Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

HONDURAS: Human Rights Concerns Dog Return to OAS

Thelma Mejía

TEGUCIGALPA, Jun 3 2011 (IPS) - Honduras was allowed back into the OAS even though it never tried those responsible for the June 2009 coup that ousted then president Manuel Zelaya. But the international criticism and pressure for justice and action on human rights has not let up.

President Porfirio Lobo defended his country after United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville voiced concern Tuesday over murders of public prosecutors and increasing vulnerability of human rights defenders in Honduras.

“We have created a Secretariat of Human Rights and Justice, and in this government we are not going to persecute anyone. Let’s turn the page and look towards the future,” Lobo said in a nationally broadcast address after Honduras was readmitted Wednesday to the OAS (Organisation of American States), from which it was expelled when Zelaya was overthrown.

The government also responded to a letter signed by 87 members of the U.S. Congress urging the government of Barack Obama to cut off all military and police assistance to this Central American country.

Security Minister Óscar Álvarez told the press “We respect human rights, and we are engaged in major battles, as the United States knows very well. I don’t understand why malicious Hondurans echo absurd proposals to cut off the little aid we receive from that country.”

Attorney General Luis Rubí said there were “no cover-ups for anyone” in his office.

“I invite those senators to come to this country to verify the human rights situation, and I insist that our investigations will be objective, and that charges will be brought against whoever is responsible,” he added.

Prior to Honduras’ readmission to the OAS, the 87 Democratic members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking for all military aid to be cut off, citing “threats and violence reportedly directed against human rights defenders, activists, opposition leaders, members of the LGBT community and journalists”.

The human rights abuses include killings of journalists and members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) community, the letter says.

The signatories “strongly urge the State Department and U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa to vigorously press the Honduran government to take concrete steps to end abuses by official security forces by suspending, investigating and prosecuting those implicated in human rights violations.”

The Obama administration should suspend assistance to the military and police, “due to the lack of mechanisms in place to ensure security forces are held accountable for abuses.”

But Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela merely stated Wednesday that “Thanks to the steadfast efforts of President Lobo and his commitment to national reconciliation, and the tireless efforts of several OAS member states, democracy was restored.”

Honduras’ Minister of Human Rights and Justice Ana Pineda said efforts had been made to improve the human rights situation. But she told IPS that “although there have been advances, we would like to see more.

“Honduras has done a great deal in this sense, more than some other Latin American countries, but it is clear that we have to re-educate the country and its authorities on human rights issues,” she added.

Tension over the issue is running high. A week ago, a verbal fight broke out between Sandra Ponce, the head of the human rights unit at the Attorney General’s Office, and Deputy Minister for Security Armando Calidonio, after a police operation in which seven alleged youth gang members were killed, reportedly in a firefight.

Ponce asked for a detailed report on the operation, as she suspected that due process was not respected. This annoyed Calidonio, who accused her of “defending criminals,” and insinuated that it might be “prudent” for her to be transferred to another prosecutor’s office, in order for her to work “more efficiently.”

The clash prompted Human Rights Watch to issue a communiqué calling on the Lobo administration Tuesday “to ensure that government officials stop attacking the credibility of human rights prosecutors”.

Honduran activist Bertha Oliva told IPS that the climate of confrontation is not conducive to the reconciliation that is sought in Honduras.

“There is a sensation that the OAS allowed Honduras to return without taking into account the state of human rights, and we hope this will not fuel the impunity” that surrounds human rights crimes.

Honduras was readmitted to the OAS by a vote of 32-1, after intense, but unsuccessful, lobbying from Ecuador and Venezuela to include explicit human rights commitments in the resolution.

Only Ecuador voted against the decision. Venezuela accepted but with reservations.

The agreement leading to Honduras’ return was brokered by the governments of Venezuela and Colombia, and was signed by Lobo and Zelaya. The ousted former president was allowed to return to the country May 28 after fraud charges against him were dropped and the anti-coup opposition movement was given the green light to become a political party.

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