Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Military Policing Again

Porfirio Lobo Sosa is standing firm; he wants the Honduran armed forces to have police powers; never mind that it takes us back to Honduras before 1986. That was the year the Honduran Congress voted to separate the Police and military.

After a several hour meeting with the top brass of the National Police, Lobo Sosa told the press:
"I convened a meeting with the heads of the police to explain that my determination [to proceed] with the participation of the institution of the armed forces is firm and that there is no reason for there to be trouble between either institution."

Lobo Sosa also called on civil society to support his security actions, and in particular mentioned the debate begun in Congress Monday. Congress proposes to interpret Article 274 of the Honduran constitution as giving the military some policing powers, including the ability to stop, search, and detain individuals.

Lobo Sosa stated that the military supported his actions, and that they had asked for a legal basis to act as police. He said:
"They have told me that it is not possible that the Armed Forces, being able to aid our people, cannot do so; we ask that we be given the legal right [to help]."

Lobo Sosa acknowledged that the military does not have the right kinds of training to carry out the role he envisages for them, and so has requested that the UN provide accelerated police training for the soldiers.

While El Heraldo wrote that the new law would enable up to 180 days of military policing via presidential decree, Alfredo Saavedra, a Liberal Party Congress person, said they were looking at a year and a half (545 days) life for the decree.

Lobo Sosa told La Tribuna that the militarization of policing would last as long as necessary to clean up the National Police.

Under Honduran law, emergency decrees that do not restrict constitutional guarantees can be assigned any desired duration, so these extended time frames would actually be legal.

In fact, the current draft of the law is not the limited grant of policing powers described in the government's statements to the press.

The current draft of the new law, in full, reads as follows:
Article 1: To interpret the second and last paragraphs of Article 274 of the Constitution of the Republic, in the sense that the Armed Forces may carry out specific police functions when there is declared a state of emergency in public security, through a decree from the executive branch by the President of the Republic and the Cabinet, as an exceptional case and in conformity with the corresponding legal regulations

To interpret the second and last paragraphs of article 274 of the Constitution of the Republic in the sense that, with the proposition of restoring public order and achieving social peace and respecting the Constitution: In exceptional circumstances the armed forces may carry out police functions for a limited period, in situations of emergency that affect people and property; may participate permanently in the fight against drug trafficking; also cooperate in the fighting of terrorism, arms trafficking, and organized crime; at the request of the Secretary of State for Security they may carry out limited policing functions if the Executive Branch issues the corresponding decree of emergency, establishing in it the duration of the decree and any other scope.

Article 2: The Executive Branch decree which declares a Public Security State of Emergency should guarantee:
1) the unrestricted respect of human rights
2) the constitutional guarantees
3) the dignity of the person; and
4) due process.

In acts of internal security which the Armed Forces carries out, they should be accompanied by a Prosecutor from the Public Prosecutor's office, or make known to one immediately the knowledge of these actions, as established by the Ley Procesal Penal; preferably the different police operations should be carried out in different geographic areas of the national territory, jointly or separately with the National Police, such that both institutions can achieve better results in their activities. While carrying out police functions, the armed forces must frame their actions within the terms and scope of the emergency decree, guaranteeing to their members the same rights (Article 125 of the Ley Organica de la Policia Nacional de Hondurs) as held by members of the National Police, and imposing the same responsibilities and obligations (Article 106 of the Ley Organica de la Policia Nacional); the coordination of operations in emergency situations is the job of the Constitutional president of the Republic and the Secretaries of State for Security and Defense, along with their respective commands.

Article 3: This present decree will enter into effect on the day of its publication in the Official Newspaper La Gaceta.

This draft of the law, still subject to modification by Congress, does not specify a limited set of policing powers for the military. By not specifying a subset of powers, it grants all policing powers to the military. They may carry out any function a National Police officer may under existing police regulations.

Yesterday the law, promulgated by Head of Congress Juan Orlando Hernandez, passed in its first debate session. So Congress will skip the second debate and go right to final approval, perhaps as early as today. La Tribuna reported today that the emergency decree has a duration of 18 months written in now, but Congressional Vice President Marvin Ponce said that may change depending on what the Executive branch wants.

Quite a sweeping change, for such a short legal text.

UPDATE Nov. 30, 2011 10:15 AM: The law was passed late yesterday on its final vote in Congress and will become law once its published.

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