Friday, April 27, 2012

Arturo Corrales: Corrruption Accusations are OK

Arturo Corrales doesn't get it.

The Honduran Police are corrupt.  There are over 5000 open investigations of police officers for criminal acts, human rights violations, and acts of corruption.  In addition, its commanding officers don't feel that they are bound by Honduran law.

An example of this is the revelation that in 2010 the police commanders allowed the registration of 143 assault rifles, which are banned from private ownership by Honduran law.  The charges, against the highest police officials, including former police commissioner Ricardo Ramirez del Cid, and ex head of the investigative police, the DNIC, Marco Tulio Palma.  Palma has also been charged with aiding in the escape of four police officers wanted for the murder of two university students.

Into this corruption comes the Comisión de Reforma de la Seguridad Pública , an oversight group charged with cleaning up the police, judges and legislators.  This commission consists of three national members, and two international members.  Lobo Sosa asked Chile and Canada, his go-to countries for foreign yes men, for nominations to the commission.

But in order to be credible, this commission, and its members, must be beyond reproach.  No one has raised doubts about the Honduran members, nor the Canadian member. The Chilean nominee, General Aquiles Blu Rodriguez, is accused of corruption in his own country; specifically with appropriating 20 kilograms of cocaine from drugs confiscated by the Chilean Caribineros, taking money confiscated from suspected drug traffickers, and changing an official police report to protect the child of a former director of the Carabineros.

Congress person Augusto Cruz of the Christian Democrat party called on Lobo Sosa to reject General Blu given the accusations against him.
"We can't have him in Honduras when there are already doubts about his participation in acts associated with drug trafficking."

Arturo Corrales told the press that none the less, General Aquiles Blu will be part of the commission.
"We had knowledge of this before the news broke; his curriculum vita is impeccable, his resume is untouchable. There is nothing more that we can do except thank President Piñera, and the Chilean government who have sent us someone with such an excellent record of service in the Carabineros of Chile."

Corrales rejects the charges against General Blu, arguing that Blu resigned when the charges were announced in Chile, but other sources report that Chilean President Piñera passed over Blu because of the accusations and forced him to retire.  The charges were serious enough that Blu, according to Chilean sources, was forced to resign, and the Director of the Carabineros, General Eduardo Gordon, whose son Blu was protecting, resigned amidst scandal.

While Chilean sources seem to think the charges were substantiated and resulted in Blu's forced retirement, really the truth or falsity of the charges doesn't matter.  There's too much at stake in reforming the Honduran police, for there to be a place for anyone whose antecedents have been publicly questioned.  His mere presence on the commission will call into question the validity of everything it does.  How can the Honduran people have confidence in such a commission when one of its members is accused of the kinds of acts it seeks to eliminate from the Honduran police?

Arturo Corrales doesn't get that, but Matias Funes does.  Funes is one of the Hondurans appointed to the Comisión de Reforma de la Seguridad Publica. He met with Porfirio Lobo Sosa Thursday to point out that what Honduras needs is renowned people who will help clean up the image of the police, and not people who have questions about them.  Funes expressed his preoccupation that Blu is not what Honduras needs.  Lobo Sosa replied that he was sure that Chile had sent an appropriate person.

If General Blu is the honorable man that Corrales believes him to be, he will recuse himself rather than taint the commission's work with the corruption accusation against him.  Yet press reports in Honduras say he will arrive to begin work in the next few days.

Arturo Corrales doesn't get it, and if Lobo Sosa allows Blu to serve, he doesn't get it either.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Shooting down drug planes

In an interview with Mexico's newspaper, El Universal, Honduran General Rene Osorio Canales says he wants to shoot down drug planes.  This, he says, is a better solution than legalizing some drugs, a measure considered by Central American Presidents at a recent meeting.  Osorio rejected Guatemalan President Perez's attempts to get legalization discussed because "the youth would have more freedom (presumably to use drugs) and we would be more polluted (presumably with drugs)."  Given that less than a month ago, on March 30, Osorio seemed to be against shooting down suspected drug planes as being illegal under international law, this change of heart is interesting.

Shooting down drug planes is not a new suggestion.  Here he's echoing Juan Orlando Hernandez and others in the Honduran Congress who, because of their political aspirations, are anxious to be seen as hard-line anti-drug without actually having such a legislative record.  Juan Orlando Hernandez first embraced this strategy after a meeting with US officials in the United States.

Nor is shooting down drug planes a new suggestion in the world.  Its been done, at least twice in the Dominican Republic in recent years, but only after trying to force the planes to land.  Likewise, the United States has encouraged the military of Colombia and Peru to adopt such anti-drug plans.

In his interview with El Universal, Osorio maintained the polite fiction that following and forcing down the drug planes was already the policy of the Honduran Air Force.  In reality, the Honduran Air Force does not intercept planes and force them to land at a controlled airport, or at least, they've never publicly reported a success at doing that.  This was the policy from the 1980s to at least 2004 when a drug plane they fired warning shots at, then crashed in the department of Lempira.  They report following drug planes, but they have not reported successfully forcing one to land at a controlled airport in the last 8 years.

Osorio, at least, realizes that legal changes must happen before Honduras could actually legally shoot down a plane suspected of carrying a cargo of drugs.  Brian E. Foont, in a review of the law and international incidents published in 2007 in The Journal of Air Law and Commerce goes over the state of law regarding the downing of civilian aircraft.  There's this international treaty called the Convention on International Civil Aviation or Chicago Convention.  The Convention neither bans, nor permits the shooting down of civilian aircraft but sets up that each nation's airspace is sovereign, and that it is international case law and reports of groups like the ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organization) that establish the current norms about how civilian aircraft may be treated by national military forces.

In 1986, the ICAO, proposed adding  amendment 3bis to the Chicaco Convention which reads in part:
The contracting states recognize that every state must refrain from resorting to the use of military weapons against civil aircraft in flight, and that in case of interception, the lives of persons on board and the safety of aircraft must not be endangered.
The amendment goes on to include that every nation can request aircraft violating its airspace to land at a designated place, and establishes the requirement that aircraft obey such orders.  This amendment was not ratified by the membership in the ICAO until 1998. Interestingly, the US and Peru, both of whom advocate shooting down suspected drug planes (outside of US air space) are not signatories of Article 3bis.  Foont  concludes that a rule prohibiting the use of force against civilian aircraft is at the cusp of being established international law, but that its not quite there yet. 

Foont, in the above referenced article, also reviews the law with respect to the shooting down of suspected drug planes.  He notes that the US, while not having this policy for US airspace, encourages it in partner countries such as Peru and Colombia, both of which have "accidentally" shot down civilian missionary flights as part of such a drug interdiction program.  The US has even gone so far as to indemnify and hold harmless any US functionary aiding countries that the President of the US has found to have an adequate civilian safety assurance program as part of such a drug interdiction program, and this includes the programs in these two countries.

Osorio makes the argument that Honduras needs the US to provide upgrades to its air force in order to implement such a policy, specifically Bell 212 helicopters and Super Tucano aircraft, which thus far, the US has declined to provide through its military aid to Honduras.  Its current fleet of aging Tucano aircraft Osorio claims are too slow to intercept the modern civilian aircraft being use, and its F5 fleet is too broken down to be flown that often.

Osorio gives us no clues as to why he's had an apparent change of heart with regard to the interception and downing of suspected civilian drug aircraft.  However, such a program in other Latin American countries has inevitably led to innocent civilian deaths. 

Right now Honduras has no viable way to detect and follow suspected civilian drug aircraft, so this is a hypothetical future that is only possible with a large scale infusion of money and equipment to the Honduran Air Force.  They lack local radar, and apparently do not have access to the US Southern Command's radar network such as the arrangement that the military of the Domincan Republic have, where their soldiers watch over radar consoles at US Southcom and dispatch Dominican Air Force planes to intercept detected drug flights. 

While interdiction of planes worked in places like the Dominican Republic, greatly reducing the amount of cocaine literally dropping from the air, that effect was short lived.  The drug traffickers responded by switching to water transport and continue to use the Dominican Republic as a transit point. 

Why should we expect a different outcome in Honduras?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sixteenth Journalist Murdered

Another journalist, Maya TV (Channel 66) on-air personality Noel Alexander Valladares was murdered this morning.  Valladares was shot to death in his car as it left the TV station after finishing his morning show.

There were four people in the car, Valladares, his wife, a driver, and a cameraman.  Valladares, his camera man, and the driver died.  His wife was severely wounded with bullet wounds in both legs.  She was rushed to the Tegucigalpa hospital.  Witnesses say that the murders wore police uniforms, stocking caps, and fired from either white sedan or a small pickup.

This is the third journalist murdered in Honduras this year, and the 16th since the beginning of Lobo Sosa's government. In the four years prior to that, there had been only 1 journalist murdered.

So much for Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales's message of "progress" to the US Congress on journalist murders in Honduras.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Rest of the Story

The Honduran press is charming in what it does not report.

Yesterday the OAS human rights commission, known in Spanish as the CIDH, issued its annual report for 2011 on human rights in the Americas. That report chose to highlight the human rights situations in four countries: Colombia, Cuba, Honduras, and Venezuela. El Heraldo reported on the release, but emphasized the human rights situations in the other three countries, omitting or badly summarizing the Honduran case. Of the 19 paragraphs in the Heraldo article, two are devoted to Honduras, two to Cuba, three to Colombia, and nine to Venezuela.

The article notes that Honduras is again on the list of countries with situations which gravely affect the enjoyment of fundamental rights. It tells us that the CIDH reports that problems in justice, security, marginalization and discrimination have worsened since the coup of June 28, 2009, and that over 2011 the fallout from the coup and its aftermath has continued. El Heraldo summarizes the content of the 33 page report on Honduras in one sentence:
Honduras is generally called out for the death of journalists, the murders of LGBT citizens, and threats against human rights activists.
But the CIDH report covers much more. And these aren't even its main complaints.

So here is some of what El Heraldo left out.

First of all, the CIDH first chose to add Honduras to the Chapter 4 detailed discussions in the 2009 Annual report. During 2011, the Commission reports it continued to observe the human rights situation in Honduras with a special emphasis on the consequences of the 2009 coup.

In beginning a discussion of 2011, it writes
290. As you can see all through the present report, respect and the state guarantee of the right to life, liberty, and personal safety during 2011, the CIDH received worrying information about the condition of journalists, human rights defenders, campesinos in the Bajo Aguan, indigenous people, and LGBT people, all in a context of a a high rate of murder and impunity.

291. During the present year (2011) we have continued to receive information that indicates that the Police and the military have used disproportional force against opposition protesters, which has resulted in serious episodes of violence and repression against the protesters.

A footnote indicates that Ramon Custodio told the CIDH that fewer than 19% of the human rights cases reported through his office are investigated and returned by the Dirección Nacional de Investigacíon (DNIC) with 81% of the cases either remaining perpetually under investigation or not acted upon, a situation which Custodio calls "absolute impunity".

On November 22, 2011 the CIDH sent a preliminary copy of this report to Honduras for a reply. The Honduran government replied twice, on December 16 and 21, 2011. The CIDH incorporated the Honduran government's responses to the material points the report makes to create a final version of the chapter for Honduras in the 2011 Annual Report.

Footnotes indicate that Honduras's reply was in part something like (paraphrasing here, see footnotes 442 and 443 for a discussion of the Honduran response) 'you've already discussed the issues surrounding the coup in your 2010 and 2011 reports; we hope that in 2012 this will not be included'. That is consistent with the Lobo Sosa government's refrain that they are the product of "reconciliation". The pointed refusal of the CIDH to ignore the link between the coup and the continuing erosion of human rights and hardening of impunity makes it clear that whatever "reconciliation" means to the government of Honduras, the rule of law, respect for constitutional, civil, and human rights, and institutional rejection of the exercise of raw power have not recovered since that episode.

The report looks at a large number of topics, some stemming from the 2009 coup, like "amnesty", and others that have nothing directly to do with the events of 2009, like "children's rights". Overall, it paints a bleak picture of Honduras's response to what CIDH recognizes as violations of human rights.

In fairness, the report also contains a several page section on what Honduras is doing right, from a legal and institutional framework. It cites no actual concrete positive actions, echoing other observers who note that setting up human rights offices without giving them support to follow through does not actually work.

Among many topics, the report looks in depth at the human rights situation in the Bajo Aguan. Since September 2009, 42 people affiliated with campesino movements, plus a journalist and his wife, have been killed there. Another campesino activist was "disappeared" in 2011. A further 162 campesinos have been changed with crimes in connection with the agricultural conflict in the region. The CIDH notes that right after the military were deployed to the Bajo Aguan as part of Operation Xatruch II, 7 campesinos, including two movement leaders, were assassinated, 5 were wounded, and two tortured by the troops.

The Honduran government replied, noting that its not just campesinos, but also 12 guards, 4 workers, and 5 others died in violence in the Bajo Aguan in 2010, along with 20 campesinos or (in their words) "supposed campesinos". Of those, the Public Prosecutor reported that they have investigative advances on 4 cases.

The Honduran government has not investigated any of the allegations against its troops.

The CIDH also reviewed the official Truth Commission report and highlighted its recommendations regarding human rights.

It went through the cases of 14 journalists killed in 2010 and 2011 in Honduras as well. The Honduran government reply reported that it has opened 4 legal cases in these murders and issued arrest warrants. In Honduras, the police do not seek those for whom arrest warrants have been issued, so this is a largely symbolic move.

There's a lot more, documenting problems specific to 2011, and it would be well worth reading, especially for those who make policy about US relations to Honduras.

The report on Honduras ends with ten specific recommendations for the government of Honduras:
1. Assure that the justice system provides effective access to justice for all people.

2. Investigate, judge, and discipline those responsible for human rights violations.

3. Stop the illegal groups that act with impunity outside of the law. The state has the responsibility to dismantle the armed civilian groups that function outside the law and to punish the illegal actions they commit to prevent the recurrence of violence in the future.

4. To prevent the murders, threats, and intimidation against human rights defenders, journalists, radio reporters, and social leaders and to implement the protections authorized by the CIDH.

5. To carry out, urgently, investigations by independent groups to clarify and determine if the murder of human rights activists, social leaders, journalists, radio broadcasters and members of the Resistance are related to the exercise of their profession or in the context of the 2009 coup. Also to judge and condemn those responsible for those murders.

6. To make amends to the victims of human rights violations.

7. Guarantee conditions so that human rights defenders and labor rights defenders can freely carry out their duties, and to abstain from adopting legislation that limits or places obstacles on their work.

8. Improve the security of the citizens and order that the military and military intelligence do not participate in actions of citizen security, and when there are exceptional circumstances, that they subordinate themselves to civilian authority.

9. Make available the necessary measures so that women who are victims of violence have access to adequate judicial protection and adopt legal and judicial mechanisms to investigate, punish, and aid those reporting violence against women.

10. Make available the necessary measures to protect sectors of the Honduran population historically marginalized and highly vulnerable such as children, the LGBT community and the indigenous and Garifuna communities.

Most of these are points that should not need to be made; they are basic to human rights; yet the CIDH found it necessary to repeat them to the Honduran government.

The Honduran government wants credit for reforming the institutions of human rights, and the CIDH gives them credit for beginning institutional reforms that normally would lead to improved human rights if operationalized.

Unfortunately for Honduras, so far, these are only institutional reforms which have brought about no changes in the lived experience of everyday Hondurans.

That's why the CIDH report is important.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Glacial Pace of Police Cleanup

More than a month ago, we discussed the lack of progress on cleaning up corruption in the Honduran Police.

Here's a (lack of) progress report.

The committee to oversee the police cleanup, formally known as the Comisión de Reforma de la Seguridad Pública, has only been partly appointed.

On March 12, Porfirio Lobo Sosa named the three Honduran members of the commission. They will be Matias Funes, Victor Meza, and Jorge Omar Casco. Victor Meza was Interior Minister in the Zelaya administration. Jorge Omar Casco is former rector of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras, and is a member of the official Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Matias Funes is a university professor and former presidential candidate.

However, the two international members of the Commission remain unappointed. Lobo Sosa has previously announced that the international members would come from Canada and Chile, and asked both governments for nominations, but only Chile has supplied a name, to date.

Ramon Custodio, the Honduran Human Rights Ombudsperson, told the press that the Honduran government is creating uncertainty in the minds of Hondurans by its slow pace at identifying and removing corrupt police officers. He said:
In Honduras there are good and bad police, but in the actual hierarchy, apparently the bad ones have more power than the good police.

Custodio compared the speed of this administration's response to police corruption to the reaction of the Callejas administration in 1993:
When the crisis in the police happened in 1993 they acted practically immediately and in a few days the ad-hoc commission determined to dissolve the Dirección Nacional de Investigaciones (DNI) and to create the Public Prosecutor and a new investigative police.

Compare that with the speed of response of the Lobo Sosa administration.

In the five and a half months since two university students, including the son of Julieta Castellanos, were killed, the Lobo Sosa administration created but failed to fund a police oversight commission, the Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIEP). The DIEP was created in December, and its members appointed that month. However, since then, the committee has done nothing, awaiting a budget. This spring its chairman quit over the lack of funding.

The Lobo Sosa administration announced it would create a security commission to oversee the cleanup of the police, the public prosecutor's office, and the judiciary, but it took until February for them to solicit nominations for the Honduran members, and it took until mid-March to appoint those members. It has not yet managed to appoint the two international members.

On March 24, the Security Minister, Pompeyo Bonilla turned over to the Public Prosecutor's office the investigative files on 18 police officers. Eighteen, when more than 100 police officers have been dismissed for alleged corruption since October. The Public Prosecutor's office has repeatedly called for all the files to be turned over, but as of now, only those 18 have left the Ministry of Security.

Here we are five and a half months after the promises began, waiting for something other than talk to happen.