Honduras sentenced by the Inter-American Court for the murder of an environmentalist
For the first time, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recognizes that "there is an undeniable connection between the protection of the environment and the realization of other human rights."

San José, May 8, 2009.- On May 6, the Inter-American Court issued the judgment of the Kawas Fernández case against Honduras. The Inter-American High Court accepted the state's acquiescence for violations of access to justice and judicial protection and condemned it for violating the right to life, personal integrity and freedom of association of Blanca Jeannette Kawas Fernández. It also acknowledged that the right to personal integrity of Kawas family members had been violated.


This case refers to the murder of the above-mentioned environmentalist, which occurred on February 6, 1995, while she was at her home in Tela, Honduras. Kawas was the president of the Foundation for the Protection of Natural Resources of the regions of Lancetilla, Punta Sal and Texiguat (PROLANSATE). She had reported cases of illegal logging, attempts by individuals and private entities to illegally seize the Punta Sal Peninsula, damages to the National Park and other protected areas, and publicly opposed various economic development projects in the area.


The Inter-American Court established that "although the murder of Blanca Jeannette Kawas Fernández obeyed certain particular interests, it is inferred from the specific circumstances of it that the crime was facilitated by the intervention of persons who acted under the condition of State agents”. It also took as proven the fact that "at least one State agent participated in the events that ended the life of Kawas Fernández and that those acts were motivated by the environmental defense work carried out by Mrs. Kawas Fernández".


This is the first time that the Inter-American Court recognizes that "there is an undeniable relationship between the protection of the environment and the realization of other human rights" and comments on the murder of an environmental defender. In this context, it noted that, "given the importance of the role played by human rights defenders in democratic societies, the free and full exercise of [freedom of association] requires the States to create legal and factual conditions in which they can freely carry out their activities" It also referred to the intimidating effect of the death of Jeannette Kawas and the impunity in this case and in those of other people who are dedicated to the defense of the environment in Honduras or are linked to this type of causes.


The Court had as proven that during the decade after the death of Blanca Jeannette Kawas Fernández there were acts of aggression, threats, and executions of several people dedicated to the defense of the environment in Honduras, and points out that despite this, Honduras "It has not implemented a comprehensive policy aimed at the protection of human rights defenders, and in particular environmental activists."


Faced with this reality, the Court ordered the State of Honduras to create a national awareness-raising and sensitization campaign, aimed at security officials, justice operators, and the general population, on the importance of the work carried out by environmental defenders in Honduras and their contributions in the defense of human rights. In addition, it ordered the construction of a monument in memory of Blanca Jeannette Kawas Fernández and the naming of the national park that bears her name.


The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), as well as the Team of Reflection, Research and Communication Company of Jesus (ERIC), representatives of the victim and her relatives in this case highlight the historical value of the judgment of the Kawas case, particularly in the context of violence that environmental defenders still face in Honduras. In addition, they hope that the State of Honduras will immediately adopt effective measures to comply with the provisions of the Court, as a first step to prevent events such as those mentioned in this case from happening again.


It is worth remembering that the judgments of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights are unappealable and binding for the member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) that have accepted their jurisdiction.


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