Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Honduras

Posted on March 25, 2011

IACHR Hearing on Honduras

Human Rights Defenders in Honduras Hearing. Photo courtesy Jess Portmess, Human Rights Brief (March 25, 2011).

Participants: Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH), Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación de la Compañía de Jesús (ERIC), Centro de los Derechos de las Mujeres (CDM)

Countries: Honduras

Topics: Human Rights Defenders
Earlier this month, Honduran schoolteachers joined in protest in the streets of Tegucigalpa to demand improved living conditions and the return of former President Manuel Zelaya. At a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on March 25, 2011, representatives of Honduras’s civil society told the story of Ilse Ivannia Rodriguez Velasquez, a schoolteacher killed during the protest.  Berta Oliva, representing the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos de Honduras (COFADEH), urged the IACHR to take notice of the human rights violations that have continued in Honduras since the ousting of Zelaya in 2009.  In the face of the heartfelt appeal of representatives of human rights defenders at the hearing, the IACHR urged both sides to gather more specific information on the state of human rights violations and investigations.

Since 1982, a civilian government had ruled Honduras. In June 2009, however, democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya was ousted in the first military coup d’état in Central America since the end of the Cold War. The coup occurred before a scheduled referendum to revise the Honduran constitution, in what critics called an illegal attempt to defy the constitution’s single four-year limit on the president’s term of office. The Supreme Court of Honduras ruled that the referendum was illegal and defended the military’s actions as a defense of the rule of law. The Organization of American States, the European Union, and the United States condemned the coup.

The IACHR visited Honduras in May 2010 and returned with a deep concern for the continued human rights violations since the 2009 coup. In its report, the IACHR recounted reports of the murders, threats, and harassment of human rights defenders and journalists in Honduras, and was particularly concerned with the lack of effective investigations of these offenses. The IACHR was informed that only one person had been imprisoned for human rights violations since the coup, and only twelve had been indicted in a criminal justice system plagued by impunity and mistrust of the police. The IACHR issued precautionary measures to protect the life and safety of at-risk individuals, but urged the state to adopt permanent protective mechanisms to protect the lives and integrity of human rights defenders.

At the hearing, COFADEH representative Oliva echoed the IACHR’s concern over the excessive use of force and impunity that persists in Honduras. She argued that individuals cannot carry out their work as human rights defenders and that 21 such defenders have been arbitrarily detained. Lucy Mendoza, a representative of Honduras’s Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación de la Compañia de Jesús, argued that there have not been any changes in Honduras to implement the protective mechanisms recommended by the IACHR. She asserted that it is difficult to rely on the state to implement protective mechanisms when it is the state that is behind the violations.

Kelvin Aguirre, a lawyer representing the State of Honduras categorically rejected the assertion that protective mechanisms are lacking and argued that the political state does not stand in opposition to human rights defenders in Honduras. Daniela Ferrera Turcios, the General Director of the Public Ministry’s District Attorneys’ office, told commissioners that the State is investigating human rights violations with all the methods available, and that these methods continue to improve.

Commissioners Felipe Gonzalez, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Maria Silvia Guillén, and Jose de Jesus Orozco Henriquez repeatedly expressed the need for more concrete information and statistics regarding the number of individuals imprisoned or in legal proceedings for human rights violations. Commissioner Pinheiro further questioned the number of individuals who have been convicted or detained for public protests or human rights work. The State and civil society representatives were unable to provide the statistical data the Commissioners sought. While the parties will continue this discussion and will be given the opportunity to provide the IACHR with the necessary data, Commissioner Gonzalez made it clear that the state has the obligation to exercise all means necessary to ensure the security and freedom of human rights defenders in Honduras.

SOURCE: The Human Rights Brief

Listen to the hearing below. Escucha en español.