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May/June 2011
Vol. 36, No. 3

Honduras: Challenge human rights abuses

As violence increases against human rights defenders, teachers, union leaders and others who oppose the Honduran government, three U.S. representatives have prepared the following "Dear Colleague" letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for the U.S. government to take a stronger stance toward the Honduran government until it responds more adequately to the escalating violence.

We write to express our deep and continuing concerns about the protection of human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law in Honduras. We urge you to ensure that U.S. policy towards Honduras is based on a more vigorous U.S. response in support of human rights. We share the concerns expressed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in March 2011 regarding "the disproportionate use of force to quell public demonstrations against the policies of the current government, the lack of an independent judiciary and the situation of human rights defenders."

We are greatly concerned about the threats and violence directed against human rights defenders, activists, opposition leaders, members of the LGBT community and journalists in Honduras … As you are aware, the IACHR singled out Honduras in its 2010 Annual Report, released on April15, as one of four countries in the hemisphere whose human rights situation warrants special attention. Precautionary measures issued by the IACHR are generally not being implemented by Honduran authorities. Moreover, members of the security forces are implicated in many incidences of threats, harassment, attacks and extrajudicial executions.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) cites 10 journalists killed since March 2010 in total impunity… The International Federation of Journalists reported that 10 of 29 journalists killed in Latin America in 2010 were in Honduras, and along with CPJ, has named Honduras one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist…

In March, nationwide protests by teachers, parents and students in reaction to proposed budget cuts and withholding of teachers' pension funds were met with excessive use of force by police. Widespread use of tear gas affected teachers, students, journalists and bystanders, and the Honduran human rights group COFADEH reported that tear gas canisters were being fired directly at protestors and that police used live bullets…

The non-governmental Commission of Truth, which is documenting human rights abuses perpetrated since the June 2009 coup, has been the target of several attacks during March and April, including the severe beating by police of one of its staff. The IACHR documents 34 killings of members of the LGBT community since June 2009. In the Aguán valley, violence and forced evictions against campesino farmers continue unabated. … COFADEH reports 237 death threats during the first year of President Lobo's term in office (January 2010-January 2011), 133 directed at human rights defenders; 36 politically motivated killings; and 36 people fleeing the country into exile after having received threats. In a December 2010 report, Human Rights Watch noted that "no one has been held criminally responsible for the human rights violations and abuses of power committed after the coup," and observed little evidence of progress in human rights violations committed since the Lobo administration took office in January 2010.

We 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 State Department's own 2010 human rights report notes the lack of progress in investigating human rights crimes. We further urge you, Madam Secretary, to suspend U.S. assistance to the military and police, due to the lack of mechanisms in place to ensure security forces are held accountable for abuses.

It is essential that the United States require the Honduran government to respect its citizens' rights to freedom of expression and assembly, including an end to excessive use of force in response to protests…

We ask the U.S. Embassy to publicly denounce violence and threats against defenders and activists. It is vital that the Embassy denounce attacks against the staff of the non-governmental Commission of Truth and urge the government to ensure that the Commission can carry out its functions safely and that victims and witnesses are protected from intimidation and abuse… Finally, to end the cycle of abuses and repair the deteriorated rule of law in Honduras, human rights abuses that have occurred since the June 2009 coup must be brought to justice.

Thank you for your serious consideration of these requests regarding strengthening the protection and promotion of human rights and the rule of law in Honduras.

Faith in action:

Please call your representative's office and ask that s/he sign on to this letter to Secretary Clinton. To sign on, they should contact Cindy Buhl in Rep. Jim McGovern's (D-MA) office at x5-6101 or Deadline is May 25.

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