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Human Rights Corner

Human Rights Situation in Honduras

April 27, 2010

The United States believes there was a serious deterioration in the protection of human rights in Honduras after the coup d’état on June 28 and called on the de facto regime to respect the fundamental freedoms of members of the media and individual Honduran citizens and will continue to call for the protection of human rights during the government of President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo.  U.S. policy is composed of unwavering support for democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.  Democratic rule and governance are indispensible elements to achieve stability, peace, and development.  One of the top priorities for the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa is our advocacy of human rights.

Reported allegations of human rights abuses since the June 28, 2009 coup d’état included arbitrary arrests; disproportionate use of force such as beatings and incidents that have resulted in the loss of life; an erosion in what little protection there was before the June coup for the human rights of vulnerable communities in Honduras, including women, the indigenous community, the gay and lesbian community, and the afro-indigenous community; infringements of freedom of expression by individuals and media, and threats against journalists and opponents by the de facto regime.

The U.S. Embassy has been following the situation closely and has repeatedly expressed concern to the Attorney General’s office and individuals who were close to the de facto regime and demanded they thoroughly investigate all serious allegations and that those suspected of these crimes be brought to justice.  The U.S. Embassy meets personally with many human rights groups in Honduras on a regular basis, and has met with many delegations that have visited Honduras from the United States and other countries to hear their experiences and to express the concern of the United States regarding human rights violations.

The Embassy, along with other members of the G-16 donor countries, met with the Attorney General and his team on July 1 to express concern over human rights violations immediately after the coup d’état.  Additionally, the United States issued a press statement on July 3 that expressed “profound concern” about the restrictions placed on fundamental civil rights by the de facto regime as well as reports of intimidation and censorship of various individuals and media outlets.  The July 3 press statement said: “There is no possibility for the country to move forward in a democratic way if the population has restricted access to information and is unable to express opinions without fear of repression.”

The Embassy was instrumental in the drafting of an August 12 letter with the other G-16 donor countries expressing concern over alleged human rights violations to the President of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, the National Commissioner of Human Rights, and the Director General of the National Police.  With regard to allegations of infringements on press freedom, Ambassador Llorens expressed on a number of occasions concern to Miguel Rodas, who was the de facto head of the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) and to Sandra Ponce, the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights.

A troubling development since the coup d’état on June 28 was the de facto regime’s use of decrees to limit the rights of Hondurans.  On September 28, the U.S. Department of State publically expressed grave concern about the decree issued on September 26 by the de facto regime suspending fundamental civil and political rights.  U.S. Embassy advocacy contributed to the decree finally being abrogated on October 5.

The Embassy has made it a priority to express our concerns about human rights violations at all possible opportunities.  On September 29, in an interview on Honduran National Radio, Ambassador Llorens again reiterated the importance of the protection of human rights and criticized the decree that suspended fundamental civil and political rights and expressed the concern of the United States government regarding the decree.

The message has been clear and consistent from the Embassy and the Department of State, where the topic of human rights has been discussed at least 50 times during daily press briefings with the Department of State’s spokesman.  Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Craig Kelly spoke to the press in Tegucigalpa on November 18 and said, “in preparation for the elections, it is very important that authorities respect human rights and at the same time that all actors avoid provocations, calls for violence, because what the country needs is tranquility, an environment of peace to advance toward this very important date for the country.”  Acting Permanent Representative Amselem on November 19 expressed the concern of the United States about the human rights situation in Honduras during a special Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council meeting and called on all parties to respect fundamental freedoms.

The United States recognized the difficult situation Honduras faced on election day on November 29 and noted that there were no widespread reports or allegations of violence or the inability of Hondurans to cast their vote peacefully.  Two independent electoral assessment missions with internationally-renowned expertise in evaluating the technical aspects of elections were conducted in Honduras on Election Day.  The National Democratic Institute (NDI) concluded that “election day was generally peaceful and orderly.  No systematic problems in the process were reported by Honduran domestic election monitors or political contestants.”  The International Republic Institute team concluded their members “witnessed an election free of violence and overt acts of intimidation.”  Additionally, the domestic monitoring coalition Hagamos Democracia, which deployed observers nationwide and conducted a statistically valid sample of all polling stations, noted that more than 99% of voters experienced no problems with exercising their right to suffrage.

In addition, the Embassy sent reporting teams to 16 departments in Honduras on Election Day and reported conditions consistent with the conclusions of NDI and IRI.  Although initially overestimated, the final verified official voter turnout of approximately 50 percent is consistent with past voter turnout in Honduras.  We commended the Honduran people who viewed the election as an important part of the solution to the political crisis in their country.

Article 21 of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights and Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights affirms the right of every person to express their political will through a vote.  The electoral process was launched in September 2008 long before the coup d’état and the magistrates were selected before the coup.  The election of the President, Congressional representatives and mayors, enshrined in the Honduran constitution, was an inalienable expression of the sovereign will of the citizens of Honduras.

We welcome President Lobo’s January 19 agreement with President Fernandez of the Dominican Republic in which President Lobo made a commitment to “head a government that respects human rights, where there will be a full enjoyment of the civil liberties and where no Honduran citizen will be persecuted for their political convictions, religious or otherwise."  We note that the amnesty bill passed by Congress on January 26, 2010 does not pardon the crime of violating human rights.

The U.S. Embassy expressed its grave concern on March 2 about recent incidents in which it appeared individuals who expressed political opinions, especially regarding the coup d’état of June 28, were targeted for violence and intimidation.  Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative W. Lewis Amselem condemned these killings on March 17 during a session of the OAS Permanent Council.  Mr. Anselem said, “we are deeply concerned about recent events in which it appears that individuals who express political opinions, especially regarding the coup d’état of June 28 – either for it or against it are targeted for violence and intimidation.  As we said here last month, freedom of expression is central to the preservation of democracy, and limitations on that freedom constitute attacks on democracy itself.”

The U.S. Department of State released on March 11 the 2009 Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Honduras covering the period between January 1 to December 31, 2009.  In a press release on the same day, the Embassy again expressed concern about the deterioration in the human rights situation following the June coup and committed itself to work with President Lobo to improve the protection of human rights.

In an interview on March 23 with “El Heraldo” newspaper, and again in a televised interview on April 18, Ambassador Llorens again reiterated the U.S. view that there was a significant deterioration in human rights after the June coup and that the U.S. Embassy called for investigation and prosecution of those guilty.  Ambassador Llorens said the U.S. was pleased by recent actions by President Lobo committing his government to the protection of  human rights: President Lobo on February 18 signed the Chapultepec Declaration, committing the Honduran government to respect freedom of the press and expression; Secretary of State of Security Oscar Alvarez on March 4 publicly expressed his commitment to the full investigation, including through the establishment of a special investigative team, of recent cases of violence reportedly committed by the police; President Lobo on March 12 created the position of presidential advisor for human rights; President Lobo’s government announced on April 8 that it plans to create a human rights observatory entity that will better coordinate the government response to human rights allegations.

We continue to closely monitor the situation of journalists and note with concern that seven journalists have been killed in Honduras since March 1.  Ambassador Llorens told reporters on April 21 in Tegucigalpa that freedom of the press is fundamental and the U.S. hopes authorities will quickly investigate and prosecute those responsible for these troubling crimes.

The U.S. Embassy looks forward to working with the newly appointed Presidential Advisor for Human Rights Ana Pineda and the rest of President Lobo’s government and will continue to demand that authorities fully investigate and prosecute the human rights violations tied to the coup d’état, as we do with all human rights violations.