Thursday, October 13, 2011

Military Mission Creep 2: Give Us Police Powers

General Rene Osorio, head of the Honduran Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces, suggested today that he would like constitutional changes that would give the military some police powers, like the ability to stop and search anyone, the general ability to search property, the ability to legally carry out raids, and other unnamed police powers.

The granting of police powers to the military would require constitutional changes, to make these part of the mission of the Armed Forces. Osorio said:
"We're not putting ourselves in the place of police; we want to help and support them with our own troops and our intelligence work."

But that's exactly what Osorio is proposing, that the military mission be changed, added to, and that training be supplied to his troops so that they do things in a legal fashion, like arrest and hold people.

As Osorio said, all of this will require changes to the constitution, the laws, changes to the military charter, changes to international treaties, all because Porfirio Lobo Sosa wants a single point of contact to coordinate the actions of the Police and Military, "to make them more effective and successful against delinquency."

Lobo Sosa grew up in an era where the Police and Military were the same thing in Honduras. This proposal to return to those days does not appear to bother him in the slightest; but it bothers those concerned with human rights and democracy in Honduras from all sides of politics.

Thus we have statements from the Rector of the National University, Julietta Castellanos opposing any unification of police and military, and the Judges' association saying its illegal.

German Leitzelar, who presided over the original separation of the Police from the Military, thinks a single Ministry with authority over both is OK so long as there's no unification of their actual operations. In contrast, General Jorge Estrada, ex-judicial auditor for the military, said that
"We have to be clear that from the point of view of the functions and strategies, to join the police with the Armed Forces would be a step backwards, to resort to the past, and we all know how that turned out."

The problem is that the Armed Forces aren't Police; what police do is not part of the mission or training of the armed forces. Osorio asking for police powers for the Armed Forces is troubling given the military's history of human rights abuses, such as extrajudicial killings and the illegal detention of Honduran citizens.

To merge them in the midst of international condemnation of violence against Honduran citizens by security forces is, at the least tone-deaf, and just possibly, one of the more obvious signs of rejection of opinion in the international community.

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