HONDURAS: HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE COUP D’ÉTAT
I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
1. As its paramount mission is to “promote the observance and defense of human rights” in the Hemisphere, the Commission has been particularly attentive in following the situation of human rights in Honduras, and through its reports has reviewed a series of structural issues in the areas of justice, security, marginalization and discrimination that have for decades taken a toll on the human rights of its inhabitants.
2. On June 28, 2009, the democratically elected President of Honduras was deposed and the democratic and constitutional order was interrupted. At 5:00 a.m. that morning, Honduran Army troops, acting on orders of the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Vice Minister of Defense, stormed the presidential residence, took President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales into custody and flew him by military aircraft to Costa Rica.
3. That same day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “Inter-American Commission”, “IACHR” or the “Commission”) issued its first press release on the situation in Honduras, in which it strongly condemned the coup d’état, made an urgent call to restore democratic order in Honduras and to respect human rights, and demanded that the situation of the Foreign Minister and other cabinet members be clarified immediately, as their whereabouts at the time were unknown. On June 30, the Commission asked to conduct an urgent visit to Honduras. Also, in furtherance of its duties to promote and protect human rights and given the hundreds of complaints it had received on June 28 and thereafter alleging grave human rights violations, the IACHR granted precautionary measures, requested information on the danger that certain persons faced as a consequence of the coup d’état, and requested information pursuant to Article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter, the “American Convention”) and Article XIV of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons (hereinafter, the “Convention on Forced Disappearance”). It also issued a number of press releases.
4. The international community’s condemnation of the coup d’état in Honduras has been unanimous. The de facto authorities have not been recognized. International forums have condemned the interruption of the democratic order in Honduras and have called for President Zelaya to be restored to office. For their part, the member states of the Organization of American States (hereinafter the “OAS”) responded to the political crisis in Honduras by invoking mechanisms recognized in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which stipulates that “[t]he peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.” Thus, at a special session held on July 4, 2009, the OAS General Assembly resolved to suspend the Honduran state from the exercise of its right to participate in the Organization. It further resolved to “reaffirm that the Republic of Honduras must continue to fulfill its obligations as a member of the Organization, in particular with regard to human rights; and to urge the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend human rights and fundamental freedoms in Honduras.”
5. On July 13, the IACHR received a communication from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Honduras, in which he agreed to the Commission’s visit. The IACHR’s on-site visit to Honduras took place between August 17 and 21, 2009, after which it prepared this report, which concerns the human rights situation since the coup d’état.
6. Along with the loss of institutional legitimacy brought about by the coup d’état, during its visit the Commission confirmed that serious human rights violations had been committed, including killings, an arbitrary declaration of a state of emergency, disproportionate use of force against public demonstrations, criminalization of public protest, arbitrary detention of thousands of persons, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, poor detention conditions, militarization of Honduran territory, an increase in incidents of racial discrimination, violations of women’s rights, severe and arbitrary restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, and serious violations of political rights. The Commission also established that judicial remedies were ineffective in protecting human rights.
7. From the day on which the coup d´état occurred, the state of emergency that the de facto authorities illegitimately decreed and that the security forces enforced was used as means to control the population. First, the Commission observes that the de facto government does not have legitimacy ab initio to declare a state of emergency; furthermore, under Article 27 of the American Convention, the scope of the suspensions must be those strictly necessary to relieve an emergency situation, and this implies limiting them in terms of time and space, and the rights that are suspended.
8. Thus, at least seven (7) people were killed as a consequence of the disproportionate force that security forces used to suppress the public demonstrations. According to the information received, there is nothing to suggest that internal investigations have made any significant headway toward identifying and punishing those responsible.
9. The IACHR confirmed that the security forces conducted thousands of illegal and arbitrary detentions, without an order from a competent authority. Those detained were not brought before a judge to review the lawfulness of their detention, were not informed of the reasons for their detention, and were not read their rights; many were held incommunicado. And while the majority of those detained were released within 24 hours, no records were made of the arrests, which in many cases obstructed execution of the writs of habeas corpus and provided the opportunity for violations of the detainees’ right to have their physical, mental and moral integrity respected, especially in the case of women detainees, who were often sexually abused.
10. The materiel and tactics that the Army, the Police and the Cobra Command Strike Force deployed revealed a disproportionate use of force. This, combined with the conditions in which detainees were incarcerated, meant that thousands of persons endured inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment. In this context, the aggressive tactics used took a particularly heavy toll on women, who in many cases were victims of sexual violence. Other minority groups like the Garifuna, members of the gay community and foreign nationals were the target of discriminatory practices.
11. The Commission also received testimony about acts of harassment against persons who publicly demonstrated their political support for President Zelaya. The IACHR confirmed serious violations of political rights, such as the right to participate in politics and the right to hold public office. Ministers, governors, members of the National Congress and mayors were the targets of reprisals, threats, acts of violence and budgetary cuts, and the public offices where they worked were occupied by military troops. Furthermore, de facto and de jure restrictions were imposed on the activities of the opposition parties, groups and leaders who were against the de facto government. The family of President Zelaya in particular reported harassment and that a smear campaign was being waged against them.
12. The IACHR confirmed that the flow of information and news was controlled by temporarily shutting down some media outlets; orders were given to block transmission of the signal from certain cable television networks that were covering the coup d’état; selective power outages were used to affect broadcasting by audiovisual media covering the coup, and journalists from media outlets whose editorial positions were opposed to the coup d’état were attacked and threatened.
13. The Commission also confirmed that the airing of dissident opinions or criticism was prohibited, and security forces were authorized to search and confiscate broadcasting equipment when, in the opinion of the administrative authorities, the media were engaging in behavior prohibited under the existing laws. These measures are a very serious, arbitrary unnecessary and disproportionate restriction, in violation of international law, of the right of all Hondurans to freely express themselves and to receive information from a plurality and diversity of sources. The IACHR repeats that any curtailment of the right to freedom of expression, even under a state of emergency, must be ordered by a legitimate government and must be proportionate and strictly necessary to protect the existence of the democratic system of government.
14. Violations of the right to life, humane treatment, freedom of association, personal liberty, judicial guarantees, freedom of expression, political rights, the rights of women and the rights of minority groups were exacerbated by the absence of a legitimate government capable of processing complaints, investigating facts, punishing those responsible, and making reparations to victims. Those sectors of Honduran society that opposed the coup d’état told the Commission that they feared reprisals by security agents and were mistrustful of those institutions that had not energetically condemned the break with the democratic institutional order, and that had done nothing in response to public outcries.
15. Under the American Convention on Human Rights, which Honduras ratified in 1977, it an international obligation to prevent human rights violations and, should they occur, to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible. Nevertheless, the de facto authorities and the Supreme Court of Honduras consistently deny the existence of those violations. Inactivity and tolerance enable the repetition of human rights violations with impunity.
16. The organs of the Inter-American system for the protection of human rights have repeatedly held that the democratic system of government is the best guarantee for the exercise and enjoyment of human rights. Indeed, this report reveals how the human rights violations reported in Honduras are a direct consequence of the interruption of the constitutional order. The Commission therefore considers that the restoration of democratic institutions in Honduras is a condition sine qua non for the effective protection and observance of the human rights of all the inhabitants of Honduras.
See full Report: http://cidh.org/countryrep/Honduras09eng/Chap.1.htm