can finally rest in peace

All Floresmira Lopez wanted was for her late father to rest in peace. She did not expect to be on the frontline resisting the global rush for natural resources that often prioritises profit over people and the planet.

Flores Mira Lopez (59) from Azacualpa in Honduras opposes the-exhumation of her fathers remains by a mining company. Garry Walsh Flores Mira Lopez (59) from Azacualpa in Honduras opposes the-exhumation of her fathers remains by a mining company. Garry Walsh

Yet this is what happened when a mining company starting digging up bodies in her community’s cemetery to access gold deposits below the graves. Floresmira (59) lives in Azacualpa, Honduras, which is right beside the San Andreas open-cast mine. Operated by a Canadian company, Aura Minerals, huge quantities of gold have been extracted since the 1980s. There is still more gold to be extracted, and even the dead were not going to stand in the way of the goldminers. That’s until Floresmira and other community members won a landmark legal action in Honduras’ highest court to stop the exhumations. It represents the courage and perseverance of the community against powerful big business. Her father’s remains lie in the cemetery, which is at the top of a hill near Floresmira’s home.

“He was tender, he was a lovely man,” she says of her father who passed away eight years ago. Floresmira explained that she was at home when she heard that the mining company was digging up her father’s grave to access the gold deposits below. She raced to the cemetery, grabbed a stick and, with her children, insisted the workers place her father’s body back in his grave.

“I didn’t want them to take him out”, she said. “I stood there and told them to put him back.” Families in Azacualpa town have buried their dead in the cemetery for 200 years. Therefore, Floresmira was not alone in objecting to the exhumations. Local community members, families of some of the deceased, and the local parish priest all spoke out in resistance.

Floresmira and others launched legal action against the local municipality for allowing the exhumations to take place without their consent. Through our local partner MADJ, Trócaire was among the organisations who supported the action. After a lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court in Honduras ruled in the community’s favour. The company cannot exhume bodies from the cemetery.

“I am happy that they are not going to pull out my father again,” said Floresmira. “I will always be there for him. No one will pull him out.”

The victory brings hope to communities around the world who are resisting the actions of big businesses which trample on human rights in the pursuit of profit. In Honduras, there are many more communities at risk of losing their land due to mining projects. Since a military coup in 2009, much of the natural wealth of the country has been opened up to global big business for extraction. Local communities are not consulted about these large projects and see no benefit from the abundance of natural resources on their lands. Furthermore, industries often damage community’s resources by polluting the environment.

Trócaire and Irish Aid funding helps advocating for human rights in Honduras

Through the generous support from Irish Aid and the Irish people last year, Trócaire’s work improved the lives of 2.7 million people in some of the poorest countries in the world. Partners’ advocacy efforts contributed to UN member states raising serious rights violations issues at the UN Universal Periodic Review of Honduras. In countries such as Honduras Trócaire  have supported communities to confront powerful government and corporate entities that seek to deprive them of their right to land, water and even identity.

In June 2020, Trócaire released a research report analysing the impact of extractive industries on women in Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya and Myanmar. The study showed a clear need to address gendered impacts of large-scale land based investments and a key role for civil society organisations in supporting women and communities in raising their own voices.

Trócaire and Irish Aid will continue to support the protection and defence of human rights in countries such as Honduras by documenting violations, providing legal aid, taking legal cases, supporting human rights defenders and providing psycho-social support.

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