Donald Hernandez is a human rights lawyer co-ordinating the human rights and natural wealth work of CEPRODEC, the Honduran Centre for the Promotion of Community Development. He also plays a prominent role in the National Coalition of Environmental Networks and Organisations (CONROA). He works with peasant and indigenous communities training and supporting them to defend their collective rights and to resist the invasion of their lands by mining and energy companies.As a lawyer, he represents over 30 criminalised human rights defenders.
"Our organisations have been working in the affected areas, talking about rights, seeing the defence of these territories from the point of view of human rights: the right to water, the right to a healthy environment, the right of these communities to life itself. We understand these rights as being interdependent. When one right is undermined, this will erode other rights. So our communities, and their leaders are empowering themselves to the point where they insist on consultation processes with the government and business leaders." Donald Hernandez
Since the 2009 coup Honduras has declared itself “open to business” and encouraged foreign companies to take up mining concessions. Over 300 mining concessions have been approved. Powerful Honduran families who supported the coup have also been granted concessions to rivers for hydroelectric developments for periods of 50 years. The view of development espoused by the Honduran state is in conflict with the philosophy and way of life of the communities Donald works with. Indigenous communities do not have documents recording their rights to their ancestral territories, but now politicians and businesses are appearing with title deeds to their lands. The communities feel betrayed that their rights, which they thought were protected in law, have been violated.
When Donald contest such a case, he starts a long and tortuous process to demonstrate the innocence of these people, who in place of imprisonment while waiting for the hearing, are forbidden from entering the area of conflict, which is where they live. So their right to food, to life and to a healthy environment is denied. And the legal authorities are indifferent to the specific conditions of these groups.
Public protest is criminalised, protest action labelled as terrorism. Leaders of communities defending their territorial rights are imprisoned, awaiting trial. By the time the legal process has run its course and they are released, their lands have been occupied by mining companies.
Through his collaboration with human rights organisations in other Latin American countries, Donald has brought specialist knowledge to his legal work:
"When we go to court we take copies of the international conventions such as the ILO Convention 169 or the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with the relevant articles highlighted so that the judges will read them. But they refuse to read them and only apply domestic laws which have not been updated to reflect the obligations that we have in relation to the international conventions which the Honduran government has ratified." Donald Hernandez
Donald is also involved in a campaign to fight a law passed in 2012, promoted by Monsanto, which prohibits the sale of locally produced seeds. This is an unconstitutional law, which robs peasants of their customary right to produce and market seeds.