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Access to Justice

Where the dead can finally rest

Great news from Honduras: the highest court has blocked a mining company from digging up bodies to access gold.

Flores Mira Lopez, 59, from Azacualpa in Honduras. Photo Garry Walsh Flores Mira Lopez, 59, from Azacualpa in Honduras. Photo Garry Walsh

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 priorities profit over people and the planet.

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 country’s largest open-cast mine, the San Andreas 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.

Last year, I met Floresmira (59) in Azacualpa. We sat on a small veranda outside her home as her grandchildren played close by. She told me about her father who passed away 8 years ago. “He was tender, he was a lovely man,” she said.

Her father’s remains lie in the cemetery, which is at the top of a hill near Floresmira’s home. It was cordoned off when I visited. I could see flowers on some graves and tombs but it was obvious that the bodies in others had been exhumed.

Floresmira at her home in Azacualpa. Photo : Garry Walsh Floresmira at her home in Azacualpa. Photo : Garry Walsh
The graveyard of the community of Azacualpa. Photo : Garry Walsh The graveyard of the community of Azacualpa. Photo : Garry Walsh

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 agree, I didn’t want them to take him out”, she said. “So I stood there and told them to put him back.” I could see pain but also determination in Floresmira’s eyes as she spoke.

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. Trócaire’s partner MADJ were among the organisations who supported the action.

Now, after a lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court in Honduras has ruled in the community’s favour. The company cannot exhume bodies from the cemetery.

The San Andres mine in Honduras, the largest open-cast mine in the country. Operating since the 1980s, the Candian owned mining company, Aura Minerals, have now been told by the Supreme Court that they can’t dig up the graveyard of the community of Azacualpa. Photo : Garry Walsh The San Andres mine in Honduras, the largest open-cast mine in the country. Operating since the 1980s, the Candian owned mining company, Aura Minerals, have now been told by the Supreme Court that they can’t dig up the graveyard of the community of Azacualpa. Photo : Garry Walsh

“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,” she said after the ruling.

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.

Watch our short six minute documentary to learn more about this story:

Trócaire is campaigning for global rules to hold companies to account for environmental and human rights abuses.
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