By Rick Kearns, Today correspondent
Story Published on Indian Country Today: Oct 23, 2009
The coup government of Honduras is severely repressing opposition, curtailing constitutional rights, allowing excessive police violence which could be linked to several deaths, beatings and disappearances.
Those leaders are engaged in the seizing of media outlets across the country and persecution of indigenous peoples, particularly those involved in the almost daily protests according to two groups of international human rights observers who conducted investigations in July and August.
The most recent report came from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the hemispheric Organization of American States. The report, published Aug. 22, listed the following charges: “… repression imposed on protestors through the use of military patrols, the arbitrary applications of curfews, detentions of thousands of people; cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and bad conditions of detention.
“Of particular gravity is the death of four persons and various other wounded people caused by firearms. An exhaustive investigation into these deaths is necessary, considering that the commission has received information that could link these deaths with actions by agents of the government.”
The observers interviewed hundreds of Hondurans – including indigenous peoples. Those interviewed ranged from people with charges of abuse as well as officials of various levels of government, including representatives of the coup leadership. The two reports also noted the flow of information had been controlled by order of the coup government. In their press statement, the IACHR made special note of that issue.
“The control of information is exercised through the temporary closing of some communication media, the military occupation of those same media, the prohibition of emitting broadcasts about the coup by certain television stations during that time, the selective cutting of electrical services to audio-visual media that were reporting on the coup and aggressions and threats against journalists with different editorial positions.”
The IACHR said military squads occupied schools and universities during and after the time of the coup. The IACHR and the International Observation Mission of the Situation of Human Rights in Honduras – which conducted its investigation a few weeks before the commission – noted that among those interviewed were indigenous peoples. One of the mission observers spoke about how the coup was negatively affecting many Native people.
The overall situation of indigenous people in Honduras after the coup is “precarious and very risky” according to Marcia Aguiluz who participated in the mission that included 15 “independent professionals” from 13 countries.
Aguiluz, a staff attorney for the Center for Justice and International Law, spoke about the indigenous Hondurans when visiting their Washington, D.C. office in August, after she had taken part in the International Observation Mission. CEJIL is an international human rights nonprofit agency that litigates human rights cases before the IACHR and recommends actions to be taken.
The mission team interviewed government officials, politicians, human rights advocates, union members, social movement members, indigenous leaders, journalists, the Honduran Attorney General, the director of the National Police and various demonstrators from across the country between July 17 and July 28. Mission participants included judges, attorneys, journalists, sociologists, political analysts and human rights experts from Germany, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, El Salvador, Spain, Nicaragua, Peru, Sweden and Uruguay.
In an Aug. 7 interview, Aguiluz spoke about some of their findings in regards to the problems confronting the indigenous people of Honduras.
“We held a meeting with the Front of Resistance against the Coup, which contains all of the diverse sectors and movements that oppose it (coup). In that meeting we spoke with Bertha Cáceres, director of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, one of the strongest indigenous organizations in the country. They are very involved in the struggle, principally because they feel they have never been heard or taken into account.
“With President Zelaya and his proposed referendum, the indigenous people saw a chance of becoming part of the decision making process in the country. Bertha said her wish was to ‘allow for the building of their concept of truth and justice’ which had been prohibited by the powerful classes of Honduras. Currently, their situation is precarious and very risky, many of them are being persecuted because they have protested against the coup, also they are under threat and due to their peaceful actions of resistance they have abandoned their homes, finding refuge in Tegucigalpa with the help of other organizations.”
In the final part of the interview Aguiluz urged the international community to “stay informed” and to understand that the coup had caused institutional damage to the country and that fundamental rights were being hurt as well.
“A large percentage of the population – including indigenous peoples – are being threatened by the de facto regime, who are impeding their ability to express themselves as well as repressing them and not protecting their rights. … In Honduras right now, the people are completely unprotected.”