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Effectiveness of Protection Measures and Mechanisms for Defenders of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: The Case of Honduras

20 June 2016
Photo credit: SOA Watch

Honduras is one of the least secure countries in the world regarding human rights defenders’ safety and rights. Berta Caceres, a courageous environmental and human rights defender in Honduras, was murdered on 3 March 2016, and she is just one name among others.

An event tackling this issue was held on Monday 6 June. It featured three Honduran human rights defenders, as well as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and the representative of the Permanent Mission of Norway, as the country presented a resolution on protecting human rights defenders.

A harsh situation for human rights defenders

The speakers went through a short overview on the difficult situation for human rights defenders, but also the roots and causes of their vulnerability.

In response to the many macro-development projects being planted in Honduras regardless of their impact on communities or the environment, many Hondurans are committed in the defence of human rights and the environment.

Their situation has deteriorated since the Coup d’Etat of 2009 and the degradation in the constitution. The new government has provided many concessions to mining and urbanism projects: more than 50 projects have been accepted since 2013. The main one is the electrical project of Agua Zarca, to which Berta Caceres was protesting and that led to her murder.

Lack of protection measures

Honduran human rights defenders live in constant fear. Berta Caceres was already asking for protection before her assassination but the security ministry did not grant satisfying measures. Even though the ministry has the highest budget of all, it often argues lack of resources when not providing enough diversity of protection measures to human rights defenders. The situation in terms of security is degrading: because human rights defenders are not recognised as a legal figure, they have no special protection measures available.

Honduran human rights defenders in Geneva underlined the necessity to have protection measures adapted to their needs. When the State grants protection, they claim, it is limited to one police officer, but it is difficult to trust the police officer when it is often police agents that have threaten or attacked human rights defenders. Furthermore, they claimed they have to provide food and gas for the police officers to subsist and commute during their shift.

One human rights defender argued they would feel more secure if people from their own communities would play that role of protecting them, it is difficult to trust the armed forces that are so corrupted, however these alternative measures have not yet been ever accepted.

The government of Honduras affirmed that alternatives to traditional protection measures are being studied and that they have the willingness to improve the efficiency of protection.


An important element also is the image that is given of human rights defenders. To improve their protection, the narrative on human rights defenders needs to change. They are often pictured in the media as gangster against development or terrorists, instead of agents of change. Their positive role must be emphasized.

States are not the only responsible for the situation, the important role of transnational companies also has to be taken into account: they are often responsible of the attacks against defenders.


Impunity for cases of murders of human rights defenders such as Berta Cáceres also needs to end.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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