Briefing on Honduras: Government-Supported Human Rights Abuses and the Legacy of Impunity
In the months after the June 28 coup in Honduras, international media and NGOs reported on the de facto government’s suspension of constitutional rights, censorship of media outlets and repression of peaceful demonstrators. Less reported and harder to monitor has been an ongoing wave of human rights violations—illegal arrests, intimidation, police beatings, and suspicious deaths of journalists, resistance leaders, activists, advocates and their family members—which have continued, and in the case of journalists increased, since the inauguration of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa.
Human rights advocates say they have been witnessing a pattern of abuse strikingly similar to what citizens suffered during the political conflicts of the 1980s. They point to a culture of ongoing repression that has been cultivated by government and military impunity for human rights violations over the last 30 years.
“The connection is very evident in the patterns of repression that have played out. The mode of repression, the sowing of fear, detentions, and the general climate of terror is very reminiscent of the 80s,” Claudia Hermansdorfer, director of the Honduran Center for Women’s Rights, said.
In the 1980s the Honduran Military Battalion 3-16 kidnapped, tortured or “disappeared” citizens. Today at least five former military officers with ties to Battalion 3-16 are reported to hold powerful positions within the government or police (see Former Battalion 3-16 members in positions of power today, below) and little has been done to end a dysfunctional culture of impunity.
In 1994, then Human Rights Commissioner Leo Valladares published numerous recommendations in The Facts Speak for Themselves (Los Hechos Hablan Por Si Mismo) following his independent investigation into human rights abuses perpetrated by Honduran security forces in the 1980s.
In his report, Valladares advised that “the creation of [several specific] greater legal protections will be necessary to prevent disappearances from happening again,” including a “central registry of detained persons” and a “special law regarding detention.” He also recommended several reforms regarding accountability, noting, “The state has the duty and the right to use force against those who violate its laws. The legitimate use of force, however, flows from respect for the Constitution and laws of the nation.” His recommendations include those to “assure democratic and citizen control of all public security actions,” among others.
Those recommendations remain valid today and, regrettably, most have not been acted on by any Honduran government since the report was published. According to Susan Peacock, a former fellow at the National Security Archive who assisted Valladares in his efforts to obtain U.S. declassified information on events in the 1980s, “If those recommendations have not been followed up on, it is unlikely the Truth Commission’s will be. History is likely to repeat itself until actions are taken to break the cycles of impunity.”
The net result is a culture of impunity that has left many Hondurans fearful of the current situation. Bertha Oliva, director of Committee for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), said, “Before, they hid the dead. Now they do it in public, challenging every principle of human rights.”
CLICK HERE to download a PDF of the full backgrounder on government-supported human rights abuses and the legacy of impunity in Honduras. The information provided is based on research that May I Speak Freely Media has conducted over the past 10 years.