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Human Rights Defenders
Dina Meza glanced over her shoulder at the man sitting at the table behind us at the Intercontinental Hotel.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said.
The man, who had a bit of a paunch, thinning hair, and was typing on a laptop, did not look menacing to my colleague Daniela and me. But then, we were not the ones who have been receiving threats on our life due to our work. We were not the ones who had to go to the U.K. in order to escape the escalating danger.
We trusted Dina when she said it was time to go somewhere else.
Dina, with dark hair, almond eyes, and a bright smile, is a journalist and human rights defender in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She works with COFADEH, the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras, as well as being active in movements in defense of rights of women and campesinos (peasants). She worked on radio programs for COFADEH and for the Women’s Movement for Peace.
I fell in love with Sambo Creek the moment we turned onto the sand-swept main road, just as the sun was setting. A Garifuna village on the north coast of Honduras, the strong sense of community was immediately evident. Naum, our host from OFRANEH (Organizacion Fraternal Negra de Honduras) met our car and walked us through the village. He greeted every man, woman, and child we passed by name.
“Are you from Sambo Creek originally?” I asked Naum.
“I was born here, raised here, and I will die here,” he answered, in a tone of voice that implied he did not feel stuck, but rather would not want to live anywhere else.
As the security situation continues to deteriorate in Mali I have become more and more worried for human rights defenders active in the country. Today I managed to contact a woman human rights defender (whrd) who participated in our October workshop for West Africa. During our conversation I learned a lot about the nature of the threat posed to human rights defenders in Mali and the necessity for rapid action to protect those at risk.
Until recently this WHRD had been staying in the Northern city of Gao. which has been controlled by the Islamists since March of last year. She told me that the situation is very tense, and that it has gotten worse since the beginning of air strikes by the French military.
In fact, yesterday, the spokesman for the Islamists declared that, by launching an attack on them, the French have "opened the gates of hell." Although the Islamists say they will only target soldiers, civilians are the ones who have had to bear the brunt of the violence so far and they'll likely suffer the most from this escalation of conflict.
Human rights defenders who have been active in the region are particularly at risk.
I arrived in Honduras 10 days ago, having been warned about the dangers of the country and the dire situation facing human rights defenders.
It was a little strange to hear the phrase “they don't like it because they want to be perceived as Robin Hood,” during a discussion in Spanish on attempts to close down independent community groups in the barrios of Caracas.