When people’s environments and human rights are threatened, they have the right to safely express their discontent through protest. The right to freedom of opinion and expression is a well-established civil and political right in both national and international law, and is fundamental to the concept of democracy and the respect of human dignity.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information through any media and regardless of frontiers,”
and Article 3 maintains that:
“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
Nonetheless, environmental and human rights activists all over the world are often denied these rights when their ideas and actions conflict with the status quo. Their lives may be put at risk when they offer resistance.
Here, Juan Almendares from Friends of the Earth Honduras offers a personal testimony about how his rights have been threatened throughout his life for defending human rights and environmental justice.
Poverty violence and environmental justice
“First of all, I consider myself as belonging to the people of Honduras and to humankind with all the rights that brings. They say we were ‘discovered’ more than 500 years ago, but the reality is that we had already discovered ourselves. For in the veins of my people runs a rainbow of blood: the indigenous peoples of Honduras, the Mayas, Chorties, Lencas, Pech, Tawakas, Misquitos, Nahuales, Tolupanes and Garifunas, and the English speakers of African descent, mixed with the Spanish, Latin Americans, English, German, French, Italians, Arabs, Jews, Asians and other families from different parts of the globe.
I was born and raised in an environment of poverty and violence, where alcoholism and prostitution flourished. When I was six years old, the government ordered the schoolteachers to make us witness the execution of a prisoner. I still remember the trauma of seeing how they blew out the brains of this man who had been deprived of his freedom. When I was eight, someone was commissioned to assassinate my father in order to take away a piece of his land, and I saw him almost decapitated. As a child I saw campesinos at the United Fruit Company kill each other with machetes while under the effect of alcohol, and I saw soldiers assassinate the campesinos.
I was educated with ideas borrowed from the North. I did part of my studies in the United States, where I felt the racism in my living flesh, but I also got to know the solidarity and the generosity of those North American people who opposed the wars in Vietnam, Central America and Iraq. I have learned to differentiate between the managers of imperialism and the beautiful solidarity and conscience of the people.
I am a doctor and physiologist who combines scientific with popular knowledge. I am learning to be a healer, and how to use medicinal plants from indigenous people and campesinas.
I have been condemned by death squads in my country for defending human rights and environmental justice, for helping poor people, and for my anti-imperialist conscience. I am still alive thanks to the solidarity of my compatriots in the North American, European, Third and Fourth Worlds.
The government’s policies are based on an authoritarian, fascist and militarist ideology. This has led to diminished welfare expenditures in health and education while police and military security expenses have increased. Parallel to this has been a promotion of the idea that children and young people are the cause of violence in Honduras, and they are assassinated daily by death squads in a policy of social cleansing. It is estimated that 549 minors were killed in 2002, and 370 in 2003 (House Alliance, 2003).
The case of Honduras shows how deeply linked the violation of human rights is with environmental justice.
Love and solidarity can build peace, environmental justice and human rights. Let our fight become a love poem to humanity and Mother Earth, and let the uniting of different cultures become a reality.”
We believe in…
This page and the above link are extracts from the Friends of the Earth International publication Our environment, our rights.
The Cartagena declaration on human and environmental rights.