Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

Honduras Has Much to Explain in Human Rights Exam

Thelma Mejía

TEGUCIGALPA, Nov 2 2010 (IPS) - Honduras must answer to the United Nations Human Rights Council this week with respect to the numerous complaints of human rights violations committed before, during and after the Jun. 28, 2009 coup d’état that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya.

“The human rights debt that is owed is enormous, in particular since the events of Jun. 28,” Sandra Ponce, the prosecutor who heads the human rights unit in the Attorney General’s Office, told IPS. “We feel there has been a regression, and we have to work to keep it from ever happening again.”

Ponce forms part of the delegation that will represent Honduras on Nov. 4 in its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

Although the Honduran delegation, headed by Vice President María Antonieta Bográn, has expressed moderate optimism, it is aware that “there are many things to be resolved…We have started out on a path and that is what we are going to explain,” Bográn said.

The U.N. General Assembly created the Human Rights Council in 2006, and equipped it with the UPR mechanism to evaluate compliance and promotion of human rights in the 192 U.N. member states over a four-year cycle (an average of 48 countries a year).

An interinstitutional commission headed by the government’s judicial and human rights authorities has been working the last three months on the official report to be presented to the Council Thursday in Geneva.

Human rights activists hope the government of right-wing President Porfirio Lobo specifies in its report what measures it is taking to put an end to the abuses denounced by a number of organisations, and to bring to account those responsible for the coup.

Another serious problem is the continued rise in violent crime. The number of murders in the country climbed from eight a day in 2000 to 16 a day in June this year, according to a report by the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner (ombudsperson).

More than 4,000 cases of violations of fundamental human rights have been documented since the coup, ranging from censorship and the closure of media outlets to brutal crackdowns on protesters, curfews, and reports of torture and rape, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

The Washington-based IACHR also reported seven politically motivated deaths after the coup.

But the organisations that make up the Honduran Human Rights Platform put the number of deaths much higher, and count more than 1,000 human rights violations since Lobo took office in January.

“We have documented so far 23 killings that were possibly politically motivated, as well as the cases of nearly 200 people who went into exile,” Bertha Oliva of the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras told IPS. “And no one has been brought to justice in the murders of nine journalists so far this year — a record number that should make society think and should awaken a thirst for justice.”

Honduras was already called to account by the IACHR, in October. In the regional body’s hearings, various national and international organisations presented reports underscoring the scant progress made on human rights, especially with regard to the cases of murdered journalists.

Robert Shaw with International Media Support, an international NGO based in Copenhagen, commented to IPS that the IACHR hearing was productive.

The IACHR urged government officials to avoid belittling the murders of journalists by making remarks indicating they were crimes of passion or the work of organised crime groups, when no investigation has proved that, Shaw said.

Ponce said there is “no real indication” that the human rights violations committed since President Lobo took office responded to a state policy, and referred to the abuses as “isolated incidents.”

The prosecutor said that in the hearing, the government will present, as achievements on the human rights front, the fact that it granted the human rights unit in the Attorney General’s Office a budget of its own for the very first time.

In addition, the government will point to the creation of a ministry of justice and human rights, and the establishment of a consultative committee and an interinstitutional committee on torture, which include representatives of social organisations.

Human rights groups that will be at the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva will present a concrete proposal, calling for the Universal Periodic Review to focus on the coup that overthrew Zelaya, which gave rise to the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti.

They also want the Council to call for the repeal of an amnesty for those responsible for the coup, granted by the Lobo administration to show the international community that the country was on the route to reconciliation and forgiveness.

The conclusions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created in May to investigate events surrounding the coup will not be available until March 2011.

Although Honduras has reached agreements with multilateral lenders, it has not yet been admitted back into the Organisation of American States fold, from which it was suspended after Zelaya’s ouster. And a number of countries around the world, including South American nations like Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela, have not yet recognised the Lobo administration.

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