Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Honduras has Two Truth Commissions

Honduras has two truth commissions: one set up and overseen by Porfirio Lobo Sosa, and one set up and overseen by Human Rights Platform, a confederation of human rights organizations, both Honduran and international.

Why is there a truth commission at all?

The establishment of a truth commission was one of the 12 points Oscar Arias proposed in the original San Jose Accord proposal. It survived in the Guaymuras (AKA Tegucigalpa-San Jose) Accord eventually signed by both Manuel Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti. It thus has its origins in the international community, not from Honduran aspirations.

The Tegucigalpa Accord was almost immediately violated by Micheletti, and declared no longer in effect by Zelaya, when Micheletti tried to unilaterally set up a government of reconciliation on his own. At the time, verification commission member Ricardo Lagos declared that these actions violated the accord. Nonetheless, the US has promoted what it calls full implementation of the Accord under the administration of Lobo Sosa, despite Lobo not being a party to the agreement which in any event was violated and declared dead by the two parties it attempted to reconcile.

And so Porfirio Lobo Sosa has established what he (and the US State Department) call a "government of reconciliation and unity", based on participation by representatives of opposing political parties. Just who this government unifies and reconciles is, of course, the question: it does not include participation by the Liberal party, and members of the UD party have disclaimed those party officials who agreed to serve in the government. Nor does it include what might be recognized as movements that actually opposed the de facto regime, such as the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP), or even supporters of Manuel Zelaya.

Not much unity there, and precious little reconciliation.

Nor was forming the "unity" government enough. Lobo Sosa has had to form the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for in the Guaymuras Accords to address one of the requirements placed on Honduras as it seeks readmission to the OAS and the international community. But that brings us to why Honduras has two truth commissions.

The Official Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Eduardo Stein, a consultant at the time to the OAS, was commissioned by Lobo Sosa to write the charter of, and recommend foreign members for, this truth commission. Of the international candidates recommended, Lobo Sosa picked Michael Kergin and Maria Amadilla Zavala. To complement these, Lobo Sosa selected Honduran members: Julietta Castellanos and Jorge Omar Casco, with Sergio Membreño as secretary. This governmentally chartered truth commission is funded by countries including the United States and Spain, and staffed by the OAS.

According to his OAS biography Eduardo Stein got his doctorate in Communications Sciences from Northwestern University in 1978. He then taught Political Science and Communications at universities in Guatemala, El Salvador, and the United States. He served as an advisor to Panamanian President Aristides Royo (1980-82). In the 1990s he served as Panama's representative to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and then as the IOM Regional Project Counselor for Central America. From 1996-2000, Stein was Foreign Minister for Guatemalan President Alvaro Arzu, a conservative who nonetheless signed a peace treaty with the Guatemalan URNG ending the civil war. In 2004-288 he was Vice President of Guatemala under President Oscar Berger Perdomo, another conservative president. More recently he has been a consultant to the OAS, and an OAS election observer/monitor. [The link to this biography could not be embedded as this was written.]

Michael Kergin is a Canadian career diplomat who entered foreign service in 1967. He served in the Canadian embassies in the United States, Cameroon, and Chile before becoming ambassador to Cuba in 1986. In the 1990s he held positions on political and international security affairs, and became the Canadian equivalent of the National Security Advisor. He became ambassador to the United States in 2000, serving until 2005. He is currently an adjunct professor in Political Science at the University of Ottawa, and a senior advisor at Bennett-Jones LLP.

Maria Amadilla Zavala is former President of the Supreme Court of Peru. She has also served as Peruvian Minister of Justice, and as Peru's representative to the OAS. She is reportedly close to the current conservative President of Peru, Alan Garcia.

Julieta Castellanos is currently Rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras. She has also served as a consultant to the UN Development Program

Jorge Omar Casco is a former Rector for the National Autonomous University and a lawyer.

Sergio Membreño, who serves as the commission's secretary, is a university professor and participant in Transformemos a Honduras.

The Alternative Truth Commission

The Honduran Human Rights Platform is made up of representatives from the Centro de Investigación, Prevención y Tratamiento de Víctimas de la Tortura (CIPTVT), the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH), the Centro de Derechos de Mujer (CDM), the Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos en Honduras (CIPRODEH), and the international anti-hunger organization Food First Information and Interaction Network (FIAN).

The Human Rights Platform coalition, unconvinced of the impartiality and human rights mandate of the official truth commission, decided to set up and fund its own truth commission with international representatives Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Rigoberta Menchu, Francois Houtart, Mirna Antonieta Perla Jimenez, Nora Cortiñas, and Elsie Monje. Its Honduran representatives are Helen Umaña and the Father Fausto Milla. This truth commission is funded by donations from individuals and non-governmental organizations (to donate, see the link here).

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel is an Argentinian, trained as a sculptor and architect, who in 1974 relinquished a teaching post to devote full time to coordinating the activities of non-violent Latin American groups through a group which he helped found, Servicio, Paz, y Justicia. He initiated a successful campaign to create the United Nations human rights commission. The Argentinian junta imprisoned him in 1977 and released him in 1978 under restrictions. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 for his work on human rights.

Rigoberta Menchu, a Quiche Maya activist from Guatemala began work on women's rights in Guatemala as a teenager. Her father, mother, and brother were arrested, tortured, and killed by the Guatemalan government. She joined the Committee of the Peasant Union (CUC) and participated in strikes to improve farm worker conditions on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala in 1981. She joined the 31 of January Popular Front and taught resistance to military oppression. By the end of 1981 she fled Guatemala to Mexico and began working to organize resistance to oppression from abroad, in addition to working for peasant rights. She was part of the founding of the United Representation of the Guatemalan Opposition in 1983. In 1986 she became part of the National Coordinating Council of the CUC. She won a Nobel Prize in 1992 for her work on indigenous peoples' rights. She is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador promoting a culture of peace.

Francois Houtart is a Belgian sociologist and Catholic Priest. He served as a consultant to the ecumenical council of Vatican II. He serves as an advisor to the Centre Tricontinental (CETRI) which he founded in 1976 to promote dialogue and cooperation between third world social groups. In 2009 he won the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence.

Mirna Antonieta Perla Jimenez is a justice of the Supreme Court of El Salvador. She testified before the Inter American Commission on Human Rights in 1988 and 1992, and testified before the UN in 1988, 89, 90, and 1992. She was Vice President of the International Federation of Human Rights in Paris (1988-90). She served as Vice President of the Comision para la Defensa de Derechos Humanos en Centroamerica (CODEHUCA) 1988-92 and a member of the Human Rights commission in El Salvador (1992-93).

Nora Morales de Cortiñas is a defender of human rights and member of the Asociacion de Madres de Plaza de Mayo, an Argentinian human rights organization that was formed initially by mothers whose children were disappeared by the Argentinian dictatorship of 1976-1983. She is a social psychologist and professor at the Universidad de Buenos Aires.

Sister Elsie Monge is a Maryknoll nun who is known for her efforts for human rights in Ecuador. She has taught grade school in Guatemala, and high school in Panama before returning to her native Ecuador. In 1981 she served on the Ecumenical Commission for Human Rights (CEDHU) in Ecuador, becoming its Director in 1994. In 1996 she become president of the Federation of Human Rights in Ecuador. In 2004 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She currently serves as Executive Director of the Ecumenical Commission for Human Rights.

Helen Umaña is a professor of literature at the National Autonomous University of Honduras-Sula Valley. She was raised in Guatemala, where her family lived in exile. She both graduated from, and taught at, the University of San Carlos in Guatemala. She received the 1989 Honduran National Literature Prize for her literary criticism about Honduran writing.

Father Fausto Milla Nuñez, a native of Guarita, Lempira, Honduras, is diocesan priest of the church of San Martin de Porres, Santa Rosa de Copan, Honduras. He was educated in El Salvador and Colombia. He taught school for 17 years in Popoyan, Colombia. In 1963 he was called to the priesthood, and was ordained in 1964. In 1969 the then Bishop of Santa Rosa, Monseñor Carranza Chévez, posted him to the church in Guarita, which a few months later bore the brunt of the so-called Soccer War of 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras. He was transferred to the church in Cerquin in 1970 where he began his work in human rights. This assignment also began his interest in Lenca culture and foodways. He was jailed in 1981 by the Honduran military junta and went into exile in Mexico. In 1985, he returned to Honduras assigned to Santa Rosa de Copan, where he returned to the community organizing and human rights work he had been doing since before his exile in Mexico.

These are the kinds and quality of people selected by Porfirio Lobo Sosa and the Human Rights Platform to form their respective truth commissions, to look into the events surrounding the coup d'etat of June 28, 2009, the de facto regime that seized power, and the human rights abuses that resulted. The government's truth commission began work in May. The Human Rights Platform's truth commission will begin work on June 28.

I know which group I think is more qualified. Which group seems more qualified to you?


John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

On their website, Bennett-Jones LLP notes that it "has been a part of this industry for decades, counselling national and international mining companies of base metals, precious metals and industrial minerals, as well as investment banking firms, entrepreneurs and governments funding the industry."

Mining is a very controversial issue in Honduras, as in its neighboring countries of El Salvador and Guatemala.
I know that this doesn't

Michael Kergin's connection with this law firm may not be a conflict of interest, but it is interesting that a Canadian was chosen by Lobo for his truth commission a bit after a Canadian government delegation visited the Honduran government, with the president of Aura Minerals which last year bought the San Andrés, Copán, mine. The commission promised major investment (in the tens of millions of dollars) for investment in mining and maquillas and the Lobo government promised security for foreign investment. Happenstance? Perhaps.

On the other hand there's Padre Fausto Milla, a friend who is very outspoken and very supportive of the Resistance. When I'm in Santa Rosa on Sunday I attend his Masses and listen, usually, to his long sermons.

Here's more info on Padre Fausto:

RAJ said...

The turn to Canada for a participant in the Truth Commission has been skeptically received in many circles, first, because there was a persistent sense that Canada, with a conservative government, was seen by the de facto regime of Micheletti as sympathetic; and second, because Canadian mining companies are, as you note here, deeply involved in problematic practices in Honduras.

While the connection between Kergin and mining is indirect (and it might well be the case that few consulting firms in Canada are unconnected to the mining industry), it raises the issue of how different it is to staff such a commission with people of known engagement in issues of human rights, or with politicians.

RNS said...

The Human Rights Platform keeps adding members to its commission. Newly added are Craig Scott, Francisco José Aguilar Urbina, and Luis Carlos Nieto.

Craig Scott, law professor of the University of Toronto, is an expert in international law and human rights. More information here:

Judge Luis Carlos Nieto is a member of Judges for Democracy in Spain. He has taught constitutional law and legal philosophy. He is editor, along with three others, of the European Commission's "White paper on Judicial Independence and Efficiency in the Administration of Justice in Central America". More information here:

Francisco José Aguilar Urbina, a Costa Rican, has a law degree from Harvard, specializing in human rights law. He was president of the UN Human Rights Committee (1995-1997) and secretary of the UN Human Rights Commission (1998-2000). More information here: