Carbon Offsets worsening a Human Rights Crisis in the Lower Aguan, Honduras

February 28, 2012
by 
Mary Durran, International Programs Officer for Latin America

For most people, the mention of the Kyoto Protocol does not evoke an association with the tropical lowlands of Honduras, nor with human rights abuses.

Yet Development and Peace’s Honduran partner, the Popol Nah Tun Foundation, come face to face every day with an unpleasant and less well known facet of the Kyoto Protocol – the Clean Development Mechanism, an important component of the global carbon trading market.

The CDM allows industrialized countries to meet a part of their greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by funding emission-reduction projects in developing countries. The financing countries then earn carbon credits for these projects, which can be offset against their emissions reduction targets.

One such project is CDM Project 3197: ‘Aguan biogas recovery from Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME) ponds and biogas utilisation - Exportadora del Atlántico, Aguan/Honduras’, a project that has also received funds from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and the Inter-American Investment Corporation.

The palm oil for biofuel project is run by the Dinant Corporation in an area where land conflicts have pitted peasant organizations against large landholders, resulting in numerous executions, illegal arrests and incidents of torture of peasant leaders resisting land grabs.

An international meeting on human rights that was held recently in the Aguan (Photo: Caitlin Power Hancy)The Popol Nah Tun Foundation has played a key role in supporting peasant organizations who benefitted from land reforms in the 1970s, and whose lands have since then been illegally sold. Many peasant cooperatives have faced opposition from large landowner Miguel Facusse Barjum, owner of the Dinant Corporation.

While the human rights situation was already serious prior to the June 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras, it has since become critical, as paramilitaries in connivance with army soldiers have executed and threatened peasant leaders, activists have been put in prison on trumped up charges without proper trials and the intimidating presence of heavily armed men has become routine.

The Interamerican Comission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed concern on the human rights situation in the Lower Aguan, noting the executions of 42 individuals between September 2009 and October 2011, in the context of an agrarian conflict.

According to reports by local and international human rights organizations, security guards employed by the Dinant Corporation have had a direct role in the Lower Aguan agrarian conflict. Witnesses have reported that security guards of the Dinant Corporation were responsible for the assassination on November 15 2010 of five farmers in El Tumbador, after a violent eviction from land the farmers had occupied.

An international meeting on human rights that was held recently in the Aguan (Photo: Caitlin Power Hancy)Development and Peace is co-funding a human rights centre that was set up in the Aguan region at the end of 2011 in response to this human rights crisis. Although human rights organizations based in capital city Tegucigalpa are following the situation in the Aguan region, in practice, given the distance involved, it is not possible for these organizations to effectively cover the Aguan. The new human rights centre will document the human rights violations, provide legal assistance to victims and training to grassroots human rights defenders. It will also look at the links between carbon offsets projects such as the CDM and human rights violations, and advocate so that funds intended to protect the environment do not serve to violate human rights.