President Porfirio Lobo Sosa appointed former Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein to organize the truth commission called for in the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord on Thursday. The commission will be aided in its work by officials from the OAS, who will provide technical support but not be members of the commission. As we have noted previously, this truth commission is not the result of a desire by the Honduran parties to the political crisis to discover truth, but rather is a condition imposed on the Honduran government through international pressure, especially from the United States, as part of the Teguicalpa-San Jose Accord.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a 46 page guide to outline the basic principles and approaches to truth commissions. This guide identifies three critical elements that should be present if a country is about to implement a truth commission. First, there must be the political will to allow and encourage a serious inquiry into past abuses. The violent and repressive processes must have stopped. Finally, there must be an interest on the part of the victims and witnesses to past abuses to have an investigation take place and to cooperate with it.
Clearly Honduras already has a problem. There is no "will" in the current government to carry out a "serious inquiry into past abuses". Left to his own devices it is likely that Porfirio Lobo would not be forming a truth commission, as he and the rest of the political elite have emphasized their desire to "move on" through elections and the replacement of the de facto regime, and have moved legislatively to insulate those responsible for the coup from prosecution. It is only the pressure of the United States in making it a requirement for full normalization of relations and the resumption of critically needed international aid that is bringing about Honduran participation in a truth commission.
The illegitimate government of Roberto Micheletti and its Human Rights commissioner, Ramon Custodio, couldn't even bring themselves to recognize that there were human rights abuses being committed even as the international community was telling them all about it. Porfirio Lobo has not said one word about human rights either before or since his election. Will it be part of the truth commission's mandate? I doubt it.
Maria Antonieta de Bogran, one of the three presidential designates for the current Honduran administration, has emphasized that the purpose of the truth commission will be to look at the events before the 28th of June that led up to what happened on that day. Thus, a pro-coup agenda expressed throughout the months by Roberto Micheletti and his faction, the claim that if people just listened to them events before June 28 would be found to have justified the coup, is what the truth commission is being prepared to pursue.
The second critical element defined by the UN has not been met in Honduras either. The violent repressive processes have not stopped. As recently as last Tuesday, two cameramen for Globo TV were kidnapped and tortured by people they identified as plain clothes police who asked them where the money and arms were from the "cuarta urna" campaign. On January 27, 2010, Reporters Without Borders published a report on press freedoms in Honduras since June 28, 2009 which called for the new government to stop the existing practices limiting freedom of the press and threats on journalists. It called on the national Congress to adopt new laws that would promote the diversity, independence,and pluralism in the existing press.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says a truth commission should be established through a process of consultation and a careful consideration of its mandate. The consultation process increases public understanding of what the truth commission is, and strengthening its mandate through public input gives it the public perception of legitimacy. Consultation should include both victimized communities and civil society organizations.
Maria Antonieta de Bogran said that "President Porfirio Lobo has clearly said that this is a situation that he will honor, that we Hondurans are the ones who have to plan, meet, and organize the reach and the method by which we will form and operate this commission."
Notice, however, that to date there has been no mention of public consultation within Honduras about the truth commission or what its mandate will be. Instead, an ad hoc organizing committee, with the support of OAS technicians, is defining the mandate, and recommending the commissioners.
This procedure increases the perception, publicly voiced by the Frente de Resistencia today, that the truth commission is intended to simply whitewash the coup. Porfirio Lobo has chosen to exclude some sectors of civil society, such as the Frente de Resistencia, from all of his "consultation", and thus, cannot, through the processes he has set in motion, reduce social polarization, or assure the perception of the legitimacy of this truth commission.
By not following the guidelines and "best practices" suggested by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, the Lobo administration has set up conditions so that the truth commission, which was intended, according to the wording of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord, to promote a national consensus, has already failed.