U.S Human Rights Observer Team Returns from Honduras with Troubling Report
Tegucigalpa, Honduras- Nine U.S human rights observers returned to the United States this week after an intensive twelve-day investigation of the country’s worsening human rights crisis. Team members had been closely following events in Honduras since the June 28, 2009 coup d’etat that ousted democratically elected President Mel Zelaya at gunpoint. “In the last two years since the coup, despite the supposed election of current President Pepe Lobo, there has been as many as 200 political assassinations of members and leaders of the growing popular resistance front known as the FNRP- Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular,” says Tanya Cole-director of the human rights group Witness for Peace Southwest. Several human rights organizations that are part of the U.S Honduras Solidarity Network assembled this emergency observation team to travel directly to the Aguan basin of Honduras where recent killings of campesino leaders and police/military raids of campesino communities have left dozens dead and hundreds as internal refugees. “While we were in the Aguan Region, there were two police/military raids on the same community (Los Rigores- September 16, 19) in which 22 people were temporarily detained, tortured and threatened with death. A 16 yr old was drenched in gasoline by the police and threatened with being burned. All the detainees were released with no charges filed,” reports Vicki Cervantes of Chicago’s human rights group La Voz de los de Abajo.
The US State Department recently lobbied for the re-entry of Honduras into the Organization of American States as part of an agreement facilitated by Colombia President Santos and Venezuela President Hugo Chavez in May of this year known as the Cartagena Accord. The US State Department was quick to recognize the 2009 election of Pepe Lobo while most nations in South America and Europe still do not recognize the current government of Honduras because of the political climate during the 2009 elections and the continued concerns about human rights violations in Honduras. “I am particularly concerned that the US government is perpetuating gross human rights abuses by providing military funds and training to the Honduras security forces. An example of this is the $40 million recently given by the State Department,” responds Dale Sorensen of the California based human rights group Task Force on the Americas. In May of this year 87 US congress members signed a scathing letter addressed to US Secretary Hillary Clinton regarding the continued human rights violations in Honduras asking the state department and US Embassy in Honduras to speak out against violence targeted towards human rights defenders and journalists.” When we asked the new US Ambassador Lisa Kubiske if the embassy had complied with any of the asks of congress, she replied the letter pre-dates her and “there is a time to speak out and a time not to,” quotes Brian Stefan Szittai of the Cleveland based organization Inter-Religious Task Force on Central America.
The Observer Team’s preliminary findings show that the Honduras government is not completing its part of the Cartagena Accord, which includes: 1. Free return of all exiles to Honduras with out fear of prosecution. Four are already exiled again and one is under house arrest. 2. Investigations and prosecutions for political assassinations. There continues to be a 90% impunity rate and increase in politically motivated killings. 3. The allowance for the registration of the FNRP has a political force including the creation of a new political party. In the weeks leading up to the ratification of the FNRP’s new party, the FARP, there were 3 political assassinations of leaders of the FNPR leaving an unsafe environment for the political process to freely move forward. 4. Beginning the process for a new constituent assembly to re-write the constitution. This process has not been able to proceed and many claim was the trigger for the military coup that took place June 28, 2009. “It is clear the current Honduran government has not complied to the Cartagena Accord nor made a concerted effort to complete its commitment. Even more concerning is that there are reports of threats recently made by Honduran police against international human rights groups working in the Aguan Valley,” reports observer team member Corinthian Davis of the Chicago Religious Leadership Network.
Preliminary recommendations from the September Observer Team’s findings are 1. International Human Rights Organizations increase their attention on Honduras as the electoral process is pursued by the FARP and the land struggle continues in the Aguan Basin of Honduras. 2. That US congress and State Department take concrete and public action to condemn human right violations in Honduras and withhold military/police aid from Honduras while Honduran military and police agents continue to be complicit in forced disappearances, illegal raids, illegal detentions and human rights violations across the country.