Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why the OAS MACCIH Will Likely Fail

Multiple articles (here and here, for example) appeared in the press Wednesday echoing what we have been saying in for some time: that the OAS proposal for a Mission de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras (MACCIH) seems designed to fail, given Honduras's, and more particularly Juan Orlando Hernández's, history of meddling in the judicial system.

The indignados marches formed the context and motivation when Juan Orlando Hernández proposed the Sistema Integral Hondureño de Combate a la Impunidad y Corrupcion (SIHCIC).  He made the proposal as an attempt to shut the indignados protests down.

At the same time he proposed a "national dialogue" to open up the process to improvement, but no part of the SIHCIC process involved actually generating concrete suggestions from the dialogues, and there was no actual legislative proposal or even a report resulting from them. 

Hernández chaired the first several meetings, with groups usually allied politically with him, then turned the entire process over to a congressman to oversee.

The SIHCIC proposal has five basic components:
  • first, a support committee for the Public Prosecutor's office to include both Honduran and international jurists that would audit the actions of the Public Prosecutor's office and aid in the pursuit of corruption
  • second, a similar support committee to oversee the Consejo de la Judicatura, the group that disciplines judicial misbehavior
  • third, a group responsible for the security of judges and their families
  • fourth, an observatory of the judicial system involving academic and civil society members
  • fifth, a business integrity group that would promote transparency and ethical standards for businesses and could propose rules and legislation to support them.

The proposal suggests nothing about judicial independence. It keeps the existing balance of power, tilted extraordinarily strongly towards the executive branch, and in fact, would reinforce it. 

The indignados rejected this proposal precisely because it did nothing to further judicial independence.  They continued to call for the establishment of a CICIH along the lines of the CICIG which has been successful in Guatemala. 

However, some of the indignados, including a leader, Tomás Andino, believe that even a CICIH might not work.  Andino said:
Guatemala has a relatively greater independence of powers than Honduras, which does not function as a democratic state...Here, a U.N. commission would be embedded in a corrupt system.

Because the indignados and other groups refused to participate in Hernández' dialogue, given its closed nature and lack of a mechanism for incorporating any results of the dialogues into legislation, Hernández eventually asked both the OAS and UN for mediators and facilitators. 

The OAS sent John Biehl del Rio who met with many of the same groups that Hernández had, then met in turn with the indignados and other groups that had not participated in the dialogues.  However, he was partisan from the start.  He openly rejected the indignados' call for a CICIH and dismissed the opposition in Honduras in inappropriate ways. 

As a result of his recommendations the OAS instead proposed, and Juan Orlando Hernández accepted, the Mission de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras (MACCIH), designed to take another two years to perform studies and make recommendations.

MACCIH, not unsurprisingly given John Biehl's antipathy for the indignados, parallels and expands on the SIHCIC proposal of Hernández.  It calls for the formation of a set of international judges and lawyers to advise the Public Prosecutor's office and provide technical support to the investigative services.  It uses the Centro de Estudios de Justicia de las Americas (CEJA) to write a series of reports and recommendations on the justice system in Honduras.  It invokes the OAS's Mecanismo de Seguimiento del Implementación del Convención InterAmericana contra la Corrupción (MESICIC) to evaluate and recommend legal changes necessary to fight corruption and bring Honduras into line with the Inter-American Convention against Corruption.  It also calls for the establishment of an observatory of the judicial system to monitor its progress.

A Woodrow Wilson Center report authored by Eric Olsen and Katherine Hyde pointed out nine weaknesses of the MACCIH proposal that, they say, "must be addressed if this and other efforts are to be more than mere window dressing".

For us the most relevant and pressing of their questions is this one, which we also have been asking:
The priority of the MACCIH seems to be assessment and recommendations for institutional reform.  There is little question that institutional reforms are needed, but I know of at least two internationally sanctioned, highly credible assessments of Honduras's law enforcement institutions and justice system in the last four years, and their findings and recommendations are very sound.  Yet the government of Honduras (both current and previous) failed to act on the vast majority of these recommendations.  The question is whether it is really necessary at this point to carry out additional costly assessments and evaluations and again develop reform proposals when much of the work has already been done.  Why not adopt the recommendations that have already been made by international bodies -- including ironically, the OAS just six months ago -- and get to work now.

We would go further and suggest that Juan Orlando Hernández himself, while head of the Honduran Congress, was one of those who "failed to act on the vast majority of recommendations" for judicial reforms. While head of Congress he initiated questionable procedures to remove four sitting Supreme Court justices because he didn't like their ruling on Model Cities. Why does anyone, including the OAS, think that suddenly this will change, that the Honduran government will now act to implement the suggestions?

The MACCIH proposal has won support from James Nealon, US Ambassador to Honduras, who immediately after its announcement tweeted his approval.  But Foreign Policy magazine called it "more like a tool to appease the masses rather than an effective tool for reform."  Carlos Ponce of Freedom House said recently:
"The solution is not making more reports, but bringing change to Honduras.  We’re not talking about India or Brazil but a small country with lots of potential — but a lack of will to change. The families in power are in bed with factions in the government that also control the media. Corruption is linked directly to political parties, so you have to change the power structure."

Nothing in MACCIH even seeks to addresses this fundamental problem.  Without a demonstrated "will to change" there is no reason to expect MACCIH to bring about meaningful change in Honduras and more than previous studies cited in the Wilson Center report have.

 Meanwhile, Judicial independence in Honduras and Corruption in Honduras were the topics of two hearings last week at the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR in English and CIDH in Spanish). 

The government of Honduras boycotted the hearings. That should give those supporting the MACCIH pause; is there any will to examine these basic questions?

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