In response to widespread concern in both the House and Senate over human rights abuses involving the Honduran police and military, the United States Congress has placed new conditions on a portion of U.S. police and military aid to Honduras. The legislative language that establishes these new conditions can be found in the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriation Actwithin the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which was passed by Congress on December 16. It now requires that, before allocating 20% of the funds allocated for Honduras, the State Department must investigate and report back to the Committee on Appropriations whether the Honduran military “is implementing policies to protect freedom of expression and association, and due process of law,” whether it is prosecuting “military and police personnel who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights,” and whether the Honduran police and military “are cooperating with civilian authorities in such cases.”
The human rights situation in Honduras has steadily deteriorated since the military coup d’etat that led to the forced removal of the country’s elected president in June 2009. Honduras currently has the highest homicide rate in the world and, since 2010, at least 17 journalists have been assassinated, the majority of whom were critical of the coup. Dozens of anti-coup political activists have also been killed, as well as union leaders, LGBT activists and Afro-indigenous representatives. In the northeastern Bajo Aguan region, forty-two land rights advocates have been murdered since the 2009 coup. Honduran military and police have been allegedly implicated in a number of the many political murders and other politically-motivated acts of violence that have taken place since the coup. Only a tiny number of these crimes have been investigated or prosecuted.
In October, police agents charged with killing two unarmed students, including the son of the Rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa, were briefly detained and then let go. Earlier this month, a prominent critic of the police, Alfredo Landaverde, was murdered in broad daylight in Tegucigalpa by unidentified assailants. On December 5th, President Lobo signed a decree allowing the military to take on policing functions for a period of 90 days.
Though the U.S. administration has not commented on Honduran police and military involvement in human rights abuses, concern over U.S. support for the country’s security forces has grown in Congress. In July, 87 members of the House of Representatives called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to suspend police and military assistance to Honduras. On November 28, Howard Berman – the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee – sent a letter to Secretary Clinton which expressed “grave concern” regarding the “role of Honduran state security forces in human rights abuses.” The letter called on Clinton to “evaluate immediately United States assistance to ensure that we are not, in fact, feeding a beast.”
Berman’s letter touches on the recent killing of the two students, Alejandro Vargas Castellano and Carlos David Pineda, remarking that “as of this writing it appears that no one has been charged, despite overwhelming evidence of police responsibility for the Pineda and Castellanos killings, and we are left with evidence suggesting that very high-ranking officers and officials in the Ministry of Security and National Police may have been responsible for the failure to detain the alleged culprits.” The letter also focuses on the killings of land rights activists in the Aguan Valley, and asks “what is the Honduran government’s response to reports of repeated joint actions of police and military in the Bajo Aguán with the private security forces of Miguel Facussé, about whom there are significant allegations of drug trafficking? Mr. Facussé does not deny that his security guards killed five campesino activists at El Tumbador on December 15, 2010, and yet no measures have apparently been taken to investigate or prosecute Mr. Facussé or his guards in relations to this crime and others…”
The letter asks a number of specific questions, such as “Have these troops [in the Aguan Valley] received USG training or assistance? What actions is the U.S. undertaking to ensure that President Lobo’s government is prosecuting members of the military and police responsible for these crimes (…) ?” Berman expresses the hope that the State Department’s “answers will help clarify what we should do regarding future U.S. assistance to Honduras”, but it doesn’t seem that these answers have been forthcoming.
It is not just Democrats in the House of Representatives that are concerned about continued U.S. government support to Honduras’ security forces. In September, the U.S. Senate approved foreign operations appropriations legislation that conditioned police and military assistance to Honduras and stipulated the need for the Honduras government to investigate, prosecute, and punish police officers who have violated human rights. Though the Republican-controlled House of Representatives didn’t include any such conditions in the original House version of the foreign operations appropriations legislation, the final Appropriation Act, agreed to by both chambers of Congress, incorporated the conditioning language mentioned above.