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.

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