Honduras: Inter-American Human Rights Report Riles Government

Tegucigalpa – On a fact-finding mission to Honduras this week, an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) delegation took aim at the dismissal of several judges who expressed their opposition to the Jun. 28 ouster of president Manuel Zelaya.

“These reports always make people uncomfortable, but they help point out to the state, and the government in particular, that monitoring of respect for human rights is and will always be ongoing,” Bertha Oliva of the Human Rights Platform, a coalition of NGOs, told IPS.

The statement issued by the IACHR, a Washington-based Organisation of American States (OAS) body, is a “quite faithful” reflection of the human rights abuses that have been committed in this Central American country, according to the Platform.

On its second visit to Honduras in nine months, the IACHR expressed “deep concern over the continuation of human rights violations” since the coup, and over “the absence of effective investigations that could lead to the clarification” of the murders of “a number of persons, including journalists and human rights defenders” during and after Zelaya’s overthrow.

The delegation, which visited from May 15 to 18, was made up of IACHR chair Felipe González, first vice-chair Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, executive secretary Santiago Canton, and Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Catalina Botero.

They met with officials from all three branches of the state, human rights defenders, journalists, members of the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup and members of the truth commission set up to investigate the events surrounding the coup.

The mission did not meet with government human rights commissioner Ramón Custodio, who accused them Thursday of being “biased” and of taking a “political and ideological stance in line with the interests of the group of countries led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.”

Custodio told the press that over two months ago he asked the IACHR to order precautionary measures for journalists, in response to the murders of seven reporters in the space of just a few weeks. “But they never responded,” he complained.

“They talk about defending the rule of law and the country’s institutions, but they are the first to undermine them by failing to meet with the human rights commissioner…to find out about the complaints we have received and the legal action and investigations we have undertaken; we are serious officials, we are not desk-bound bureaucrats,” Custodio said.

The IACHR press release says, however, that since the coup, the Commission “has granted precautionary measures to protect the lives and integrity of many individuals” who are at risk, but that during the visit it received information “indicating that the inter-institutional coordination mechanism for the implementation of the precautionary measures is ineffective.”

One of the reporters killed was protected by precautionary measures issued by the IACHR after the coup.

Police spokesman Leonel Sauceda called the report “subjective.”

“We are carrying out rigorous investigations, we even have foreign support, and we were very open with them, sharing details of the investigations into the deaths of the journalists, which are confidential,” he told IPS.

The IACHR said it had received information on continuing threats and harassment targeting human rights activists, reporters, teachers and members of the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup.

The report also said that “of particular concern” is the harassment of judges “who participated in activities against the coup d’état.”

The delegation was referring to four appeals court judges, founders of the Association of Judges for Democracy, who were dismissed from their posts two weeks ago on the grounds that they violated rules prohibiting judicial employees from participating in politics or strikes.

“It is unacceptable that those persons in charge of administering justice who were opposed to the democratic rupture would face accusations and dismissals for defending democracy. The IACHR urgently calls for a reversal of this situation that seriously undermines the rule of law,” the statement says.

The four judges, Luis Alonso Chévez, Ramón Enrique Barrios, Guillermo López Lone and Tirza Flores Lanza, began a hunger strike Monday to demand their reinstatement.

Judge López Lone, who was an active human rights defender in the 1980s, when abuses were rife, told IPS that “our right to due process has been violated, we have not been listened to, and this is part of the political persecution brought on by our opposition to the democratic rupture and the coup.”

Oliva said “the justice system that today claims it is defending Honduras did not apply the same standards to the judges who took part in the marches in favour of the coup.” The activist believes that by sacking the four judges, the judiciary is “digging its own grave.”

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