Honduran farmers sue World Bank private lending arm over human rights violations

Palm oil trees. (Aul Rah/Flickr)

Honduras is notoriously the most deadly country for land rights activists, including the farmers fighting to retain their land from the palm oil industry. Now, some of those farmers have sued a branch of the World Bank over hundreds of human rights violations.

EarthRights International (ERI) filed the federal lawsuit yesterday on behalf of the farmers, who say the World Bank’s private lending arm – the International Financial Corporation (IFC) – knowingly financed and helped palm oil company Dinant carry out violence and abuse against farmers resisting their projects in the Aguan Valley region.

The lawsuit also claims Dinant used paramilitary death squads to carry out these crimes, which included the disappearing of local land defenders.

This is the first time a community has sued the IFC in federal court for aiding and abetting crimes related to a project funded by the World Bank Group.

“The horrendous spate of violence that followed the IFC’s loan to Dinant is probably one of the most severe instances of corporate-related human rights abuse and financier negligence in the past decade,” ERI’s lawyers said in a statement.

ERI said that more than 100 farmers have been killed since the IFC’s first loan to Dinant in November 2009. Over the years, the IFC has invested tens of millions in the company, despite Dinant’s ongoing attempts to seize large swaths of land owned by local farmers for decades.

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Even after the IFC’s internal watchdog scolded IFC for the 2009 loan, ERI says that the World Bank Group continued supporting Dinant via an opaque system of financial intermediaries.

The abuses have been devastating for farmers in the region.

“We have lost our compañeros, they have left our children without fathers, it’s been difficult to move forward, we live from our families and our land and now we are left with nothing,” said one woman given the pseudonym Juana Doe III by ERI. “We want justice and the ability to raise our children again. We have to move forward.”
Honduras is dangerous for land rights activists, but is the world’s deadliest country for environmental activists. One acclaimed Honduran environmental activist, Berta Cáceres, was killed by two unidentified men in her home last year, and her colleague with the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), Nelson García, was slain two weeks later.
Many fight the infiltration of companies that cultivate palm oil – a cheap edible oil with high global demand – which are routinely accused of failing to use sustainable practices and for seizing land that farmers have lived on for years. Rights advocates say such injustices often lead to violence and abuse of uncooperative farmers, which is exacerbated by a context of inequality and discrimination.
One of ERI’s attorneys told TeleSUR that the victims want compensation for a range of abuses and are hoping to highlight the impact of systemic land grabbing in the region.
They also seek to expose the lack of accountability and transparency between state institutions in Honduras, the attorney said. Crime and justice watchdogs in the country say more than 90 percent of crimes remain unpunished, especially when the culprits are in positions of political or economic power. Although Honduras has one of the highest rates of violence against human rights defenders in the region, advocates say it’s among those with the fewest tools to confront it.
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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com