The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the attack in Honduras on April 13, 2017, carried out against Moisés Sánchez, General Secretary of a chapter of the STAS union of agricultural workers, and his brother, Misael Sánchez (pictured), who is also affiliated with that labor union.
According to information provided to the IACHR, as well as publicly available information, the brothers had left the union office in the department of Choluteca and were bicycling down the road when they were violently attacked by four hooded men armed with guns and machetes. Misael Sánchez was wounded in the face with a machete and had to be hospitalized for four days. The attackers reportedly threatened Moisés Sánchez, telling him to stop his union activity if he wanted to avoid future attacks. The Commission urges the State to investigate and clarify the circumstances in which this incident took place and, as the case may be, identify and punish those responsible.
According to the information received, this attack took place in a context of labor violations affecting workers at melon farms in Honduras, 80 percent of whom are women. The IACHR was informed that workers in the region have encountered a series of violations, such as below-minimum wages, no proportional vacation, long work schedules, no payment for extra hours, no social security contributions, arbitrary dismissals, and inadequate health conditions at work, including exposure to chemical products, among other problems. It has also been reported that employers in Choluteca are anti-union.
In 2016, melon workers in Honduras decided to form the STAS union (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria y Similares), which is affiliated with the FESTAGRO federation. The IACHR was told that the union’s creation led to a number of workers being illegally fired and threatened. The IACHR was also told that workers and union leaders from various companies in the region are harassed for their activities, and that FESTAGRO leaders who supported the melon workers’ organizing efforts were also subjected to harassment and death threats beginning in August 2016.
Union leaders play an essential role in defending the human rights of thousands of workers striving for better working conditions and are the political voice through which organized labor articulates its labor-related and social demands. The right to form labor unions and the right to collectively bargain and otherwise strive to protect one’s labor rights are protected under the freedom of association. Freedom of association means the power to form unions and set in motion their internal structure, activities, and programs of action without interference from government authorities that would limit or encumber the exercise of that right; it presupposes that every individual is free to decide, without any form of coercion, whether he or she wants to join a union. States must therefore allow the free exercise of union rights, recognizing the autonomy and independence of labor unions, and must ensure that human life and personal safety are fully respected when an individual exercises his or her union activities.
The IACHR urges the State of Honduras to take all necessary measures to guarantee that union leaders can carry out their work of denunciation, monitoring, and protection, free from acts of violence that may endanger their life, integrity, and safety.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.