Sunday, October 31, 2010

What is a Universal Periodic Review

November 4th.

That's the day that the UN conducts hearings as part of its Universal Periodic Review of the state framework for human rights in Honduras.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a once every four years dialogue between the 47 members sitting on the Human Rights Council and the national government of the country under review, plus any registered non-governmental organizations that ask to participate. The result, no sooner than 2 days after the hearing, is a report which contains a summary of the discussion plus a series of recommendations for the national government. It is up to the national government to carry those recommendations out. It is up to the UN to hold the governments accountable for non-compliance.

In the case of Honduras, the submissions can be found at the UN Office of the High Commissioner website here. The submissions include the government's report to the Human Rights Council, in every UN official language, a compilation of UN agency comments on conditions that arose since the last review, a summary of comments by third parties, and a series of questions submitted in advance by governments who are part of the Human Rights Council.

Honduras's own report was submitted on August 23, 2010. The report Honduras submitted is about the government structures, rules, and regulations that support the various areas of human rights that Honduras must report on in its periodic review. A quick review of the recent submissions by other Central American countries suggests that this is the correct content. The entire report consists of 134 paragraphs.

Paragraph 4 of Honduras's submission states
"The approach adopted in the universal periodic review involved the various Government agencies and branches of the State, all of which provided input to this report in their own areas of competence."
Except, of course, when they did not provide input.

A Tiempo article from Saturday noted that according to sources in the Executive branch, the report was completed without the collaboration of the Ministry of Security or the Supreme Court.

After a brief introduction, paragraphs 7-13, on the current political situation in Honduras, contain just about the only references to the coup of June 28, 2009 and the subsequent human rights violations that continue through the present. Paragraph 8 notes that Porfirio Lobo Sosa has complied with the terms of the Guaymuras Accords. Paragraph 9 identifies the official truth commission and its mission statement. Paragraph 12 lumps all human rights violations, from any time period, together and notes that investigations are either ongoing, or the cases have been determined to be common crimes.

Paragraphs 14-37 discuss political and civil rights, including the right to life, integrity of person, eradication of torture, prisons, access to justice, and freedom of expression.

Paragraphs 38-74 are concerned with economic and social rights, such as health, education, culture, ethnic groups, work, housing, and food.

Paragraphs 75-125 are concerned with the rights of vulnerable groups, such as some ethnic minorities, women, children, migrants, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered people, the old, disabled, and the right of everyone to a healthy environment.

The remaining paragraphs contain the report's conclusions.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNOHCR) conducted its own review on each of the above topics over the last year. For example, there is a report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, another Special Rapporteur's report on extrajudicial killings, another on the independence of judges, and so forth. Each of these reports presents the UN's own take on the topic in question, and was available to the government of Honduras in crafting its own report. In addition, collectively the reports are summarized in a UN document included in the paperwork of the UPR for Honduras.

The UN paperwork notes that sixteen stakeholders submitted comments on the report, and provides a 14 page summary of those comments. You'll need to read Spanish, English, and French to take in the whole document, since not everything has been translated. The ten page Amnesty International submission from April, 2010 is located here on the UN website. Article 19, a group interested in freedom of the press, published their comment on their own website, located here. The other comments are probably filed in the same document archive as the Amnesty report, but I did not take the time to locate them.

Finally, there are a series of questions that the countries that make up the Human Rights Council have compiled. The countries who submitted questions include the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, and Switzerland. Their questions primarily focus on human rights violations arising out of the events of June 28, 2009, the de facto regime, and that of Porfirio Lobo Sosa.

A group of three representatives from the Human Rights Council, representatives of Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation, will compile a summary of the discussion and a series of recommendations for Honduras after the meeting. Honduras will then have a chance to respond to this document, and then it will be adopted in a subsequent meeting.

Honduras will be represented in the hearing by several cabinet ministers and presidential advisers, including Maria Antonietta Guillén, Áfrico Madrid, and Ana Pineda. Also representing Honduras will be the head of the legislative committee concerned with human rights, Orle Solis, and the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, Sandra Ponce. The hearing will last 3 hours on the morning of November 4.

The UN may broadcast a webcast of the hearing. Currently only webcasts for November 1 are listed. Technical note, the webcast requires Real Player be installed.

Monday, October 25, 2010

IACHR Hearings on Honduras

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will hold hearings this afternoon on two petitions brought by Honduran and international NGOs against the government of Honduras.

The first hearing, on the implementation by Honduras of precautionary protective measures, was brought by the Comté Familiares de Detenidos, Desaparecidos de Honduras (COFADEH), the Equipo Reflexión Investigación y Comunicación de la Compañia de Jesús (ERIC), the Centro de Investigación y Promoción de Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH), and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL).

The protective measures in question were ordered by the IACHR for persons whose life was considered endangered after the coup in 2009. The petitioners allege that the government of Honduras was incapable of training the police in the importance of following these protection measures.

Approximately 600 people in Honduras have these protection measures for having protested against the coup. In its last visit to Honduras, the IACHR concluded that the government's efforts to carry out these protective orders were few, late, deficient, and in some cases, nonexistent.

This hearing will be broadcast live on the internet from approximately 3:15 - 4:15 pm EDT today. You can find the Council's schedule and agendas here, along with links for the internet streaming broadcasts in English and Spanish.

The second hearing, on the right to freedom of expression is scheduled for 4:30-5:30 pm EDT. This petition was brought by the Programa de Legislaciones y Derecho de la Comunicación (AMARC-ALC), the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), and Article 19, International Media Support (IMS).

The petitioners allege that the government of Honduras failed to carry out the orders of the IACHR with respect to protecting journalists and suggest some mechanisms for protecting the journalists in Honduras.

You can locate the links for the broadcasts of this session in English or Spanish along with the Commission's Agenda here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The "Right" to Part Time Work

Juan Orlando Hernández, the head of the Honduran Congress, is concerned about human rights, just not the human rights you or I would think about.

He's not concerned about the killings, beatings, kidnappings, and torture that go unpunished, documented by international and national human rights organizations; he's concerned about the right of workers to work part time.
"It is an attempt against human rights in Honduras not to go ahead and approve the Law of Part Time Work....What we can't stop doing in Honduras is making decisions, and that we are doing."

Hernández spoke in response to unions, who declared that anyone in favor of the Law of Part Time Work was their enemy.

Lets look at the proposed law in the context of human rights.

Article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, says
"Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment."

So, looks like the UN Declaration on Human Rights supports Juan Orlando Hernández, right? This language is copied word for word into the Honduran constitution as article 127. The new Law of Part Time Work will result in a larger pool of jobs according to every economic analysis.

But not so fast. Article 23.3 of the Declaration goes on to say
"Everyone who works has a right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity...."

The new Law of Part Time Work will allow violation of this clause of the International Human Rights Declaration.


Current employment law in Honduras requires full time permanent employment. The underlying reasoning behind this was that people and families should be able to support themselves with an existence "worthy of human dignity" if employed full-time, so long as the minimum wage kept pace with the cost of living. We all know that didn't happen, but that was the reasoning behind current employment law.

Clearly the Law of Part Time Work is a pro-business law. It reduces the cost of operation, increasing profits. Fewer full time employees means less paid in benefits; companies can choose to employ people for less than full time and adjust to fluctuations in demand. Think seasonal employment during the shopping season leading up to Christmas in the US.

The new law allows up to 40 percent of the employees of a business to be part time workers. As part time employees, to earn a living wage, they would have to combine multiple part time jobs, without receiving the benefits a full time worker at a single job would. So, while there may be a larger pool of jobs, many of them will come with few or no benefits, and will not by themselves support an individual or family. To make up for the lost benefits, a part time worker will need to work more hours per week than a full time employee works.

Fewer people overall will have access to benefits under the new law supported by Juan Orlando Hernández. Fewer people overall will earn enough to feed and house themselves and their families.

Fewer Hondurans will have access to "an existence worthy of human dignity". That's the human rights dimension here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

1.3 Million versus 200

The Unión Cívica Democratica (UCD) held a rally a couple of days ago in Tegucigalpa. Crowd estimates in the press vary between 100 and 200 people. Among the crowd were former members of the golpista regime of Roberto Micheletti, including María Martha Diaz and Martha Lorena Alvarado, and the right wing pundit, Jorge Yllescas. Jimmy Dacaret, their leader, read a statement questioning the intentions of the government in even discussing with various civil groups their view on a constitutional convention, since
"the Hondurans have it clear that the only reason to install a constitutional convention is to make possible presidential reelection and change our democratic system."

Another speaker, Secretary of the National Register of Persons, Fernando Anduray addressed an unveiled threat at Porfirio Lobo Sosa, saying
"we are your friends, the white shirts, who put you in power, but just as there was a constitutional succession, we could do it again."

The UCD group ended their rally with their mantra "No one is above the law."

Hearty bravado, but not the kind of rhetoric that Honduras needs now. Threatening to carry out another coup is hardly pro-constitution speech.

Compare the small size of this crowd with the 1.3 million people who signed the petition for a constitutional convention. They're not threatening to topple the government because they don't like what its doing, but they do want to change it, in a legal fashion. They can see beyond the red herring of "presidential reelection" to find meaningful changes to the constitution that would let them participate in decisions, and to give them a better life.

Let's let Porfirio Lobo Sosa answer the UCD:
"In the discussions there were different positions, some to one side, others that didn't want to talk, and some who didn't understand others. In the middle is the large majority of different organizations that want peace, that want dialogue, that want that there be changes in Honduras, that will bring about a bettering of the conditions of life in our country..... I understand there are some who don't want anything to change, because no doubt they are doing well, but there is a large group of Hondurans, more than 80 percent, who say that there have to be changes, because the majority is not living the life they have a right to."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An Official "NO" to Halloween

"I take advantage [of this] to issue a call to all the population, especially the Christian population, so that they will prevent their children from participating in celebratory events that are not part of the Honduran nationality nor of our culture, like the satanic festival of Halloween; this is not part of our culture, nor of the beliefs and traditions of our country."

So says Áfrico Madrid, Minister of the Interior and Population. In a statement to the press covered in El Heraldo, Madrid said Honduras would not allow foreigners into the country who were planning to carry out satanic rituals during Halloween. Madrid said
"these are charlatans, defrauders who take advantage of the innocence of the people or their superstitious beliefs."

Using the law of public good, mayors were instructed to stop any such activities that have as a goal defrauding the public.

All of this because, again according to El Heraldo, a cemetery worker in Santa Barbara found what he said were the remains of a satanic ritual on a grave when he came to work a few mornings ago: photographs, blood, knives, cigars, and crosses made of corn. This, El Heraldo stated, was evidence that wizards and witches from different countries had met in the Santa Barbara cemetery to hold diabolical rituals. Only Jorge Canahauti's newspapers carried these two stories.

We are reminded that Santa Barbara was also the setting for the famous novel by Ramon Amaya Amador called Los Brujos de Ilamatepque ("The Sorcerers of Ilamatepeque") about two former soldiers of Francisco Morazan, the brothers Cipriano and Doroteo Cano, who are accused by the oligarchy in Santa Barbara of being practitioners of black magic and are killed by a firing squad. The story is a fictionalized account of a historical event documented by Rubén Angel Rosas in his book Tradicciones Hondureñas. The novel's exploration of the conflict between unthinking suspicion of new ideas and a kind of conservative traditionalism seems all too pertinent.

Halloween itself is a distinctly North American celebration, of course, and in that sense, it would not be surprising if a nationalist call were made to refrain from this foreign celebration. Most countries in Latin America celebrate the Day of the Dead (November 2) and All Saints Day (November 1), which are Roman Catholic holidays. During this period people will clean up cemeteries and visit the graves of loved ones. But what is being called for in Honduras is less a return to national traditions and more another blurring of the lines between secular practices, religion, and the conservative politics that guided the coup.

Making it much clearer what is at stake here, the presidential advisor on religion, Carlos Portillo, said that the government was preoccupied with the values of the country and would be organizing events for people to pray to support the Armed Forces of Honduras at various locations around the country. Portillo also announced an evangelical rally (he called it a crusade) to be held the 31 of October in Tegucigalpa. So, no satanic rituals: just the perversion of religion in the service of a kind of jingoistic patriotism.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

OAS Admission Redux

(Traveling so infrequent access for posting over the next two weeks)

Apparently within a couple of weeks, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza will present a report to the OAS on conditions in Honduras. The report will address the state of human rights in Honduras, and Zelaya's safe return to Honduras.

Insulza says the report will present enough information to let governments decide if they want to readmit Honduras to the OAS or not. He said that in the coming days he hopes he will have more positive information to complete his report, sufficient to convene the OAS and contemplate the changes.
"If you consider those two points resolved you can vote for the readmission of Honduras into the OAS,"

said Insulza. He added
"If those who carried out the coup would have known the bad that was going to come to them, probably they would have waited until the elections; they were only 6 months [away]. What happened was that there, among them were some that thought they would stay for more time, the reaction of the international community stopped them."

Insulza repeated his belief that the solution to the problems in Honduras lies with Honduras a member of the OAS rather than outside it.

El Heraldo seems to have missed this story so far, and instead covered a separate Insulza statement, one he made a couple of days ago in Mexico to the effect that the constitutional altercation will be over in Honduras when those responsible for the coup are tried in court. Insulza added,
"Its not a caprice the solidarity that the OAS countries maintain on this theme, but it deals with a key element to guarantee the existence of an effective democracy in Honduras"

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Emergency Foretold

The Lobo Sosa government seems to exist only between the emergencies. First there was the agricultural emergency in which the government, two weeks before the end of planting season, realized it needed 12,000 more acres of beans to be grown this year to avoid shortages, and allocated money and seed to farmers to encourage planting of beans.

Then there were the many emergency decrees resulting from the natural disasters like tropical storms Agatha and Matthew, where roads, bridges, and hillsides have collapsed, been destroyed or otherwise become useless, with significant impacts on industries such as coffee that need to ship their products to market.

Another emergency decree called for the construction of jails. Honduran jails are terrible, with prisoners having all kinds of contraband, including weapons, cell phones, and drugs. The facilities are run down, even by Honduran standards, and in recent years over 100 prisoners were killed when an electrical fire swept through a prison near La Ceiba. A new maximum security prison is under construction near Choloma, and there's one near Tegucigalpa, but Security Minister Alvarez wants more because he plans to arrest more criminals. This emergency decree allows for private investment in prisons, as we do in the US.

Another emergency decree was against dengue, a mosquito borne fever that has killed over 70 Hondurans this year. The coup in 2009 brought a halt to the mosquito eradication programs that had been successful in keeping mosquito populations, and therefore dengue infections, at a low level.

There have been emergency decrees because of the high violent crime rate in Honduras as well. This has brought us the unified police and military patrols that confound best practices for either group. The military aren't trained to maintain civilian order. They don't know the law and so repeatedly violate civilians' rights; but then, so do the police.

Now it's the emergency foretold, a bean shortage. Yesterday in the council of Ministers, yet another emergency decree, for the purchase of ten million lempiras worth of beans on the international market. This is made necessary by the loss of nearly 60 percent of the annual crop this year because of rain and flooding. These beans will be stored by the government in its own grain silos and distributed through the BANASUPRO stores that sell government subsidized food.

At the beginning of July, beans sold on the open market for about 28-30 ($1.47 - $1.58) lempiras for a five pound measure. By the end of August, that price had risen an average of 16 lempiras ($0.80) to 45 lempiras for a five pound bag of beans. By October 4, the end-of-August price had more than doubled to 100 lempiras ($1.05 per pound), or more than three times what beans cost in July.

A bean shortage due to losses from heavy rains, this time in October, also happened in 2008. However, then, the price never exceeded $0.72 a pound in pulperias. In 2009 the Zelaya government put in place a strategic reserve to prevent the recurrence of this shortage. The de facto Micheletti regime sold the strategic reserves to raise cash for itself in 2009.

Honduras is facing a similar situation to El Salvador, where just this week beans rose from $0.55 to $0.95 per pound, and to Nicaragua, where in the same time period, bean prices rose from $0.64 to $0.97 per pound. Nicaragua will allow its commodity brokers to import a large quantity of beans from elsewhere duty-free. The government of El Salvador will buy beans directly for sale, as will Honduras. All three Central American governments have promised they will closely supervise their commodity brokers to see that there is no hoarding or speculation.

Beans are an essential protein source in the average Honduran's diet. Meat and eggs are luxuries but beans are eaten at every meal. These price increases mean that some Honduran families will go without necessary food this year. The newspapers already have stories about entire communities on the edge of starvation with no government help in sight. The Lobo Sosa government's emergency decrees will not help there.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Talking About Constitutional Conventions

Now that he has both a Secretariat of Justice and Human Rights, and a newly appointed Ana Pineda, as head of that executive branch post, Porfirio Lobo took time out from celebrating the 432nd anniversary of the founding of Tegucigalpa in 1578 on Wednesday, to answer a question from the press, (paraphrasing) "What about these rumblings about holding a constitutional convention?"

So what about a constitutional convention? Well, talking about asking the populace if they'd even like to hold a poll about the issue got Manuel Zelaya Rosales thrown out in a coup.

However, the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular has gathered 1.3 million signatures in favor of a holding a constitutional convention. Lets think about that number for a minute. 1.3 million signatures is more people that voted for Porfirio Lobo Sosa in the flawed November 2009 election. Lobo Sosa received 1.2 million votes!

Lobo Sosa's critics have repeated the charge that even talking about a constitutional convention is illegal over the last several days. Juan Ramon Martinez, that bastion of golpismo, was interviewed on Channel 12. It is his belief that "the constitution establishes as a crime all actions that as a result of calling a Constitutional Assembly have a goal of eliminating the "stony" articles and others". Spanish legal scholar Francisco Palacios (and others) demolished this argument more than a year ago. We wrote about that here.

Juan Ramon Martinez was joined in his condemnation by Jorge Illescas, pundit, who alleges that holding a Constitutional Convention violates the Tegucigalpa/San Jose accords. Those accords were violated by Micheletti and have no legal effect at this point. In any event, the language in it only embargoed Zelaya and Micheletti from advocating for a constitutional convention, not successor governments or third parties as is the case here.

Lobo Sosa replied to the reporters question. He said
"What's the problem with this? What's the problem? What I have to do, my moral duty, is to invite the sectors to dialogue; its a topic we have to discuss, its a mandate I have, from my people (country), its my frame of mind to discuss; I like to dialogue with all the sectors and hear them."

Today Lobo Sosa invited the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular and the Resistencia Liberal to meet with him on Monday, October 4, before meeting with a wider audience that includes the churches, the political parties, the Unión Cívica Democrática, and other civil society organizations. The invitation letter to the FNRP says Lobo Sosa wants to know the scope of their proposal for a constitutional convention.

Note that he said he liked to discuss/dialogue. He didn't make any promise to act to convene a convention as a result.

Acting has already been proscribed by his Presidential designate and Presidential Minister, María Antonieta Guillén de Bográn, who said that a Constitutional Convention is not in the vocabulary of this government. She instead noted that this government was committed to the National Plan (Plan de la Nación), a 28 year set of objectives for reforming Honduras.
"In the National Plan this word ("constituyente") does not exist."

She said that Lobo's dialogue proposal is to bring together all civil sectors in a grand national accord through the National Plan. Lobo Sosa echoed this goal in a statement released to the press today:
"I am sure I will have a chance to meet with everyone together and reach a grand accord for the good of the country."

A year ago supporting a constitutional convention could get you arrested; having actually worked for one could result in trumped up political corruption charges from the Public Prosecutor's office. It contributed to a coup in Honduras.

A recent posting on Quotha shows just how odd times are now. Coup supporting media star Wong Arevalo held a poll of his audience on who wanted a constitutional convention. Eighty seven percent (of a statistically unrepresentative sample) said "YES".