Increasing violence and lawlessness in Honduras could soon spiral out of control, according to the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights should establish a presence in the Central American country “without delay.”

In a letter to High Commissioner Navanethem Pillay, LWF General Secretary the Rev. Martin Junge urged her “to take note of the alarming violence in Honduras that can easily become much worse and even affect other countries in the region.”

Junge noted that violence has recently increased, especially over land issues. On Aug. 15, the bodies of three women and two men were found in the northeastern region of Bajo Aguan, near a ranch peasants tried to take over after the landowner had withdrawn his offer to sell 4,000 hectares to landless farmers.

On Aug. 21, the vice-president of the Unified Movement of Campesinos of the Aguan (MUCA) was murdered along with his wife in their home in Concepcion. Over the last two years, 35 peasants and security guards employed by the large landowners have been killed.

“Currently, killings and other human rights abuses are being carried out with impunity. There are no satisfactory investigations. There are no independent international observers. The press are in fear of their lives. Twelve journalists have been killed since the 2009 coup,” Junge noted.

He said it is particularly worrying that there is evidence of Colombian paramilitary collaboration with landowners in Honduras. “The tension is growing ... and the fear of many civil society observers is for the situation to escalate into an internal armed conflict,” the LWF stated.

The letter acknowledged that the facts in the Bajo Aguan situation are “highly disputed,” with Honduran President Porfirio Lobos calling the peasants “drug traffickers that want to take control of land,” and the former President Manuel Zelaya alleging that paramilitaries have been contracted to assassinate peasant leaders in the area.

The LWF member church in the country, the Christian Lutheran Church of Honduras (ICLH), is directly affected. Last Christmas, the Lutheran congregation in the La Colonia La Union community of San Pedro Sula was unable to celebrate Christmas services because of killings on the street where the church is located, Junge wrote.

The general secretary said that international scrutiny brought by the presence of the Office of the High Commissioner would help deter the violence, strengthen those in Honduras who are working for justice and draw attention to the plight of those being forced off disputed land.

In addition to ICLH's work, the LWF Department for World Service works with marginalized and vulnerable community members in Honduras in leadership development, training for citizen participation and participation in community networks.