Sunday, December 26, 2010

Unreported News made by the International Commission of Jurists

What is news?

Seems like a simple question. News is something that happens that is important enough to be picked up by the media and commented on and discussed.

As anyone following the Honduran coup d'etat and its aftermath knows, however, what is news depends on the judgment of the media, and that judgment is very selective. Horse-race show elections are news, but the protests against them are not. The installation of a meaningless "Truth Commission" which has no credibility with conservative or progressive ends of the political spectrum is news, but the formation of a commission with independence and credibility is not. And tragically, too little of the violence perpetrated against union organizers, peasant cooperatives, women, sexual minorities, and even journalists is unworthy of serious news coverage, at least in mainstream English media.

But despite knowing all this, we find it extraordinary that the US media completely ignore even high profile international organizations that continue to call attention to the serious failures of Honduras to redress any of the circumstances that the coup d'etat of June 2009 set in motion. Human Rights Watch's statement on from December 20, for example, has barely has been noticed.

Now, perhaps there hasn't been enough time to get news coverage of the HRW report out. Yet the same is true of the stinging report by the International Commission of Jurists, which has now been available for weeks.

What's the news here? Well, this is a rebuke not only to Honduras, but to the government claiming most loudly that Honduras has put the coup behind it, which is the US. It repudiates the main claims in the US argument for "progress" in returning to civil order, which are the election of Porfirio Lobo Sosa and the appointment of a "Truth Commission". Instead, it urges Honduras to follow the proposals of Latin American nations, including UNASUR, about the necessary steps to take to regain political credibility following a coup.

Here are a few points from the CJI statement that reporters might have followed up as news:
  • The CIJ endorsed giving the alternative truth commission the same level of resources, international support, and access to government sources of data as the official "Truth Commission", arguing that the latter has no credibility with the victims of the coup. Why is this news? because the US claims the "Truth Commission" is meaningful and an effective step to restoring democracy.
  • The CIJ called for the installation of an International Commission against Impunity and an office of the High Commission of the UN for Human Rights. Noting (without naming him) that Ramón Custodio supported the coup, it argued that the Honduran Human Rights commission had lost credibility. News, again, because Custodio remains in office under the Lobo Sosa government.
  • The CIJ called explicitly for the restitution of the judges dismissed for their opposition to the coup d'etat. The CIJ provided grounds in international law in support of the right, and actually duty, of judges to oppose disruptions of constitutional order. These dismissals happened during the term of office of Porfirio Lobo Sosa and can hardly be ignored as evidence that the present government of Honduras is still carrying on the violence against democratic order of the coup d'etat.
  • The CIJ also called for effective investigations of the many extrajudicial killings that have occurred since the coup d'etat. It specifically called for police and military to be tried in civil courts, not special military tribunals. The US refuses to even respond meaningfully to press questioning about the continued killings of activists.
  • Finally, going beyond the coup itself, the CIJ also expressed concerns about a newly proposed "Law on Financing of Terrorism". This kind of legislation has all sorts of potential for abuse. We will not be holding our breath for coverage of this issue, anymore than we will for coverage of any of the other points made by the CIJ.
[We have posted our translation of the statement, which can be found here in Spanish, as a document. If an English version exists, we have not been able to find it, and we thought this was significant enough to make it available more broadly.]


Anonymous said...

I can almost hear PJ Crowley now: "The CIJ has announced that Honduras has made 'positive normative changes'. This encourages us that Honduras has returned to full democracy and is ready for re-admission to the OAS at the earliest possible convenience."

The purblindness is truly remarkable. In pursuing Zelaya, for example, the Honduran courts are proposing to break the law (by appointing counsel to run a trial in absentia) in order to, they claim, fulfill the requirements of the law in prosecuting Zelaya.

What is it with people who cannot understand that the fruit of a poison tree is poison?

To respond on the question of what is news, the answer is apparently "Not Honduras." Even on El Pais, The Guardian, and the NYT, even finding the cables from Honduras ranges from difficult to impossible. The Guardian map of originating embassies does not include Tegucigalpa. The El Pais map shows only one cable, the Llorens cable.


Dan Kubiske said...

TBH I am not surprised there has been little or no coverage in the US media. It is difficult to get most of the news outlets to focus on anything outside the shores of the USA unless it is a coup, a natural disaster or a war. (Except NPR and CNN, but even they have their weaknesses.)

I've been arguing this point for years within the journalism community.